LITTLE ROCK The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre attracts actors from across the country, as well as those from throughout the state.
This year’s festival is a homecoming for at least two of the actors - Nisi Sturgis and Chad Bradford.
Sturgis, the daughter of Peggy Sturgis of Conway and the late Harold Sturgis, is a 1996 graduate of Conway High School and a 2001 graduate of the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in theater. Following college graduation, she moved to San Diego, Calif., where she received a master’s degree from The Old Globe’s Graduate Acting Program.
She plays two of the leads in this year’s festival - Viola in Twelfth Night and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III.
“I’m extremely fortunate,” Sturgis said of her 10-year career as a professional actor. “Without the support of Mom and the folks here, I wouldn’t have the energy to be as persistent as you have to be in this business.”
Sturgis, a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, now lives in Lower East Manhattan with her “sweetheart” of four years, Jordan Coughtry of upper New York state, who is also a member of Actor’s Equity. “We met at The Shakespeare Festival of New Jersey,” she said with a smile. “I was playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, and he was playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. It’s worked out much better for us than it did for the characters in those two plays.
“This is the second time we have worked together. It’s very special.”
Coughtry plays Buckingham in Richard III and Feste in Twelfth Night.
Sturgis, who has a recurring role in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, said she does not have a “favorite” role she has played over the years.
“I always say, ‘It’s the one I’m doing now.’ But it is such a gift to work on a Shakespeare play. The themesare universal. If [Shakespeare] wrote it, it is happening somewhere, someplace, this minute. The language carries you and elevates you as an actor,” Sturgis said.
“I feel most excited that I have been able to do such a variety of work. From Shakespeare to an experimental project in New York City, to the intensity of a television series, to programs such as this - I use the same things that I learned at UCA. You determine the quality of your work. The only difference between here and Broadway is your focus and approach.”
Sturgis gives credit to her mother for her success.
“She has invested in me my whole life,” Sturgis said, smiling. “To be able to show this work here, with her in the audience, is incredibly special to me.”
Prior to coming to AST, Sturgis appeared at the Cleveland (Ohio) Play House in In the Next Room or the vibrator play, which was nominated for a Tony Award in 2010. From here, she and Coughtry will head back to New York City, then to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey to act in Trelawny of the Wells.
Bradford is the son of Kim Bradford of Fayetteville, a former dean of continuing education at UCA, and the late Charles Bradford of Little Rock. Bradford is a 2002 graduate of Hall High School in Little Rock and graduated from UCA in 2006 with a major in theater and a minor in music. He plays guitar, bass and piano. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Penn State University in the summer of 2009.
He was a part of the inaugural season of AST. Most recently, Bradford was an actor and director with the Renegade Players in Sonoma, Calif., and finished up a yearlong contract with the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va.
Following his work with the AST, he plans to move to Silver Lake, N.Y., where he will work with Josh Rice of Little Rock, who plans to start a summer Shakespeare festival there. Rice is director of The Tempest, which Bradford co-directs. Bradford also composed the music for The Tempest, as well as for Richard III.
Bradford appears as Orsino in Twelfth Night and Clarence and theLord Mayor in Richard III.
“Most of the actors here have at least two parts, and many of them play music as well,” Bradford said. “It’s really nice to come home. The community in central Arkansas is so gracious and loving. I am always able to find work when I am here. It’s really a blessing.
“I’m having fun,” he said, referring to his work with this year’s festival. “I performed in the very first one. Compared to that first year, it’s a lot better. The people are still gracious, but the main difference I see is that everybody has learned what makes things work more efficiently. I think the plays this year are more inviting to the audience.” More local actors
Other actors with ties to the River Valley & Ozark Edition coverage area participating in the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre include the following:
◊Robert Durante of Houston, Texas, a Hendrix College student, plays Curio and an officer in Twelfth Night and is a member of the ensemble in Richard III.
◊Eric Binnie of Conway, a retiredprofessor at Hendrix, appears as the priest in Twelfth Night.
◊Holly Ruth Gale of Russellville, who teaches music at Arkansas Tech University, plays the Widow Douglas in Big River.
◊Jacob Clanton, a student at Conway High School-West, appears as Ben Rogers in Big River.
◊Hart Denton, a graduate of Conway High School-West, appears as Simon and a member of the ensemble in The Tempest.
◊UCA student Matt Duncan of Bentonville appears as Caliban in The Tempest and the schoolmaster in Big River, and UCA student Jordy Neill of Conway plays Tyrell and a murderer in Richard III, Stephano in The Tempest and Valentine in Twelfth Night.
◊Samantha Davis of Little Rock, a former UCA student, portrays Joanna Wilkes and Jo Harper in Big River and Lady Jane Shore in Richard III.
◊UCA alumni Nisheedah Devre Golden of Jacksonville plays Alicein Big River and Courtney Bennett of Little Rock plays Fabian in Twelfth Night and Trinculo in The Tempest.
Young actors from Conway include Maggie Whisenhunt, who appears as Iris in The Tempest; Caroline Osborn as Ceres in The Tempest; Lucas Massingill as Clarence’s son in Richard III; Sarah Guinee as young Elizabeth in Richard III; Olivia Marotte as a servant to Olivia in Twelfth Night; and Joey Whisenhunt as a servant to Orsino in Twelfth Night.
Several faculty members from UCA have roles in the festival:
◊Kevin Browne, an associate professor of theater and a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, plays Sir Toby in Twelfth Night and Brackenbury in Richard III.
◊Adam Frank, an associate professor in the Honors College, plays Stanley in Richard III.
◊Shauna Meador, an associate professor of theater, costume design and technology, is the costume production manager for the AST.
◊Tom Marhenke, a lecturer in technical directing, is the technical director of the festival.
◊Greg Blakey, an associate professor of theater, is the prop fabricator for the festival.