Long Story Short: Kalamazoo gives William Shakespeare a tight edit

In just 90 minutes, three actors will perform all 37 plays and sonnets written by William Shakespeare in The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).

Impossible? Not at all, according to Michael Martin, director of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre production.

“It’s going to be hilarious,” Martin said. “Think vaudeville meets clowns meets Buster Keaton.”

He uses words like “zany” and “quirky” to describe the gags and jokes they perform while also going through fast costume changes, which causes no small amount of sweating for actors Brian Berheide, Stefani Bishop and Dustin Morton.

“Because there are only three people acting it all out, the challenge is to keep it going to hit that 90-minute work,” Martin said. “It’s non-stop physicality. All three actors will have to be on the same page and know the show backwards and forwards.”

When casting the show, Martin said he looked for actors who had a good grasp of the texts and Shakespeare’s characters. He said he paid particular attention to the way they were able to use their arms and bodies and facial expressions to feed off of each other’s energy.

“We wanted a real cohesive, collaborative group that was coming up with great choices and strong decisions, and timing,” he said. “These are things you can’t really teach.

“The biggest challenge is making sure actors do have input. I try not be the type of director who tells people who’s moving when and here’s what your intentions are. For this piece, a lot of it is listening to the input and gags the actors come up with.”

The play was first performed at the Civic in 2000. At that time, Martin was a student in the theater performance program at Western Michigan University and was in the cast. After receiving his degree, he continued to act and began to direct while also working as the member engagement manager at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.

The three actors he directs also have day jobs. Bishop is a local on-air radio personality, Moore is a chiropractor and Berheide is a public school teacher in Chicago.

“They’re not all professional actors, but they are all seasoned and they’re picking up their lines fast,” Martin said. “It’s fun to see the three actors do their own version. They have to make references to pop culture and local people and places a lot. There’s a lot of on-the-spot collaboration and improvisation.”

The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and later played at the Criterion Theatre in London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world's most popular shows, playing frequently in a variety of languages, and it’s notable for holding the world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds.

The play was written by three men who had been performing at renaissance faires in the 1980s. Their performances often included shorter versions of Shakespeare plays such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Martin said a friend encouraged the trio to put together a performance of their work for inclusion in the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival and that’s when they realized they had a hit on their hands.

Janet Gover, marketing director for the Civic Theater, said she saw the play in London and believes it’s fun for Shakespeare aficionados, but especially fun for people who don’t like him, because it completely skews every Shakespeare production.

“This is a very funny play and we always try to do something very lighthearted and fun in the winter because people need an escape,” Gover said.

The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Kalamazoo Civic Theatre
329 S. Park St., Kalamazoo
Jan. 25-Feb. 9