Sweet Tea Shakespeare, Fayetteville’s traveling theater company, starts the new year off with a twist. The location for its latest production is not a museum or a church, it’s Fayetteville Pie Company — and for good reason. Jan. 17-Feb. 3, the troupe will present the delectably gruesome “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Production Manager Medina Demeter said that while the troupe is known for its Shakespearean productions, this is not the first time it has strayed from the bard’s work. STS’ previous non-Shakespearean productions include “Jane Eyre,” “Songs for a New World” and “Sense and Sensibility.”
The character Sweeney Todd first appeared in literature in the 1840s. He was the villain in a Victorian weekly serial “The String of Pearls.” Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 rendition of Todd’s story, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” opened on Broadway in 1979 and won several awards, including Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. Many other stories have been created with the basic premise and character of Sweeney Todd, but it is Sondheim’s tale that STS will portray.
Shaking up the season with “Sweeney Todd” was an easy decision, Demeter said. “Sondheim is good any time of the year. The lyrics and melodies in ‘Sweeney Todd’ are particularly appropriate for those wishing to escape the commercialism of Valentine’s Day.”
The play’s main character and namesake, Sweeney Todd, played by STS founder Jeremy Fiebig, is a barber. He is also a killer with a tragic backstory. He disposes of his victims with the help of Mrs. Lovett, played by Marie Lowe, who bakes the victims’ flesh into meat pies and sells them in her pie shop. In true STS fashion, the group has made the story its own.
In addition to performing, Lowe is an associate art director and master of audience and LIT — the group’s drunken Shakespeare series. “We are a small troupe of company members who travel to different towns and venues, which is different than other theaters, but no matter what kind of show you see at Sweet Tea, some things are always the same: a focus on making great stories accessible to diverse audiences through great performances, music, fellowship and food,” she said. “One of my favorite things about Sweet Tea Shakespeare is that almost all of the people who have joined the company since I’ve been here came straight from the audience — including me.”
STS performs at a variety of venues, both indoor and outdoor, and is dedicated to bringing shows to as many audiences as possible. Setting this production at the Fayetteville Pie Company was the obvious choice.
“We are so fortunate to be working with the Fayetteville Pie Company — one of Fayetteville’s iconic eateries — for this production,” Demeter said. “With their help and the awesome staging possibilities in their restaurant, audiences can expect to feel like they are a part of the action.
“I am really enjoying the way the space at the Fayetteville Pie Company is at once challenging and infinitely fun to create in. I am excited to see the audience’s reaction to the use of space.”
Ticket price includes a savory pie, a sweet pie and a soft drink or tea. Beer and wine will be available for purchase.
“Try to carve out time to see this show,” said Demeter. “Getting tickets is easy as pie, and it’s guaranteed to not be crummy.”
Lowe noted that audiences often leave STS performances feeling pleasantly surprised at the uniqueness of the experience. “Almost everyone who comes to see one of our shows, whether it’s a musical or a new adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ or a drunk ‘Shakes in a bar’ or a traditional Shakespeare play, says the same thing — ‘I didn’t think I would have such a good time!’ There’s music, food, beverages adult and non, fellowship, T-shirts and a lot of laughter. I’d encourage people to … just come have a good time.”
STS’ mission is to celebrate the wonder of language, story and stagecraft by engaging a diverse community with accessible, imaginative, magical theater. STS work, inspired by Shakespeare and the early modern spirit, is heightened by music, presence, familiarity and fellowship.
STS employs universal lighting, which was common in Shakespeare’s day. Universal lighting illuminates the actor, the stage and the audience so the actors can engage more fully with the audience.
The company also uses large, movable set pieces instead of fixed sets. This not only keeps things simple, it emphasizes the actors and the performance. Many actors in STS productions assume the roles of more than one character in each production. In Shakespearean custom, cross-gender casting is also a part of STS productions.
There are two shows remaining in the STS 2018- 2019 season — “Maid Marion,” which runs April 25- May 12, and “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” which runs June 4-23.
Call the box office at 910-420-4383 or visit www.sweetteashakespeare.com for tickets and information. Tickets to “Sweeney Todd” cost $45. Performances are Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 17-Feb. 3. The show starts at 7 p.m.