the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Kelli Holsopple ’99Gathered to create together

Kelli Holsopple ’99 (with Rachel Lapp ’95)

Kelli Holsopple ’99 is every bit a 21st century woman, but part of her life is spent in a 17th century world. Holsopple is part of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, an internationally known theater company that performs William Shakespeare’s works in their original staging conditions.

Holsopple became an instant fan of the troupe when she attended a company production as a first-year student at GC. When her contract ended with CLIMB, an educational theater company in Minneapolis, Minn., last spring, she decided to audition for the internationally known theater company that performs William Shakespeare’s works in their original staging conditions. Holsopple flew to New York for the last open call audition of the season, and was invited to the final callback the following day, which also included all of the actors SSE had auditioned throughout the past year.

All the directors for the six shows that would make up two different troupes of actors met with 60 hopefuls. The group gathered in a circle, then each actor “bounced to the middle to deliver their 10 lines of Shakespeare ‘in the round’ and sing, play guitar, sax, flute – anything we wanted to show off,” Holsopple said.

“With all the clapping, laughing and supportive atmosphere, I knew that SSE truly believed in theater as a community event. It was the best audition I’ve ever experienced, unlike many where the directors call the actors in one at a time to perform their monologues,” she continued.

Holsopple was cast in the “blush and swoon” troupe – as Celia, in As You Like It; Peter, in Romeo and Juliet; and Perdita and Mamilius in The Winter’s Tale.

The new actors went through a baptism by fire. They arrived June 1, 2001, with lines for all the shows memorized and paraphrased, ready for the so-called “Renaissance Run” – which SSE believes mimics the rapid production process undertaken by the Bard’s original company.

“A video camera is set up, the director arrives with a notebook in hand and the company performs the play off-book [without scripts], start to finish,” said Holsopple. “We did a ‘Ren run’ the first day of each rehearsal process for all three plays we did this year. It’s always stressful, always a blast. It was a great feeling to actually perform the play memorized, and then know we had a month to rehearse it.”

The company scheduled its first performance of As You Like It in North Carolina on Sept. 11. Holsopple said that many of the cast members felt that offering the comedy “might feel petty – almost disrespectful in light of such a grave tragedy.” The school that booked the event, however, wanted the show to go on.

Kelli Holsopple’s play“We performed to a receptive crowd who gave us a standing ovation. Many of them thanked us for giving them the gift of a lively, joy-filled performance,” Holsopple said. “I was reminded of the importance of theater as a time and place where people are gathered peacefully to create together – what a wonderful response to destruction!”

A highlight of the year was performing for three months at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Va. – SSE’s first-ever, newly constructed “home.” The playhouse is the only replica of Shakespeare’s indoor theater, “The Blackfriars.”

Said Holsopple, “It was brilliant to go to work every day in the most beautiful theater I’ve seen, as well as not having to load and unload anything!”

Through the SSE experience, she worked with a unique acting style. “SSE believes Shakespeare did not write with a ‘fourth wall’ in mind,” Holsopple said. “In our shows, we bring the audience along by talking directly to them – making them co-conspirators, confidants and other characters. This added a whole new, fun dimension to Shakespeare. It was so exciting to interact in that way.”

Though engaged in professional theater since graduating from college, working with SSE brought Holsopple into contact with many recent graduates of theater programs and graduate schools. While envying the breadth and focus of classes – such as movement, technique and dance – that her colleagues took at conservatory programs, working with SSE also “confirmed my gratitude for what I received at Goshen that is uniquely Goshen.”

She explained that because Goshen’s program is small in size, she gained experience in all areas of theater; in addition to acting, Holsopple gained experience in costume and light design for main stage shows, which made her a good addition to SSE’s self-supporting teams.

“Also, SSE is looking for nice people,” Holsopple said. “I was in a group of other fairly relaxed, nice people and the company says our group is the nicest group they’ve ever had. Being nice goes a long way. Living and working together is intense ... so it is extremely important to be able to communicate and relax.”

She continued, “I am so grateful to Goshen for the conflict mediation I participated in and the communication skills I received. People in the group have come to me for advice on how to confront problems with other people. I don’t wear a sign that says ‘conflict mediator,’ but I know my Goshen education helped me become a more sensitive, straightforward person and somehow people pick up on that.”

In the fall, Holsopple will return to the place where her SSE odyssey began, but for new opportunities; she plans to move to New York City to pursue theater acting and education.

While a student, Kelli was the first and only GC actor to get to the semifinal rounds of the Irene Ryan Acting Competition at the American College Theater Festival, in which the theater department participates yearly.
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