The art of love and suicide

by Lenise Willis

It was Shakespeare himself that noted, “The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.” Although the poetic playwright may have been talking about know-nothing big mouths, his words seem to be appropriate here, too.

NC Shakespeare Festival’s absence of performances in the Triad seems to have left a hole crying out to be filled, which is why it’s a good thing UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem is filling it.

Having already completed two plays of its four-part Shakespeare series, UNCSA moves on to the classic love story, Romeo and Juliet, a directorial first for UNCSA’s Drama Dean, Carl Forsman.

“(This play) is good for me because I’ve known it forever,” Forsman said. “I read it when I was 13 and have always adored it. You really have to fall in love with a play to direct it.”

Last week, the school just finished its production of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, The Winter’s Tale, a dark romantic comedy.

“Certainly I am a firm believer that there is always a demand for Shakespeare,” Forsman further noted, “and that there will always be room for more of it.” So is UNCSA jumping to take over what once was NC Shakes niche? Well Forsman says he’s wanted to direct a Shakespearean performance since he took his position at UNCSA in 2012 and that the timing is merely a coincidence. “Our five-performance runs are no substitute for a fully functional, professional Shakespeare presence,” Forsman said. “I hope we can help fill that void, and maybe someday we can be part of making more theater more accessible to a bigger audience,” he continued. “But for now, we are thrilled to get to immerse ourselves in this work and learn as much as we can.” Forsman said that Shakespeare fits the school’s goal of nurturing the student actors’ abilities and helping them to discover themselves. “Shakespeare is an excellent vehicle for that,” he said.

And so is Romeo and Juliet, a play that seems an easy fit for college-aged actors. “For me the play is about youth,” Forsman continued. “Working here, I have, of course, had a lot of cause to reflect on my own time as a young person and on my own first experiences of love and loss and heartbreak.

“The play deals so much with how young people handle themselves when their great feelings conflict with their responsibilities and promises. It’s very moving and completely timeless.” For Forsman’s directorial passions, however, the play wasn’t so “timeless.” Formerly the founding artistic director of Keen Company in New York City, a not-for-profit theatre, Forsman has wanted to direct a Shakespearean play since the start of his career, however there never seemed to be a good opportunity.

“Careers in theater are funny things,” Forsman said. “You start out saying, “I’m going to do everything, but then life happens. I came very close to starting a classical repertory theater everything changed. company in Pittsburgh, and then I got a job in New York and “In New York, directors and producers like me look for niches, 400—aren’t already filling. gaps, places that the 400 theaters in New York—that’s right, “My theater company was about generosity and kindness, and although I love Shakespeare, I was focused on other things as an artist for those 12 years. Once I got to UNCSA, I knew it was just a matter of time.” So while Shakespeare addicts hopefully await for NC Shakes to get back on its feet and back into production, UNCSA will help ease the withdrawal symptoms with a few classics. Of course, Triad audiences aren’t the only ones missing that beautiful, sometimes baffling prose.

“The loss of NC Shakes is a huge one for our community,” Forsman said. “In fact, the organization’s financial struggle and cancelled performances is a blow to UNCSA students as well, as it means less professional opportunities.” !


Romeo and Juliet performs at UNCSA March 26-30. As You Like It performs April 2-6. All performances are at UNCSA’s Catawba Theatre, 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $13-$15. Call 721-1945 or visit for tickets and more information.