Pensacola, Florida
Friday August 22nd 2014

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Shakin’ Up Shakespeare

By Jennie McKeon

The Pensacola Shakespeare Company—or PenShakes—is at an exciting crossroads as Sam Osheroff said.

“We have big plans,” said Osheroff, who is taking over as the new artistic director of PenShakes. “We want to bring this company up to the next level and move into the 21st century and start pushing PenShakes to movers and shakers.”

Osheroff and his wife Kris Danford moved to Pensacola from New York City a year ago. Both were looking for a city to continue their acting careers and raise their chubby-cheeked, baby daughter Stella.

“We wanted to find a higher quality of life,” Osheroff said. “It’s very hard to sustain an acting career in New York City.”

Osheroff has been able to sustain a career in television, theatre and radio as a voice-over artist over the years. And like her husband, Danford has acted professionally in New York City and across the country, and was a company member at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. She too looks forward to living in Pensacola.

“It’s a very different change, but I really like the community,” she said of the move from New York. “There’s a lot of potential for growth.”

Osheroff and his wife are currently teaching at University of West Florida. Osheroff teaches acting and directing and Danford is the head of the musical theatre department. It wasn’t long before Osheroff was asked to fill the role of Kevin Kern, who was the previous art director for PenShakes. Although he is confident and optimistic about PenShakes’ future, Osheroff does have one weakness.

“I don’t know a lot of people,” he said.

He’s talked to successful artistic directors in the area—namely Kyle Marrero of the Pensacola Opera and Richard Steinert of Ballet Pensacola, who happened to walk by Osheroff during the interview on Palafox.

“I’m not really a finance guy, we have other people to do that,” Osheroff said with a laugh. “But they [Marrero and Steinert] showed me the nuts and bolts and shared their resources.”

Much how the opera house and the ballet bring in talents from across the globe, Osheroff wants to broaden the spectrum of actors and looks to cities like New York City and Chicago to act in upcoming productions.

“It’s the opportunity to see new talent,” Osheroff said.
Osheroff’s hopes to bring in actors established through the Actors’ Equity union, which protects the actors as well as the caliber of the productions. But it’s not cheap.

“In order for them to leave their city, you have to fly them and put them up somewhere—that costs money,” he said. “We have to really start to figure out how to pay people what they deserve. We want to start drawing top-notch talent.”

Another goal is to have more plays over the course of the year, which will give Osheroff the chance to dig.

“We’re moving into producing three plays a year and considering moving into meatier stuff,” he said. “More modern, small cast dramas—work miracles out of nothing. My artistic mission is to see us do more stripped down productions. The theatre tries to be cinematic, but I really want to dig into the scripts.”

He also wants to find a space that the PenShakes company can call its own instead of relying too heavily on UWF and confusing audiences who think they are seeing a university play.

“We want to break away in the physical sense and establish a downtown space. It’s hard to get people to UWF,” Osheroff said. “By next season I want to find a space that may not be perfect, but we’ll make it work.”

Even in the short time that Osheroff has lived here, he knows he wants to be a part of the progress in downtown Pensacola.

“We need to integrate ourselves,” he said.

He also doesn’t want to encroach on what is already being done, like at Pensacola Little Theatre.

“That’s their niche,” Osheroff said. “That’s a great niche, but it’s already being done.”

One thing that won’t change is the PenShakes dedication to quality Shakespeare productions, which will be the centerpiece for the company’s yearly playlist.

“Sometimes Shakespeare productions are like bad meat,” Osheroff said. “You just keep covering it up with gravy. We’re taking away the gravy.”

This year, PenShakes will tackle “Taming of the Shrew.” The cast is comprised of UWF students, out-of-town professional actors and Osheroff as Petruchio himself.

Playing the Kate to Osheroff’s Petruchio is his wife. The two have acted alongside each other before—Osheroff said one of his favorite roles on his resume is Jamie in “The Last Five Years” in which he performed twice with his wife. Although it may seem like trouble, Danford says working with a spouse makes for a better performance.

“It’s easier,” she said. “There’s a higher standard to keep you honest.”

Danford and Osheroff will have the tables turned on them for this weekend’s performances when their students will have the chance to watch their teachers act.

“Our students will be tough critics for sure,” Danford said.

TAMING OF THE SHREW
WHEN:  7:30 p.m. Aug. 9-11, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12
WHERE: The Center for Fine and Performing Arts (Building 82) 11000 University Pkwy.
COST: $30 general admission $25 students, military and senior citizens
DETAILS: 462-8880 or pensacolashakespearetheatre.org