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'King John' brings the French connection to stage this weekend

By Joanne Beck
king john batavia players 2024
Anthony Haitz, as King John, acknowledges The Bastard, played by Richard Ferris, as King John's mother, Elinor or Aquitane, played by Dorothy Gerhart, looks on.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Audiences will have an opportunity to watch a French connection this weekend.

Not the one with big city narcotics detectives investigating a heroin smuggling ring, but rather, the royal Shakespearean drama of “King John,” about the difficulties of who the lead character was and that he usurped the throne, Director E. Jane Burk says.

“One of the other characters that is in this play, his name is Arthur, he is John's nephew, he was the son of John's older brother, Jeffrey, who died. John took the throne before Arthur could ascend to it; he actually usurped the throne from his nephew Arthur. So much of the play revolves around a French connection. That's why we have (on the banners at the back of the stage) English lions on one side, and we have French fleur-de-lis on the other side,” Burk said during rehearsal Tuesday. “There is a significant threat of war because the French segment, the French king, King Philip, wants to put John's nephew Arthur on the English throne. So it all revolves around the situation that it was very militaristic. You could almost say contemporary in terms of the different factions that were trying to come to power.”

Batavia Players will present Shakespeare in Springtime’s “King John” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Main St. 56 Theater in Batavia City Centre.

Playwright William Shakespeare penned a significant number of plays that were histories about notables such as Richard the Third and Henry the Eighth, and this lesser known figure, King John, Burk said. 

“It is not frequently performed anywhere,” she said. “And it’s interesting because, actually, this particular play is all in verse. It’s all poetry; it’s not prose, it’s not normal, conversation-type stuff.”

A passage from King John’s character states:  

O cousin, thou art come to set mine eye.

The tackle of my heart is cracked and burnt,

And all the shrouds wherewith my life should sail

Are turnèd to one thread, one little hair.

My heart hath one poor string to stay it by,

Which holds but till thy news be utterèd,

And then all this thou seest is but a clod

And module of confounded royalty.

The time period is 1216, and the play is paying homage to the Magna Carta, which King John signed in 1215, a year before his death at 49, Burk said. The cast quickly became familiar with the setting, the lines and the demands of such a production, and has fulfilled its responsibilities with aplomb, she said.

Auditions were in mid-January, everyone received their scripts and immediately began to learn their lines after being cast for roles, and, because another show was happening during a portion of February, rehearsals didn’t even begin until later in the month.  

“And this is only March 19. And kudos to the cast. I give them so much credit. They have done an extraordinary job of creating this place that is not Western New York. That is not Batavia. That does not sound anything like the way we speak. I have French people that are speaking with French accents,” she said. “We have worked hard on this. They have learned their lines, their scripts, word for word. If you were to sit right now — I'm not exaggerating — if you were to sit and actually listen to what they are saying, watching but listening, and reading the script as you're going along, you will see that it’s word for word. It is extraordinary. That's exceptionally difficult. You cannot take away from the fact that they have given heart and soul to making this happen.”

And who are “they?” By all other accounts, they are ordinary people, volunteers in the world of community theater with a passion for the arts, people who have jobs, work for a living, tend to families, she said, and dedicate many hours to memorizing their lines and create the character they will eventually bring to life up on stage. 

The premise of “King John” is that he goes to war against the French after claiming that his nephew should be king instead. John has conflict with the church, orders his nephew's death, and turns the nobles against himself. In the end, John dies after a monk poisons him, the French retreat and his own son becomes king.

Burk isn’t necessarily looking to convert the masses onto Shakespeare; however, she’s hoping that folks are willing to give it a try.

“My idea is that, on some level, most of the people that will come to see the show probably have not had any sort of prior experience with Shakespeare,” she said. “But what we hope is that if we can make a difference in the life of one person if we can make the lightbulbs click on for one person, and they understand and discover what Shakespeare is all about, then we’ve succeeded. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tickets are $22 adults, $20 students and seniors online and $24 adults, $22 students and seniors for cash at the door.

king john batavia players 2024
Anthony Haitz as King John
Photo by Howard Owens.
king john batavia players 2024
James Barcomb as the King of France, King Phillip.
Photo by Howard Owens
king john batavia players 2024
Richard Ferris as The Bastard
Photo by Howard Owens
king john batavia players 2024
Stephen VanValkenburg, as Robert Faulconbridge, Patrick Burk, as Sheriff, and Richard Ferris, as The Bastard.
Photo by Howard Owens.
king john batavia players 2024
Anthony Haitz as King John and Stephen VanValkenburg as Robert Faulconbridge
Photo by Howard Owens
king john batavia players 2024
Anthony Haitz as King John
Photo by Howard Owens
king john batavia players 2024
Heather Ferris as Lady Faulconbridge.
Photo by Howard Owens
king john batavia players 2024
king john batavia players 2024
James Barcomb and King Phillip of France, Kristin Gella as Lady Constance, and Sophie Crandall as Prince Arthur.
Photo by Howard Owens.

This month at HLOM: trivia on Shakespeare and presentation on edged weapons of the Civil War

By Press Release

Press release:

The Holland Land Office Museum will be hosting its next Trivia Night at the Museum on Thursday, April 8th at 7 p.m. In honor of his birthday, the topic will be life and works of William Shakespeare.

You can either join us in person at the museum or via Zoom. Our in-person audience will be limited to 12 people, and masks and social distancing will be required.

The Holland Land Office Musuem welcomes James Black on Wednesday, April 14th at 7 p.m. for its next edition of its Guest Speaker Series. The presentation will be on edged weapons of the Civil War from both the Union and Confederate armies.

The presentation will be available via Facebook Live and in person to a small group of up to 12 people to come to watch on our big screen. All those in attendance must wear masks and follow social distancing protocols.

If you would like to attend in either event person, please contact the museum by phone at (585) 343-4727 to preregister. If you would like to come in person we are asking for a donation in place of the regular admission.

Please visit the museum’s Facebook page or website,, for more details, and for links to attend the April 8 Zoom event on Shakespeare.

Award-winning Canadian actor to teach Theater and Acting Master Classes Thanksgiving weekend

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The Batavia Players and the Harvester 56 Theater are pleased to announce that they will be offering Theater and Acting Master Classes over this Thanksgiving weekend.

The classes will be conducted by Emilio Viera, an award-winning Toronto-based actor.

Classes offered are:

  • Unlocking Shakespeare: Breaking Down the Text -- 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, Nov. 29
  • Unarmed Stage Combat 101 -- 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Nov. 30
  • Unlocking Shakespeare: Monologue Workshop -- 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 30

Each class has a limited attendance and will be on a first-come first-serve basis. The cost of each three-hour class will be $75, or take all three for $180.

All classes will be limited in attendance and be on a first-come first-serve basis.

“This is an exciting and wonderful opportunity for all our local actors," said Patrick Burk, executive and artistic director of the Harvester 56 Theater. "Emilio is an amazing performer that has an incredible presence on stage. His ability to work with all ages and provide a solid Master Class Program makes him ideal for our theater community.”

Emilio Viera has been featured in "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Measure for Measure" with the Canadian Stage’s critically acclaimed Shakespeare in High Park. Other classical credits include "Titus Andronicus" and "As You Like It" (Canadian Stage), and "Romeo and Juliet" (Guild Festival Theatre).

His performances at the National Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, Canada have included several roles in "The Tempest," "Coriolanus," "Twelfth Night" and "Macbeth."

He has also appeared in "Romeo and Juliet" (Guild Festival Theatre.) Viera was part of the original cast of Hannah Moscovitch’s "Bunny" at the Stratford Festival. This past year he was part of the original cast of Andrew Kushnir’s "Towards Youth" at the Crows Theatre in association with Project Humanity.

In 2016, he became one of the youngest recipients of The Peter Donaldson Award at The Stratford Festival, which recognizes an actor with ability in classical texts.

Always game for a candid discussion about the work, Viera enjoys participating in theater education whether it be as a student or a teacher. He is looking forward to being part of the Harvester 56 Theater family and providing classes to the actors that are a part of this exciting regional theater.

Actors interested in any of the classes should contact Patrick Burk at:

Enrollment sheets and payments can be made at the Harvester 56 Theater Box Office, which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, or they can be sent to: Patrick Burk, Harvester 56 Theater, 56 Harvester Ave., Batavia, NY 14020.

Shake on the Lake performs 'As You Like It' Thursday evening in Centennial Park

By Billie Owens

Submitted photos and press release:

The sounds of laughter, music, and Shakespeare echo inside an old general store building on Main Street in Perry. When the door is opened, the company members of Shake on the Lake – the oldest-running professional Shakespeare Company in Wyoming County – are revealed.

This is their eighth summer season. Shake on the Lake began its 2019 tour in July, traveling to eight counties in Western New York and the Finger Lakes.

Artists from throughout the country are staging Shakespeare’s most musical show, the pastoral comedy, "As You Like It." The resident company rehearses the show on site in Perry, specializing in “fast, fun, and physical” performances, which bring the arts to public spaces in rural communities.

The play will be performed in Batavia starting at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, Aug. 8, in the city's Centennial Park.

No tickets required (show is free). Show is 90 minutes without an intermission. Bringing lawn chairs and blankets is recommended. All ages welcome.

Theater artist Josh Rice, who grew up in Perry and graduated from Perry Central School, cofounded Shake on the Lake. Eight seasons later, he returns every summer to produce Shakespeare with a company of professional actors from around the nation.

“We started Shake on the Lake with the intention to create a company based around play and trying to inject that spirit of play into our process, as well as our product," Rice said. "From day one, we focus on play-driven play-making where everyone – from company interns to our senior theater artists – can make a creative impact on the play.

"Giving artists ownership in the creation of a work, as well as the company itself, makes for a much-more rewarding and productive process.”

This summer the Artistic Team chose to tackle Shakespeare’s "As You Like It." The company went from script to show in two and a half weeks, during which time they also present young artist educational programming, community workshops, and outreach to Groveland Correctional Facility through their Voices UnCaged program, which recently received national recognition at the Arts in Corrections national conference in California. Actors live in the community for the summer, many of whom return year after year to work and eventually become seasonal residents.

One of those artists is Chad Bradford, who is associate artistic director for Shake on the Lake and is a founding company member. This summer’s tour is the fifth Shake on the Lake show Bradford has directed as he returns to Western New York after performing with Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

“When I think about presenting Shakespeare in 90 minutes or less like we do at Shake on the Lake, it means we have to listen to each other and use collaboration to create our fun, fast, and physical shows,” Bradford said. “Our spectacle is original music, improvisation, and in having our actors having fun devising and performing.”

Shake on the Lake first began performing at its home stage, Silver Lake, where it continues to have a four-show residency during the first weekend in August. The company has transformed from a single venue to a region-wide tour with 18 shows.

“In the Elizabethan era, companies of performers would travel to the outskirts of the rural British countryside, set up shop, and perform these same Shakespearean plays,” Rice said. “Shake on the Lake echoes this history, and we thrive in communities that have similar rural sensibilities to those 400 years ago. Shakespeare has been performed everywhere, for everyone, and we’re proving that all communities deserve great theater --especially these rural ones.”

“We regularly have audiences in triple-figures," said Managing Director Pilar McKay. “To me, this shows that we are fulfilling our mission to create art that people want to be part of. Shake on the Lake is special because we live, work, and believe in our rural communities.”

Catch Shake on the Lake on tour this year in Wyoming County (Silver Lake – Perry/Castile, Letchworth St. Park, Arcade, and Attica), Genesee (Batavia), Orleans (Point Breeze and Lyndonville), Livingston (Geneseo and Linwood Gardens), Erie (Springville), Monroe (Brockport), Ontario (Cumming Nature Center), and Allegany (Angelica and Wellsville).

For more information about Shake on the Lake, click here.


Shake on the Lake is a live theater festival located in Silver Lake. Founded in 2012, as the only professional theater company in five adjacent counties in Western New York, the mission of the festival is to “entertain, engage, and enrich those in the community by creating theater productions in a natural outdoor setting.”

Show Synopsis:

"As You Like It" follows the story of Rosalind, who faces an uncertain future after the exile of her royal father by her uncle, the newly installed Duke Frederick. Buoyed by her loving cousin, Celia, and the rascally clown, Touchstone, Rosalind makes the best of her lot, and by chance, entrances the eyes of a brave young man, Orlando. After Orlando’s successful wrestling match against the Duke’s champion, both Orlando and Rosalind must secretly flee to uncertain lands to escape the eyre of the new duke as well as Orlando’s jealous brother, Oliver. They run separately to the Forest of Arden, fearing they will never see one another again, not knowing the magic and romance that awaits them in the forest.

Alternative Synopsis:

“All the world’s a stage,” and Shake on the Lake is poised to bring the “players with exits and entrances,” playing “many parts,” as they bring Shakespeare’s most musical comedy, "As You Like It," on tour across Western New York this summer. Join Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s most savvy and strong heroines as she flees to the Forest of Arden with her comedic sidekicks to find her exiled father, Duke Senior. But what fate awaits her in the woods? Come find out as Shake on the Lake puts its fast, fun, and physical-style on display in this comedy about love, longing, and the beauty of the natural world, incorporating classic Shakespearean tropes like cross-dressing, mistaken identity, live music and songs, and...wrestling. All of Western New York is our stage in this 90-minute musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s "As You Like It," on tour now through Aug. 11.

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