[Brave Spirits has a] kick-ass mission.
Brave Spirits Theatre stages visceral and intimate productions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries with a focus on female artists and feminist perspectives.
Through a rigorous commitment to both scholarship and modern theatre practice, BST seeks to become a regional and a national leader in the Shakespeare industry. Our programming is guided by three main initiatives:
- We hope to introduce ignored early modern plays to new audiences and to encourage other companies to produce them.
- We seek to enrich these classic plays with nontraditional casting and provide access for marginalized voices.
- We aim to build a company training program to enhance the skills of our ensemble and provide learning opportunities for DC area actors.
BST is dedicated to plays from the era of verse and violence which contrast the baseness of humanity with the elegance of poetry. Our six values are the heart of how we rehearse and why we perform these plays.
Verse – The defining feature of these plays is their linguistic inventiveness. Iambic pentameter was the language of this era of theatre; that structure provides a wealth of information for artists and audiences. Our rehearsals begin with in-depth tablework, which we see as a delicious process, full of joy and discovery. Click here to download our Text Analysis packet.
Violence – Early modern theatre was often shocking and gruesome. BST’s productions tear down the perception of these plays as proper and intellectual and instead use them to explore the boundaries of acceptable behavior. By leaning into these darker aspects, BST creates theatre that contains the full spectrum of human experience.
Shakespeare’s Contemporaries – The English early modern theatre gave us one of the richest periods for drama that the world has ever known. BST is dedicated not only to Shakespeare, but also to the other playwrights writing in the same era, who have been unfortunately ignored in the wake of Shakespeare’s genius. We believe in the dramatic worth of these works and we love sharing these rarely produced gems with our audience.
Representation – BST’s productions are implicitly and explicitly feminist. In order to address the disparity of the female presence in early modern theatre, we engage in cross-gender casting and the re-gendering of characters. Our productions seek to critique patriarchal constructs and move beyond heteronormativity. BST is committed to giving voice in these plays to LGBTQ narratives, to racial minorities, and to artists of all backgrounds.
Actors – The actor is at the center of the theatrical process. We aim to create a collaborative rehearsal room driven by the input of actors. Our productions employ doubling and a sense of ensemble in order to highlight the talents of performers and the theatricality inherent in these plays.
Audience – The early modern theatre was a communal artistic experience. In keeping with that aesthetic, there is no fourth wall in BST productions and the audience is actively present in the world of the play. By playing with the audience rather than to them, BST creates a sense of intimacy and connection that heightens the power of these plays and the audience’s response to them.
Leadership and Artistic Associates
Charlene V. Smith
Producing Artistic Director
Charlene V. Smith is an actor, director, and scholar, who has worked in the DC metropolitan area since 2006. She co-founded Brave Spirits Theatre in 2011 and became Artistic Director in 2014. For BST, she has directed Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Richard III and The Two Noble Kinsmen and co-directed The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Bloody Banquet. Charlene completed her BA in English and Theatre at the College of William and Mary and studied at the London Dramatic Academy. She has an MLitt and an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College (now University) in partnership with the American Shakespeare Center. She served as head editor on the book of essays produced by her MFA class, Rogue Shakespeare: Stagecraft and Scholarship in an Ensemble-Based MFA Company. Charlene will have an essay on Margaret of Anjou in a forthcoming book, The Palgrave Hand-
book of Shakespeare’s Queens.
Artistic Associate/Graphic Designer
Jessica is an actor, director, graphic designer, and mother to the best little man ever. For BST she has performed in Romeo and Juliet and The Bloody Banquet and directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has performed across the country and with the American Shakespeare Center (Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Love’s Labours Lost); The Theater at Monmouth (Antony and Cleopatra, The Liar, As You Like It); 1st Stage (The Violet Hour, Holiday). She works as a graphic designer at Signature Theatre. She is proud to be a part of BST and its incredible mission.
is a director, dramaturg, and researcher specializing in early modern drama. Her D.C.-area assistant directing credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mary Stuart at the Folger Theatre, and Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love at Studio Theatre 2nd Stage. She was the Assistant Director / Tour Manager for the ASC’s Stark Raving Sane Tour. Dramaturgy credits include The Maid’s Tragedy and Arden of Faversham at Brave Spirits; Edward II and The Comedy of Errors for the Shakespeare Institute Players; King Lear, Love’s Labours Lost, and Der Bestrafte Brudermord for the Mary Baldwin College MFA program. Cassie has been an invited speaker at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Folger Fridays series, the Royal Shakespeare Company Summer School, and the Digital.Humanities @ Oxford Summer School. She holds MLitt and MFA degrees from Mary Baldwin College, and a PhD from The Shakespeare Institute, where her study was fully funded by the University of Birmingham College of Arts and Law.
Resident Lighting Designer
For BST: Doctor Faustus, Antony and Cleopatra, Henri IV, The Bloody Banquet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is currently on the Board of Trustees for the Contemporary American Theater Festival, and Shrunken Shakespeare. He is also on the Board of Visitors for the University of Maryland TDPS department. He has recently started Set The Stage, a non-profit to help public schools modernize their spaces and practices. For more updates: https://www.facebook.com/
For BST: Clarence, Ratcliffe, Dorset (Richard III), Snug the Joiner (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the Jailer’s Daughter (The Two Noble Kinsmen), and Annabella (’Tis Pity She’s a Whore).http://www.jennaberk.com.
For BST: Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet) and Giovanni (’Tis Pity She’s a Whore). http://www.dannycackley.com.
Resident Fight Director
Casey staged violence for BST’s The Maid’s Tragedy, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet and Co-Directed The Bloody Banquet. A Certified Fight Director with the Society of American Fight Directors, Casey has arranged fights for more than four hundred productions throughout the country, including extensive work with the Folger, Round House, Signature, and Rorschach Theatres. He designed blood effects for Faction of Fools’ Titus Andronicus and Constellation Theatre’s Lieutenant of Inishmore, as well as the Men at Arms: Reforged web series, and he serves as an audition choreographer for Marvel Universe Live. Casey has been an instructor at Catholic University, the University of Mary Washington, University of Maryland – Baltimore County, as well as a guest artist for Fight Directors Canada and the Nordic Stagefight Society. He founded and fostered Tooth & Claw Combat Arts into the largest stage combat training program in the DC area: www.toothandclawcombat.com
is a dramaturg, theatre practitioner, teacher, and scholar of early modern drama. Her previous dramaturgy credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost (dir. Dr Jacquelyn Bessell, ASC) and The Tempest (dir. Shakespeare’s Globe Associate Giles Block, ASC). Following several years of research on Dekker and Middleton’s The Bloody Banquet, she worked as a production dramaturg with BST for the first professional staging of the play in almost four hundred years. Claire received her BA in English from Washington College and her MLitt in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College in association with the American Shakespeare Center.
James T. Majewski
For BST he has played Amintor (The Maid’s Tragedy), Master Quickly, Archbishop of York (Henri IV), Zenarchus, Lapyrus (The Bloody Banquet). James performed in WSC Avant-Bard’s Les Justes, and originated the role of The Young Man in Factory 449’s premier production of Magnificent Waste. Additional credits include the titular role in Lean and Hungry Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as roles in Hamlet, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night (VpStart Crow). James holds a degree in Philosophy from the Pontifical College Josephinum, and received his training both from the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and at George Mason University under the direction of Ed Gero.He is pursuing an MFA at CalArts.
Graduating from the Catholic University of America with her MFA in Acting in 2015 Briana’s passion for classical theater and text led her to play Hotspur, Coleville, Clarence, and of course Mouldy in Brave Spirit’s Henri IV: the Re-Gendered Henry IV Repertory. Other DC and MD credits include: Mercutio and Friar Lawrence in Juliet and Romeo with Catholic University, Portia in The Merchant of Venice with Catholic University, Dori in Danny Boy with Unexpected Stage Company, Countess and Mariana in All’s Well that Ends Well with Blood & Courage: the under-30 company of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet with Shakespeare in the Parks Prince George’s County, Dusty in Stone Tape Party with NuSass productions, First Witch in Macbeth with Theatre Prometheus, and Emilia in Othello with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Artistic Associate, Co-Founder
is a classically-trained actor, teaching artist, and director, and a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. For BST: The Duchess (The Duchess of Malfi, upcoming); Aspatia (The Maid’s Tragedy); Julia, Co-Director (The Two Gentlemen of Verona); Lady Anne, etc. (Richard III); Director (Romeo and Juliet). Other credits include: American Shakespeare Center, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Folger Shakespeare Theatre, Shakespeare East, and Marina in Pericles at Mary Baldwin University (MFA production directed by Tina Packer). Victoria holds a MFA and MLitt in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance with a concentration in acting from MBU in partnership with the ASC, and a BA with High Honors in Theatre/Literature from Marlboro College. She has trained at Shakespeare & Company, OST, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and the British-American Drama Academy in London. Visit her website at www.victoriareinsel.com.
Resident Music Director
Music direction for BST includes: Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Maid’s Tragedy. Zach recently performed in The Lady with the Little Dog (Quotidian), War of the Worlds (SCENA), Friendship Betrayed (WSC Avant Bard), and Madwoman of Chaillot (WSC Avant Bard). He also directed Family Portrait for the DC Music Theatre Workshop.
Ian Blackwell Rogers
For BST: Duke, Antonio, Launce (Two Gentlemen of Verona), Stanley, Tyrrel, Lord Mayor (Richard III), Theseus, Oberon (Two Noble Kinsmen/Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the King (The Maid’s Tragedy). Ian is a Resident Company Member of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, where he’s been privileged to undertake many wonderful roles in BSF’s stripped-down, Shakespearean staging conditions, playing Hamlet, Macbeth, Prospero, Shylock, Petruchio, Malvolio, Touchstone, and Leontes. Ian is a member of Pallas Theatre Collective, where he played Adolphus Cusins in Major Barbara, and Gonzalo in The Tempest. He played Edgar Allan Poe in A Dream Within a Dream, an immersive theater project for the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival. He’s also worked with Scena Theatre, in Public Enemy, The Plague, The Chairs, and The Insect Play.
Board of Directors
Kelly Elliott was co-artistic director of the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival for one season and general manager for two. The company saw the largest growth in audience, donations, and actor pay since its founding at that time. In 2004, she co-founded the Dirty Shakespeare Project, for which she directed and produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kelly also co-wrote and produced Kill Will, an hour-long fight show showcasing all the deaths in Shakespeare’s canon, which performed both at Cleveland Public Theatre Big[box] and the Minneapolis Fringe Festival. Cleveland Public Theatre picked it up for its 2010-11 season for the official world premiere. Kelly taught and choreographed stage combat (as well as acted and directed) in the northeast Ohio area for twelve years before receiving an MLitt and MFA from Mary Baldwin College’s Shakespeare and Performance program.
Briana Manente is a Washington, DC-based theater artist. Since receiving an MFA in Acting from the Catholic University of America in 2015, Briana has consistently worked in a multitude of DC metro area theaters as an actor, teaching artist, assistant director, and stage manager. Briana’s recent promotion to Associate Artistic Director with Shakespeare in the Parks: Prince George’s County has allowed her to become a driving force for providing free and open access to outdoor performances of William Shakespeare’s works across the artistically underserved population of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Briana holds an unbridled passion for classical theater, particularly the works of Shakespeare having performed in 22 of the 37 plays, with a goal to have performed in each show of the cannon by the end of her career. She came to Brave Spirits Theatre in 2015 as an actor in the re-gendered Henri IV repertory and has found her artistic home within the company as an Artistic Associate. Outside of theatrical pursuits Briana is an Executive Assistant at Excelsior College’s Washington, DC outreach center where she assists adult learners in their pursuit of higher education.
Amanda Michaels is an AEA Stage Manager with over 10 years experience working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional productions. She has been a member of the board of directors for the Oyster River Players (a children’s theater company in New Hampshire) since 2005 and in 2008 was a producing partner for Palehorse Productions, LLC.
Valerie Adams Rigsbee
Histories Campaign Chair
Valerie Adams Rigsbee is a DC-based performer, graphic designer, and web developer. As a performer, she has a varied resume that spans classics to contemporary, musicals to straight plays, comedies to tragedies, and everything in between. In the past year, she was part of three Helen Hayes nominated productions. Valerie has completed internships with the development department at the Guthrie Theater and marketing, education, and front of house departments at Park Square Theatre. She also served on the board of Theatre Pro Rata for four years, with the title of Board Chair for two. She works as a designer and web developer for the National Association of Broadcasters, as well as co-running Chisel and Brand, a web design and marketing company, and running BroadwayMusicalHome.com (a passion project and web-based business with over 40K blog subscribers). Valerie has a BA in Theatre Performance from Pomona College and studied at the London Dramatic Academy.
Melissa J. Sites
Melissa Sites is the executive director of College Park Arts Exchange, an arts non-profit bringing arts events to the people of College Park, Maryland. Sites also teaches music as a private instructor, offering piano, guitar, singing, general music, and coaching for individuals. Sites earned a BA from Hollins College, Roanoke, VA, double majoring in Music and English Literature, and graduated first in her class. Melissa then earned an MFA in Creative Writing, Certificate in Women’s Studies, and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Maryland, focusing on British Romanticism.
Charlene V. Smith
Charlene V. Smith is an actor, director, and scholar, who has worked in the DC metropolitan area since 2006. She co-founded Brave Spirits Theatre in 2011 and became Artistic Director in 2014. Charlene completed her BA in English and Theatre at the College of William and Mary and studied at the London Dramatic Academy. She has an MLitt and an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College (now University) in partnership with the American Shakespeare Center. She served as head editor on the book of essays produced by her MFA class, Rogue Shakespeare: Stagecraft and Scholarship in an Ensemble-Based MFA Company. Charlene will have an essay on Margaret of Anjou in a forthcoming book, The Palgrave Handbook of Shakespeare’s Queens. She is an Equity Membership Candidate and a board member of the Actors’ Center.
Keith Smith is a geographic information systems specialist with more than a decade of professional experience advancing enterprise geospatial solutions for public and private sector customers. He holds an MA in geography and industry certifications from Microsoft, Esri, CompTIA, and the GIS Certification Institute. Keith specializes in relational databases, mapping applications, systems integration, and technical writing. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
Brave Spirits Theatre is proud to be a member of The Shakespeare Theatre Association (STA). STA was established to provide a forum for the artistic, managerial, educational leadership for theatres primarily involved with the production of the works of William Shakespeare; to discuss issues and methods of work, resources, and information; and to act as an advocate for Shakespearean productions and training.
Brave Spirits is proud to be a part of the diverse theatrical landscape that is the DC Metropolitan region and a member of theatreWashington. Together, with the region’s dynamic professional theatre community, theatreWashington creates and invigorates audiences, strengthens the region’s theatrical workforce, and celebrates excellence on Washington stages to build and an even more vibrant community for all.