The Heart of Shakespeare Explored in Actors Theatre’s New, Remixed ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

Actors Theatre of Louisville opens its new season this week with Shakespeare’s oldest love story, but you’ve never seen “Love’s Labour’s Lost” like this before. The comedy is adapted, altered and re-imagined by The Moving Company’s Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers and Dominique Serrand, who remixed the original script to put the words of Shakespeare’s other lovers – from all 37 of his plays – into these characters’ mouths.

“Because it’s one of his early plays, it’s like you see all the seeds of what he did brilliantly and beautifully and more [fully] achieved as he went,” said Epp, who is also part of the ensemble. “In a way, it’s not one of his greatest plays, so people don’t care as much if you toy with it.”

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” previews Tuesday and Wednesday and runs Thursday through September 21 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium.

The result is a love letter to the Bard, delivered through the basic structure of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” a story about a fictional King of Navarre who gathers his closest friends in seclusion for three years of monastic study. Goodbye to worldly pleasures – the feasting, the pomp and circumstance of court, and most importantly, to the ladies – until the beautiful princess of France and her court crash the party and romance threatens their oath.

It’s a triumph of the heart over the head, which fits well with The Moving Company’s physically-engaged approach to performance.

“The danger is always to speak Shakespeare from the head up, and not to live the whole character, which, when you do, it opens up, you realize the dimension of those characters,” said Serrand, who also directs. “It’s a way for us to bring characters to life in a deeper way.”

Which also what they accomplished by cutting and pasting across Shakespeare’s work. This new script melds into “Love’s Labour’s Lost” now-archetypal young innocents like Miranda and Ferdinand from “The Tempest” alongside the jaded couples like Benedick and Beatrice and aristocrats including Henry V and his Katherine – to say nothing of the clowns, the bawds, the lusty commonfolk – in an imaginative pastiche that offers a holistic look at Shakespeare’s views on love.

“As a result, we turn a young, early play into a more mature work,” said Serrand. “By bringing some of these larger lovers from the later plays, suddenly we expand the sentiments to a level that’s enchanting.”

Epp and Serrand have worked together for more than 30 years, and Keepers has been in the mix for 15. Before they were The Moving Company, they worked together in Theatre de la Jeune Lune, a Tony Award-winning company in Minneapolis that Serrand co-founded in France in 1978. Actors Theatre patrons might remember their version of Moliere’s “The Miser” from 2004, and more recently, the dreamy memory play “Fissures (lost and found)” in the 2010 Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Epp says they approach every play as if it were a brand-new work, and though they haven’t done much Shakespeare together, his influence has a way of creeping into everything they do.

“Often in a lot of the shows we’d create we’d reference Shakespeare, or go back and look at some language in Shakespeare. Sometimes we’d steal a little bit of language and re-write it and paraphrase it in writing a completely different show. He’s sort of the eternal source and inspiration,” said Epp.

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