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United Way of Lancaster County


Bringing Shakespeare into the 21st century: A Q&A with Jeremiah Miller

Ian Wettlaufer as Posthumus and Caitlin Hughes as Innogen in the People’s Shakespeare Project’s winter 2024 production of “Cymbeline.” (Source: Provided)

Jeremiah Miller

Jeremiah Miller is the Executive Artistic Director of the Lancaster Shakespeare Theatre, a growing program aimed to educate and get individuals of all ages excited about Shakespeare.

Founded by Laura Korach Howell as the People’s Shakespeare Project, the nonprofit rebranded under its current name this past spring.

Miller’s love for theatre and the arts began at a young age. He was introduced to the People’s Shakespeare Project in 2015 and his involvement deepened over the years. He succeeded Howell last year.

One United Lancaster: How did the People’s Shakespeare Project begin? Who was the driving force in establishing this program/project?

Miller: The People’s Shakespeare Project was founded by Laura in 2006. At the time, she taught at the Lancaster Country Day School and was a professional performer in Lancaster for many years, with a considerable theater background and training.

Laura Korach Howell

Howell studied theatre and performed at Grinnell College and Circle-in-the-Square Theatre and taught at Lancaster Country Day School and Millersville University. She designed and taught theatre residencies in local schools for many years as a roster artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

With a love for teaching and Shakespeare, Laura began a summer program largely catered toward students to perform Shakespeare in the Park. She aimed to make Shakespeare’s work less intimidating and more accessible to everyone.

OUL: What prompted Laura to create educational Shakespeare programs for kids and youth?

Laura had a real strength creating educational opportunities. During her time with the People’s Shakespeare Project, she created “Camp Will.” This three-week camp worked with kids to rehearse a play and put on a final performance at the end of the week for parents and guardians.  

In addition to Camp Will, Laura created “ShakesPeers”, a one-day festival that encouraged high school students to get excited about Shakespeare. Launched in January 2020, five high schools in the Lancaster area participated with their drama students and performed a Shakespeare monologue against opposing schools.

At the beginning of the day, students split up into groups and were paired with a judge to perform their monologue. After presenting their monologue, the top three students from each group were chosen and given the chance to perform to the public later in the day.

Following their monologues, students received hands on training through a Shakespeare-based workshop. Then students were given 24 minutes to learn a Shakespeare scene in groups and performed their scene in front of judges alongside their monologue counterparts. Judges then chose students from the top three monologues and Shakespeare scenes to be awarded for their performances.

For more information

The Lancaster Shakespeare Project plans to launch a new website later this month. In the meantime, news and updates can be found on its Facebook page.

Its next production, “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” will be performed at 6:30 p.m. nightly from Tuesday, June 18, through Sunday, June 23, at Musser Park, 135 N. Lime St., Lancaster. Tickets are “pay what you will” and audience members are encouraged to dress in the style of the Roaring Twenties, the era in which the play has been set.

OUL: What workshops do you offer for adults?

Miller: We offer adult workshops that are just getting off the ground. Laura taught Shakespeare monologue workshops in the past but we’re also offering a monthly Shakespeare reading group called “Will to Read” that starts in September. This is geared towards adults.

During this workshop, participants read aloud, discuss, and watch scenes from film versions of Shakespeare plays. Dr. Justin Hopkins, a Franklin & Marshall professor and a frequent actor with our company, will lead this workshop. He is a great resource, as he is well versed in Shakespeare with experience teaching its subject matter and seeing it portrayed in performances around the world.

OUL: How did you become involved with the People’s Shakespeare Project? What is your current role?

Miller: I grew up on the Lancaster stage. I started performing at 10 years old. I first met Laura during that time.

At age 18, I decided to move to New York to pursue acting. I had an exciting little career there and was cast in several Off-Broadway plays and extras on television shows.

After a while, I got tired of living in New York and left theater behind to go back to college.

Once I received my degree in communications, I moved back to Lancaster, unsure of what to pursue in my early 30s. I continued theater as a hobby and reconnected with Laura, later being cast in 2015 for “The Tempest” at the Winter Center at Millersville University. I played Hamlet the following summer.

When Laura was gearing up to retire, she contacted me alongside her board about taking over her position.  I was excited about this opportunity and accepted. A year after accepting this role, I stepped down as the alumni director for the McCaskey Alumni Association and decided to go full time with the Lancaster Shakespeare Theatre.

A scene from 2023’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” performed on the LancasterHistory campus. (Source: Provided)

OUL: On your website, it says “Lancaster Shakespeare Theatre (TPSP) is a nonprofit organization that aims to foster a profound understanding and appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare through performance and performance-based instruction.”

Has this focus shifted since your recent rebrand?

Miller: I wouldn’t say that the mission has profoundly shifted, but we are trying to take the company to the next level. When Laura first started, it made sense to focus on just Shakespeare with a limited budget. As Lancaster has become a thriving and growing city, we hope to branch out and focus on other material in addition to Shakespeare. Many professional Shakespeare companies do this as well.

We would also like to become a more diverse company. That’s always been part of our mission as a company, but I think we’d like to see this become more realized as we grow. In doing so, we have started looking at different authors in hopes of attracting a new set of actors who might not have been into Shakespeare before being exposed to it.

August Wilson is a great example of this. Wilson was the country’s first famous Black playwright, or American Shakespeare. I was introduced to his play “The Piano Lesson” by a board member. This show includes an all-Black cast and has gained recognition for its powerful story.

“The Piano Lesson” centers around a treasured family heirloom – a piano – and touches on themes related to the memory of slavery and historical legacy. It won a Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1990 and won an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV Movie in 1995.

We’re excited to be putting on “The Piano Lesson” with the Lancaster Shakespeare Theatre. WestArt will host our performance from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1.    

OUL: What criteria need to be met when choosing a show and bringing Shakespeare to a broader audience?  

Miller: As the executive artistic director, I have the board of directors’ trust to choose the season. Since I’ve been hired, I’ve focused on becoming more oriented toward the lesser-known Shakespeare plays and ones we haven’t done before.

We put on “A Winter’s Tale” during my first year with the company. It’s a relatively well-known play that isn’t performed as often. This past February, we did “Cymbeline,” Shakespeare’s least performed play.

I really enjoy the process of cutting Shakespeare. While I don’t change his language, as I find it beautiful, I’ve found that the audience standards have changed in terms of how people expect stories to be told. Most people don’t want to sit and listen to exposition or long periods of backstory, they want to be shown what’s happening.

We’re keeping the brains and genius behind Shakespeare’s work while finding a way to be the word processor Shakespeare didn’t have access to. I would like to think we are bringing his work into the 21st century in terms of storytelling and efficiency.

OUL: Is there an age limit age range for people who audition?

Miller: Casting is dependent on each show. I definitely pride myself on encouraging older people to audition for our roles as there are less from that age range involved in community theater.

OUL: What is your main source of funding?

Miller: Most of our funding comes from the annual appeal that we do. As we’re rebranding and rethinking a lot of things, we’ve gotten into the business of writing grants.

Shakespeare is not everybody’s cup of tea, so it can be a difficult sell when writing grants and fundraising. You kind of have to be a bit lucky to be discovered because Shakespeare isn’t like every average show on the street.

The cast of “Fool-Ish: Holly Andrew, Sena Taşkapılıoğlu and Kristin Wolanin. (Source: Provided)

OUL: What shows have you done in the past? What can we look forward to in the future for upcoming shows?

Miller: After I got hired, we did “A Winter’s Tale” at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. They had a long history of hosting theater. After a huge turnover in leadership, their pastor left, and we lost our contact with them.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” followed “A Winter’s Tale,” performed outdoors. We moved locations after this show and marked WestArt as our homebase for indoor shows. Our first performance there was “Cymbeline” in February.

In the following months, we put on the play “Fool-ish” in the upstairs space at West Art.

Created by Laura Howell and Sena Taşkapılıoğlu, Fool-ish is a new play inspired by Shakespeare. It depicts three of Shakespeare’s fools who find themselves stranded on a desert island and must rely on music, wits, words and play to survive and plot their escape.

We’re currently rehearsing for “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” a show based in the 1920s. This will be performed at Musser Park for Shakespeare in the Park from June 18 to 23 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.