This weekend, the annual Houston Shakespeare Fest returns to Miller Outdoor Theatre with a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice, set in a Keeping Up With The Kardashians-type Los Angeles, and a traditional staging of Macbeth. Many of the festival's performers and creative team members wear different hats during the nine-day series, taking on multiple roles in the dual productions. One of those is actress Amelia Fischer, who portrays Portia in Tiger Reel’s Venice and Lady MacDuff in Jack Young’s version of the Scottish play. Fischer returns to HSF for the fourth time and says it’s the timelessness of Shakespeare’s writing that keeps her coming back to the Bayou City’s ode to the Bard.
“What I love about these characters is that it’s ‘I’m going to fall in love with you 120 percent or if I don’t like you I’m probably going to kill you!’ Nothing is halfway,” she says. “With Shakespeare, the text is so rich and the stories require such an amount of emotional courage.”
HSF likes to do one "traditional" Shakespearean play and one modernized show. While some actors have strong opinions on which approach is better, Fischer, a UH grad school alum, carefully avoided taking sides. She admitted that she’s a sucker for great period costumes and loves stepping into a world that’s different from the everyday. But as she pointed out, "I’m also not an LA reality television star!"
And she thinks re-staging a play can help bring a modern audience in. Where Shakepeare’s audience would have understood to expect certain things from a play set in Venice, a modern audience sees Wall Street stock traders and immediately understands something about the characters and their world.
In Venice, Fischer’s Portia lives in Los Angeles where men compete on a game show to win her hand in marriage (sound familiar?). But playing a Hollywood reality star compared to a traditional version of the character doesn’t bother the actress—nor does she think it does a disservice to one of Shakespeare’s great female characters. On the contrary, she says, it just makes Portia’s character arc more impressive, going from being apparently totally shallow at the beginning to driving the events of the second half of the dark comedy.
While some people might still consider Shakespeare stuffy, especially if they’ve only been forced to read it in high school, Fischer says everyone will enjoy HSF due to the Bard's empathetic messages. "I think people are surprised when they come to things like the Houston Shakespeare Festival that it makes sense—it makes emotional, logical, human sense to them."
Houston Shakespeare Festival
Macbeth: Aug 2, 4, 6 & 8 at 8:30
The Merchant of Venice: Aug 1, 5, 7 & 9 at 8:30
Free tickets for covered seating available at box office on performance days between 10:30 & 1. Open seating on the hill. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. 281-373-3386. milleroutdoortheatre.com