Shakespeare’s Stories Brought to Mahoning Valley

By Mary Rodack
Jambar Contributor

The Mahoning Valley Players’ revival of Shakespearean classics provide a unique cultural experience for local residents during summer months.  

Mahoning Valley Players will present “Macbeth” and “Antony and Cleopatra” to audiences from June to September. All shows are free admission and will appear at both the Morley Pavilion in Youngstown or the Warren Amphitheatre.

The group began in 2010 as a way to bring Shakespeare and theatre to the Youngstown area. Kim Akins, executive director of Mahoning Valley Players, Richard Costes and Liz Conrad founded the troupe after participating in productions of “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” together.

“I’d like to think that the function of any theatre company is to entertain and inform. Ours is to make Shakespeare accessible and to produce theatre that is diverse and contemporary,” Akins said.

Vijay Welch-Young, another member of Mahoning Valley Players, believes some people see Shakespeare as outdated but that many aspects of the literature still apply in modern day society. Welch-Young goes on to explain that students read Shakespeare’s plays but do not actually learn about the material.

Welch-Young suggests people come out to the shows to enjoy theatre and see how fun it is for themselves.

Timothy Francisco, professor of English and director of The Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University, believes Shakespeare’s plays present the “exploration of ideas and ideologies” in complex and entertaining ways.

“Part of the reason that literature and the humanities are so important is that these studies allow us to ‘time travel’ to study works in multiple contexts, allowing us to understand and connect disparate experiences and ideas beyond what might be immediately relevant to our own time and place,” Francisco said.

Akins, who will be directing “Macbeth” this upcoming summer, said the Mahoning Valley Players try to explore Shakespeare’s themes in different ways to reflect the society of today. Universal themes like loss, love, jealousy and power have not changed since the 16th century Akins said.

“The joy of Shakespeare is that he so captured the heart of the human experience, that every generation can see themselves in it,” Akins said.

Francisco said that Shakespeare’s technique and style of writing can educate college students on how “form and language can be used to not only convey but help to formulate complex ideas.”

“Young actors want to take on the challenges of the classics, and we offer that opportunity,” Akins said.

Welch-Young said that the Mahoning Valley Players productions welcome new actors and there are no obstacles to jump when joining the group or production. He also emphasized that the troupe does not typecast. Mahoning Valley Players use “blind” casting so that anyone can get the role even if they do not fit the typical look of a character.

“For example, this year the title role of Macbeth will be played by a woman, Liz Conrad, and Lady Macbeth will be played by a man, Kage Coven,” Welch-Young said.

Akins said she theatre has been a part of her life since high school.

“I’m in theatre for the same reasons as every other actor — to be someone else, to explore and to be seen,” Akins said.

The Mahoning Valley Players schedule for upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page under the group name.