Taking Shakespeare to a new level

Shakespeare meets the 1950s in Butler University Theatre Department’s mainstage production of “As You Like It,” which opens at 8 tonight in Lilly Hall Studio Theatre 168.

Director Tim Hardy is the university’s first Christel DeHaan Visiting International Theatre Artist. It is a four-year program that will bring a theater professional from another country to Butler for 8-10 weeks each year to teach and design or direct a production.

Hardy is looking forward to presenting a new take on the Shakespearean classic to appeal to a modern-day audience. The production is based off of life in the 1950s and has “a Mad Men look.”

“If you put actors in doublets and tights and make them walk around and speak funny, the modern audience can look at them and dismiss them right away,” Hardy said. “If you make it more modern, they say ‘Blimey, that’s us,’ and that’s what I’m really trying to go for.”

Shakespeare can be difficult to navigate, so Hardy said he wanted to make sure that the audience and the actors alike understood what was happening.

“Reading Shakespeare is hell, but when you perform it and you go see it, it’s so much easier to understand,” Hardy said.

“As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s more complicated pieces, Hardy said.

“It’s a more mature story,” Hardy said. “This is about love, really. Not puppy dog love, but real grown up love and how the characters come to find it.”

“As You Like It” tells the story of Rosalind and Orlando, played by senior Steph Gray and sophomore Tyler Ostrander, respectively, as they work to get their happy ending. After being banished from court by the duke, Rosalind runs off to the forest with her cousin, Celia and her jester, Touchstone, played by freshman Megan Medley and senior Jill Harman, respectively. Rosalind starts dressing like a young man before everything gets resolved.

“It’s a harder play to get a hold of, but all of the cast members got it,” Hardy said. “They have worked so hard, and it’s just been great.”

The students of Butler impressed Hardy and convinced him to return after directing last year’s mainstage production of “The Merchant of Venice.”

“I love it here,” Hardy said. “The work ethic and the students here are impressive.

“You don’t have to teach them about professional attitudes, which is all I know. They all just have it.”

After touring the country and working with numerous universities and institutions, Hardy said the faculty members of Butler’s Theatre Department are unique because they are genuinely happy with what they are doing.

“Sometimes, faculties are full of people who teach because they screwed up at everything else,” Hardy said. “Here, they are successful outside of teaching, and because they are happy and successful in themselves, they benefit the students.

“Rarely is that the case.”

The cast of “As You Like It” has been as impressed with Hardy as he’s been with them.

“He’s a great director,” Ostrander said. “He came with an awesome idea for the show and has gotten everyone involved excited for how it will turn out.”

Cast members said they are grateful to have the experience of working with him through the program.

“The Butler Theatre professors are invaluable and always wonderful to work with,” senior performer Bradley Bankemper said. “To have Tim, though, offers a new perspective that normally wouldn’t be available to us.”

Hardy’s long résumé and experiences have helped some cast members feel ready for tonight’s performance.

“I was a little nervous coming into rehearsals for the first time, but that didn’t last long,” senior performer Stefan LeBlanc said. “With Tim’s guidance keeping me on track with character choices, I feel very comfortable with my role.”

A faculty member of Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hardy has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Academy and directed and performed in productions across the  United Kingdom, Austria, Germany and the United States.

Though it’s important to teach, Hardy said, it’s even more important to find a time to perform.

“If I stand out in front of someone and tell them how to do Shakespeare, the only justification for that is that I do it myself,” Hardy said. “I know how hard and how scary it is, and that’s a good thing to remember because it’s what I think of as I direct and teach.”

Hardy found time to perform in a one-man show about Galileo that premiered in Indianapolis in 2009.

“120 minutes on my own is terrifying,” Hardy said. “So I decided to do it in Indianapolis, because if I screwed up, [being] 4,000 miles from home is good.”

After the show wraps up on Sunday, Hardy plans on going to New York with his wife for a break before performing Galileo in England. Ultimately, though, plans are still unclear and there is talk that Hardy will return to Indianapolis.

“As You Like It” will run March 2-5 at 8 p.m. and March 5 and 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and can be reserved by calling (317) 940-9247 or by e-mailing theatrereservations@butler.edu.