Woodrow Proctor's career as an actor seems to be going places. But before it goes too far, he's coming back to his home away from home, Saratoga Springs, to do Shakespeare.
"It's really nice to come back to Saratoga," said Proctor, a 2016 Skidmore College graduate who is playing Orlando in the Saratoga Shakespeare production of "As You Like It," opening Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Congress Park. "I could have gone to any conservatory but I wanted to have a double major in theater and computer science. Skidmore and Saratoga was the perfect place for me, and it's a joy to be able to come back here."
Proctor was a Saratoga Shakespeare acting intern for three summers while he was at Skidmore, and during the winter of 2016 he earned a gig at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, playing Milo in "Sleuth." He has spent the past nine months working at Alabama Shakespeare in a number of productions.
"We toured around the state and it was great because I got my Stage Actors' Union card," said Proctor, a native of Hoboken, New Jersey. "I had not been to the South, so it was interesting, but I think Shakespeare can find a home just about anywhere."
"As You Like It" is Shakespeare's tale of a young woman, Rosalind, who escapes the persecution of her uncle's court by fleeing into a forest with her cousin, Celia. Along with safety, she finds love when she meets Orlando.
"It's very exciting to add another piece by Shakespeare to my repertoire, and this is the first time I've done 'As You Like It' so I feel like I'm still figuring out new things about it every day in rehearsal," said Proctor. "It's a very interesting play, and in a way much more cerebral than some of his other work. It goes beyond some of the comic bits you might expect, and I'm finding it richly rewarding to be digging into this play. I'm getting a lot out of it."
Proctor said he doesn't expect there willl come a time when he does Shakespeare exclusively.
"I've done a variety of work since I graduated from Skidmore," said Proctor, who will be performing in "Amadeus" at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina in Hilton Head, South Carolina, later this summer. "But Shakespeare, for me, is a great way of honing those baseline theatrical skills and it's a great way of introducing myself to new theater companies. I feel very comfortable doing Shakespeare now and I find it very enjoyable to come back to.
"But doing Shakespeare doesn't limit yourself to just doing more Shakespeare," he added. "I've done some film work and also some contemporary work, and I can come to that work with more confidence and more nuance having developed my skills with Shakespeare. He is the master storyteller."
Elizabeth Carlson-Guerin certainly agrees with that assessment, and adds that Shakespeare's work is stilll as relevant today as it was back in the 16th century.
"There are a lot of writers from that time that we no longer do, but the reason we still do Shakespeare is because he continues to give us something to tangle with," said Carlson-Guerin, who is directing the production. "He writes plays about what it means to be a human and live in a community. These are all things they wrestled with back in his time and we're still wrestling with them today."
Carlson-Guerin is a freelance director from the Philadelphia area and also an adjunct faculty member at Temple University. She specializes in new plays in Philadelphia, but was eager to come to upstate New York for the second consecutive summer and join Saratoga Shakespeare associate artistic director David Girard. The two met at Temple while Girard was earning his MFA in directing.
"This has been really fun, like a whirlwind," Carlson-Guerin said of her Saratoga Shakespeare experience. "We put the shows together really fast, but we get this amazing group of people together who know how to collaborate. We have great actors, amazing musicians and a choreographer, and we just throw everything together. It's been a real communal experience and great fun to go on this journey of discovery together with the actors."
"As You Like It" will run Tuesday through Saturday for the next two weeks and end its run on Saturday, July 28. Along with Proctor, others in the cast include Albany's John Romeo, former University at Albany professor Wesley Broulik and Schenectady High grad Raya Malcolm. Rosalind will be played by Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch and Savannah L. Jackson has the role of Celia.
When '"s You Like It" finishes up, the second show of the season, "Henry IV," with Kevin McGuire in the title role, will begin July 31 and run until Aug. 4. Girard is calling this summer's playbill the "Season of Transformation."
"Orlando has a transformation, and certainly so does Rosalind in 'As You Like It,'" said Girard. "There are a lot of characters who are being transformed, going from one state to another, and it's the same idea with 'Henry IV.' We have a brand-new king at the beginning of the show who is already looking over his shoulder at his son. And even Henry is transformed."
Saratoga Shakespeare was founded in December of 1999 by William Finlay and Michaela Reilly Wilson, and held its first production, "Twelfth Night," during the summer of 2000 in Congress Park.
'As You Like It'
WHAT: Free performances by Saratoga Shakespeare
WHERE: Congress Park, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, July 17-28
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: saratogashakespeare.com