New Elgin theater company offers modern take on Shakespeare

South Elgin native founds new theater company called Goodly Creatures

See Shakespeare's sonnets take on a life of their own in a modern interpretation of the language of love.

Goodly Creatures, a new theater company, will tell the story of three couples in 12 sonnets with a modern interpretation on these literary classics.

Its first performance of the same name will debut July 5-8 and 12-15 at the Elgin Art Showcase, and follow with shows July 26-29 and Aug 2-5 at Stage 773 in Chicago.

Founded by South Elgin native Katrina Syrris, Goodly Creatures LLC specializes in breathing new life into classic works of literature.

"We believe that classics are timeless for a reason and shouldn't ever be forgotten in the haze of modernity," Syrris said. "Shakespeare's themes are just as relevant today as they have been since their conception."

The name Goodly Creatures was drawn from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," when the two main characters become shipwrecked on an island: "Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!"

This quote highlights the steadfast optimism of the young female lead of the play, who sees people for all that they can be rather than what they currently are, Syrris noted. "It's apt for the ensemble in that it is emblematic of our goals, to inspire our audiences to see in the world, and be more to the world than what they think limits them."

"Goodly Creatures" incorporates sonnets spanning Shakespeare's entire career, from his earliest to his latest, Syrris said.

"Love is shown from multiple perspectives and at different stages. We cover unrequited love, romantic love and platonic love, and all the nuances in between."

What makes this troupe unique is it eschews the standards of most Shakespeare performances.

"We break all the rules," Syrris said. "You won't hear English accents and you won't see elaborate costumes, but what you will see is yourself, and your life reflected back at you."

The audience will walk away with insights and even plans of action to improve their lives, she said.

"Theater isn't just a performance art, it's a healing art."

Syrris chose to focus on sonnets rather than The Bard's plays because she believes they are underperformed and underappreciated.

"You'll even see them in greeting cards occasionally," she said, "but it surely doesn't do justice to the work. Sonnets are absolutely loaded with lessons and new perspectives."

For example, Sonnet 152, "In Loving Thee Thou Knowest I Am Forsworn," is about accepting a harsh reality that a lover is not who one thought he or she would be.

"It's about the reality check of heartbreak," Syrris said. "Not only do you end up grieving the loss of that person in your life, you grieve the loss of the fantasy they enabled; you grieve the loss of those hopes and dreams."

While writing the script, Syrris realized 14 lines of poetry tell a complete story.

"They break down into profound stories that can be interpreted in so many ways, and even though we can assume most are originally from the male perspective, they ring true for everyone, regardless of gender."

Syrris transposed sonnets into monologues and scenes with multiple characters to create a 90-minute play focused on the complexity of relationships. She asked actors to give their character a back story and personal challenges to complete the picture, and to find their own props.

"One character had given his girlfriend a mix tape. It's my actor's job to decide what songs are on it. All these nuances build authenticity."

Actor Cam Tucker chose "Happy Together" "because the whole song, up until the end, is very much alluring, and very forward with 'I Love You,' but there's a line at the end when he asks 'How is the weather?,' which is such a strange question to ask someone you love. It's forcing small talk in a way," he said.

Founding a theater company was the next logical step in the evolution of Syrris' career, which began with acting workshops at age 4, children's theater and roles in community theater productions by age 11.

She performed in Larkin High School productions, as well as theaters throughout the Fox Valley, then moved on to directing. Syrris was previously director of copywriting operations for a Chicago-based digital marketing agency before quitting her day job to focus on the theater company.

She still serves on the board of directors at the Riverfront Playhouse, and will direct their psychological thriller, "Rope," this fall.

In a nod to her Fox Valley roots, Syrris chose actors she has performed with in past productions.

"They are team players, good people and wildly talented," she said.

Although Goodly Creatures is a traveling company, Syrris wanted to pay homage to locally grown talent by debuting the performance at the Elgin Art Showcase.

"I feel so immensely inspired by my cast and my vision. I want to share this with as many people as possible, and Chicago is incredibly welcoming to novel ideas," Syrris said.

They received support from the Chicago theater community, making Stage 773 the spot for their Chicago debut later this month.

After the curtain falls on the last performance this summer, Syrris will gear up to produce her next show. Additionally, English teachers have expressed interest in bringing Goodly Creatures into schools to teach young readers about Shakespeare.

"Doors are opening, and to quote one of my actors, I'm 'not letting the paint dry on this one!'"

Rachel Stevens will perform in "Goodly Creatures" July 5-8 and 12-15 at the Elgin Art Showcase. Courtesy of Victoria Lunacek Photography
From left, Amaria Von Dran, Cam Tucker, Johnny Hohman and Ian Samsami will interpret Shakespeare's sonnets in "Goodly Creatures," a show by a new theater company by the same name. Courtesy of Victoria Lunacek Photography
South Elgin native Katrina Syrris has founded a new theater company called Goodly Creatures. Courtesy of Christina Wehbe Photography

If you go

What: "Goodly Creatures," a selection of Shakespeare sonnets transformed into a 90-minute play, by a new theater company of the same name

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, July 5-7 and 12-14; and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 8 and 15

Where: Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin

Cost: $25

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