Troupe of Friends was founded in 2006, the result of constant threats of "we oughta do Shakespeare" between numerous, well, a few, well, Joe Penczak, and other McKinley School parents who had participated in countless McKinley Kapers throughout the years.
Ken Bigelow challenged Joe with the daring statement, "If you do it, I'm in." And so began a long and fruitful relationship with Messers Bigelow and Penczak. Our first production in the Summer of 2006 was Shakespeare's "The Comedy Of Errors". The show was performed on the baseball diamond at Memorial Pool field. Using the setting as a guide, Mr. Penczak directed a cast of Westfield thespians who donned various baseball costumes representative of their characters. Ken and Joe played the Antipholus twins, dressed in Mets uniforms; while the Dromio twins, played by Sara Hedgepeth and Julie Fetter (dressed as Yankees), were equally adept at helping make our first "game" a home run.
The following year, Ken and Joe played the lovable tramps in Samuel Beckett's tragi-comic masterpiece, "Waiting For Godot." Ken's son Daniel was roped into playing the boy, while Charlie Mulrooney as Lucky and Fred Cruz as Pozzo rounded out the cast. Better than Broadway? Check out the Westfield Leader's review... http://www.goleader.com/07may31/23.pdf
That same year, our end-of Summer production was a Wild West version of "Twelfth Night". Lisa Black-Polak and Sara Hedgepeth played the unwitting lovebirds Olivia and Viola, while Ken and his wife Susan portrayed the frisky couple Sir Toby Belch and Maria. Dali Gao had the time of his life playing Sara's "twin" brother Sebastian, while Charlie Mulrooney enlisted his children Chip and Megan into the act as sheriffs.
Michael Bieber proved quite adept at the demanding physical comedy of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, while Mr. Penczak directed and kept everyone in line(or so he thought) as Malvolio. Julie Fetter sang wonderfully as the lovable Feste the Clown.
The following year, Troupe of Friends embarked on a "one hour compendium of Music, Comedy, and Drama" , as the presented a pastiche of theater including snippets from Shakespeare used as segues between Ken and Joe's priceless adaptation of the famous Abbot & Costello "Who's On First?" routine, a breathtaking reprisal of Julie's rendition of the Hank Williams tune "Alone & Forsaken", and a modern version of Stanley Houghton's one-act comedy, "The Dear Departed." In addition to performances in The Community Room, this production also traveled to several local Senior Citizens centers, and the lunchtime series at The First United Methodist Church, bringing tears of laughter and joy to many who would otherwise not get a chance to see live theater.
2008 saw the company return to its roots with a traditional production of Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part One." Set in England in 1400, the production feature period costumes designed by Alisa Korunow, and numerous two-handed broadsword fights, Welsh, Scots, and English accents, and beautiful interlude music provide by Sara Hedgepeth and her band of merry minstrels. This show also saw the company expand beyond its Westfield core group of actors, with the addition of actors from throughout NJ , including Fred Dennehy, Ryan Correll, Sumit Kumar, Peter Curley, Allan Gershenson, and Garry Tamburro. Additional Westfielders making their Troupe of Friends debut included Jackie Weiner, Kelly Braun, M. Devon Moore, Julian Mone, and Julia Penczak.
Troupe of Friends is hoping to continue our annual Labor Day tradition of providing free Shakespeare in Mindowaskin Park - but we need your help! Contact us and let us know what Shakespearean play you'd like to see!
For the last year, I have been attending classical theater workshops. I have been interested in working from the First Folio text, and recently contributed a paper to the Shakespeare Association of America's annual conference, held this past April in Los Angeles. I will be running a workshop for the British Shakespeare Association's bi-annual conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland in June. I hope to use this technique for our end of summer production!