NY Shakespeare Convention: Comic- Con for theatre makers, Shakespeare lovers, and everything in between

Lisa LaGrande

The bard is everywhere in New York City: Shakespeare in the Park, touring Shakespeare companies, gorilla Shakespeare, adapted Shakespeare, even Shakespeare reinventions and mash ups. Everywhere from the glistening lights of Broadway to tiniest theatre or city park;  audiences, actors, and theatre companies alike fall in love with Shakespeare. For those of you who are familiar with my column, Art on a Dime, you may remember Caitlin White and Nat Angstrom, the brilliant minds behind their successful  company Bottoms Dream. After only two years, they have grown their audiences and produced bold reinventions of some of the Bard’s most beloved works. This year though they dared to dream even bigger. This year they bring us the first ever New York Shakespeare Convention on April 25th at Speyer Hall. Enjoy Comic-Con? This is a Comic-Con for Shakespeare nerds and novices alike! This free event is open to the public and will introduce the city to multiple up and coming Shakespeare companies,  serenade you with live music, throw a  birthday party for Shakespeare, educate with  industry panels, and for just $30 you can see a performance of Romeo & Juliet performed by five different companies! Now that’s my kind of convention!

I got the opportunity to sit down with Nat & Caitlin to discuss their event on Sunday afternoon.
What is the NY Shakespeare convention?  

Nat: The New York Shakespeare convention, in its first year, is a gathering point for all of the off-off broadway, not for profit  Shakespeare companies in New York and beyond. We hope this umbrella organization will give these groups a home where they can combine resources and collaborate. Here, they can identify as being a part of the indie-Shakespeare community and connect to all of these people from audiences,  to artists, and to educators in the city while promoting  their work where it can be seen and do some real good. 

Logo Caitlin White

Logo Caitlin White

What made you decide to do this? 

Caitlin: We founded our own company, Bottoms Dream, almost two years ago. The more our own company grew we started noticing there were a lot of little Shakespeare companies cropping up everywhere. There were some companies that had been around longer then we had that we were looking up to. Then, within a year, suddenly there were new companies looking up to us and asking us fundraising, ticketing sales, and marketing. We thought, what a great way to get everyone in the room for one day where everyone can meet up and exchange ideas. We want them to crowd source in a different way with their ideas and networking and connecting with each other.  On top of that, by producing something like 5 way Shakespeare, audiences get to experience other companies, other artistic visions, and discover something new maybe they had never known about before. At the New York Shakespeare Convention, theatre makers and artists alike, can cross pollinate ideas while being introduced to other companies around them. 

Nat: We didn’t want to have to sacrifice our creative choices to put a suit on our company in some kind of corporate mind set. So we created a different kind of  company that could be the suit that introduces the public to these growing, incredible companies. We do the promotion and the leg work while the Artists can just be themselves.

Would this convention for everyone  or just theatre makers? 

Caitlin: We believe this convention is really for everyone. I hope that we have a lot of theatre makers, a lot of actors, producers, and artists to meet and network. We have industry panels but we hope audiences will come as well to discover these growing companies. We hope that educators will come and see how they can bring innovative theatre into their schools. I get questions from educators all the time about how they can get their kids interested in Shakespeare.  Kids want to see something new and innovative. Who better to teach them about Shakespeare then young artists  who love it and fell in love with Shakespeare at their age?  We want these to be affordable programs that can travel to schools to make it more accessible to students. 

Have you reached out to any educational programs in the city? 

Caitlin: We’ve reached out to several universities in the area that we hope will make it out on Saturday. That is an area we definitely want to grow in the next few years, not just for us but for other companies interested in it as well. 

Nat: Our 5 year plan is to begin with attracting theatre makers who need actors, who need designers, who need artists and bring them all together to collaborate and build audience growth. On our website this year, every company who participates in the convention will be featured on a performance calendar accessible on our website.  So if you are in New York and are itching to go out and see something, you can view all the upcoming shows of these 10 companies. 

Caitlin: Also by targeting colleges this year, we know they are the next generation of actors and directors and artists so this is a great way for them to connect, get their feet wet, and learn from other artists right out of school . 

What industry panels are you offering this year? 

We have a Q & A with Melissa Robinette who is the co creator and career coach at  the “Biz of Show” which will discuss auditioning, finding your type, marketing your brand, and being your own representation to take control of your career. 

We have Crowdsource fundraising Panel: which will discuss  everything from kick starter to indiegogo and how to make a successful fundraising campaign for the Arts. This is a great opportunity to get all of the dos and don’ts about fundraising that will save you from making a lot of mistakes and increase your chance of success. 

Verse Mechanics: Unlocking Shakespeare’s Text:   This a free text and movement workshop with Adirondack Shakespeare Company. They will show their tricks and tips to really get a deep sense of the line, what it means, and how to work with it beyond Iambic pentameter and communicate it effectively with the audience. 

Additionally we will have live music throughout the day and a little birthday party for Shakespeare’s 451st birthday. So come have a slice of cake with us! 

So can you tell me more about 5 ways Shakespeare?

Nat: 5 Ways Shakespeare is going to have 5 different companies, each with their own artistic vision, present an act of Romeo & Juliet and see how they work back to back. The faces of the cast change, the artistic interpretation changes, and individual character interpretations will change. One Romeo may be a little older and reserved; another might be younger and wild, one more passionate or agressive…

Caitlin:…..and one will be a puppet. 

Who are your performing companies? 

Caitlin: Our companies are: 

Act I: Manhattan Shakespeare Project
Act II: Adirondack Shakespeare Company
Act III: Puppet Shakespeare Players 
Act IV: Underling Productions
Act V: Accidental Shakespeare Company 

And Bottom’s Dream is doing the Preshow with  The Dream’s mechanical production of Pyramus and Thisbe! The tickets for our 5 way Shakespeare production of Romeo & Juliet are selling for $30. We are encouraging people to buy their tickets in advance as we are expecting to sell out and seating is limited. Also, did we mention there will be unlimited wine? Can’t beat that. 

What else can you find at the NY Shakespeare Convention? 

Caitlin: The first 50 people get a free t-shirt. Throughout the day we have nine independent companies that will have booths set up where you can learn all about them. Aside from our 5 way Shakespeare companies there will also be  Spicy Witch Productions, the Night Shift (Drunken Shakespeare), Living Space Players, and Rogue & Peasant Players. 

Nat: Also any actors who sign up for our mailing list can bring one copy of their headshot which will be digitally shared with all the companies at the convention. You heard right, one headshot = 10 different submissions when you bring it to the convention. 

Tell me about your campaign to get Patrick Stewart to attend your convention and #MakeItSo? 

Caitlin: I wish I could take credit for #MakeItSo! Underling Productions’s  social media Manager, Emily Philio, had this great idea to get Patrick Stewart to the convention as he lives in NYC. Which by the way, Patrick, if you are reading this, we would love for you to be there and impart a bit of wisdom, you know shake some hands, maybe jump into a scene if you want. 

Nat: We’re open! 

Where do you see this convention going after this year? 

Nat: Short term we are building our infrastructure and that begins expanding the number of companies. We hope to encourage those who couldn’t join us this year, to put us into our calendar for next year. Then we will do the work of leveraging attendance, followers, likes, and building the profile and brand of this company. I think in 5 years down the road we will have a substantial organization that is providing a service similar to NYC fringe.   

Caitlin: We’d  love to expand to a multi-day event and have performances running throughout the day. 

Nat: Live theatre is about experiences. We want continue to expand and connect as many artists as we can through every passing year. 

How can we learn more? 

By visiting our website at: http://www.shakescon.org/
Or by following us on Facebook and twitter: https://www.facebook.com/shakescon or https://twitter.com/shakescon  or with #Shakescon or #MakeItSo

Why  do you think people should come to the convention this year? 

If you are a theatre maker/creator like a producer, actor, and designer you will meet people and other like minded companies that will network and collaborate with you to create something amazing. If you are someone who likes to go out and have fun and see a show, this is a place to find really innovative, fun, and affordable theatre. If you are an educator, again you will find companies and actors that have a lot of experience going to schools and working with getting kids connected to the text. And finally if you are someone who doesn’t like Shakespeare or feels alienated by it, this is your opportunity to get into  a room with people who do it every which way: Puppets, no rehearsals, truncated, full text, really fast, lots of different ways of exploring Shakespeare. You will find something in that you can not only relate to but enjoy. You will find things that will genuinely surprise and move you. If you like going to festivals, renfaires, or comic-con  you will enjoy this convention, because you will meet so many people who love what they do and want to have fun and want you to have fun with them. So join us!

New York Shakespeare Convention
Speyer Hall
April 25th 
Exhibition: Shop, share, attend panels, and advertise  2:00pm-5:00pm 
5 Shakespeare performance of Romeo & Juliet at 7:00pm (Tickets are $30), to purchase: https://www.artful.ly/bottoms-dream/store/events/5505
“We will meet; and there we will rehearse most obscenely and courageously. 
Take pains; be perfect: Adieu. “ 
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