Dive Deeper into Hamlet, Solus with David Melville

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Founded in 1998, Independent Shakespeare Co. started their iconic free outdoor

Shakespeare performances in 2003, at Barnsdall Park. By 2010, ISCLA had moved to Griffith Park’s Old Zoo and has since performed two shows every summer, with bonus live music and cultural performances for their audience of over 40,000. I am one of ISCLA’s many adoring patrons, and have seen their shows every summer for longer than I can remember. Their sense of whimsy, incredible commitment, total immersion with the outdoor performance space, and ability to adapt Shakespeare to modern sensibilities through music, costume, and more makes the experience a delight every time.

As a non-profit theater group, their longevity and ability to survive the pandemic

is inspirational -- amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, they even established a permanent stage at Griffith Park! But their outdoor space is not the only home of ISCLA’s breathtaking shows; in 2011, Atwater Crossing Complex welcomed ISCLA into their arms with a year-round indoor theater space. This 65-seat theater has been home to incredible shows over the years: Julius Caesar, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, singalongs, and even workshops with Independent Shakespeare’s wonderful founders, David Melville and Melissa Chalsma. Now, from March 21-April 9, David Melville will be performing Hamlet, Solus, a one-man show version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.

Melville is no stranger to solo theater; for many consecutive years, he has

performed a two-person show of A Christmas Carol, playing both Dickens and most of the characters. He’s also done some even more minimalist one-person shows including Nicholas Nickelby and Solemn Mockeries. Hamlet, Solus, however, is an entirely different beast. Fascinated by the commitment to such an emotional and complex show, as well as being a huge fan of Shakespeare, I sat down with David Melville to discuss what led him to create this iambic lab.

Cyrus: Of all the famous and beloved Shakespeare plays, what drew you towards Hamlet for the Iambic Lab?

David: Well, I suppose I have a long history with Hamlet. I've done it a number of times, not just with ISC. It was the play that brought me to America. I was in a production that was on Broadway in 1995, and Ralph Fiennes was playing Hamlet, and that's where I met Melissa, and Melissa and I run the company together. So really, Hamlet's the reason I ended up in America, and I ended up meeting Melissa, and without Hamlet, I wouldn't have my children, or Independent Shakespeare Company wouldn't exist. And then when we started doing shows in the park, our second season, 2005, we did Hamlet, and I played Hamlet that time. And I think it was the first show where things really started to take off. It was the first show that really started attracting significantly large audiences, and it was popular.So we did it again the next year, and then we came back to it several times, and it's always been really good to us, I think, in that regard. And the last time I did it was, gosh, must be about 12 years ago now, and I was sad when it was over, because I had such a long relationship with the play. But I always thought it was unfinished business somehow, and I think I was doing a school's workshop, and I had to do some speeches from Hamlet, and I just got the idea then, I wanted to actually do this as a one-person show. But if you do a one-person show, you're not just playing Hamlet, you're playing everyone, so that kind of gives you license to, you know, to be creative. So that's kind of how we arrived at it.

Cyrus: That's perfect. That's actually a great segue to my next question of playing even one of the main roles in Hamlet would be a daunting task, and you're playing them all. What's that like, emotionally and physically, and even practically?

David: We're not doing four and a half hours of me saying absolutely every line. And it's been whittled down quite a bit. I think that it probably should be, it's a little, probably a little over 90 minutes. So I've had to cut quite a lot of roles, and I've really sort of centered on certain themes and certain relationships. But, you know, most of the main characters are there. So I found it interesting starting to work on it, having been so familiar with Hamlet and Hamlet's point of view, it does feel a little bit like the characters are being presented from Hamlet's perspective. So Claudius is way more evil than an actor would approach him, probably, you know, and Gertrude is way more fickle and flighty. And I don't know whether that's how it'll end up in the actual sort of final mix, but certainly as a way in, it was hard to dissociate myself from Hamlet's perspective and his point of view.

Cyrus: One thing that fascinates me about Independent Shakespeare is that you guys often incorporate modern music and live music into your productions. I noticed that that's also a theme for Hamlet, Solus. How do you think that enhances or changes the meaning of the story?

David: Hopefully it enhances it. I think there might be some people that come and see it and strongly disagree with that. You know, there's not a whole lot of music. I mean, it's mostly the Shakespeare text, but I, you know, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to experiment with a certain way of doing things. And I've done a number of one person shows before and I've always approached them in a very minimal way.But, you know, I've been interested in -- I've started doing a lot of sound design for the show. So when I work as a director, I often do my own sound design. And I really like it. And I record my own music at home because I write. So I've been writing songs for the Shakespeare plays. So I do love sound design. And I was sort of curious about how to use looping and whether there was a practical application for that in a stage. So I wanted to see if there was a way to create live loops on stage, and I'm trying to incorporate it on some lines. So certain words can be put into a loop and then sort of repeat. It's quite complicated, because it means I've got to have various trigger points around the stage, where I can activate these things. I mean, doing Hamlet as a solo show is a tightrope walk, as it is, but to deal with all this very fiddly tech stuff… I don't know, my mind might explode.

Cyrus: But hopefully not until after the show.

David: During the show, probably.But, you know, in rehearsals, we've done it, you know, it's quite satisfying when it works. But so yeah, I was just really interested in can I do that? Can I build just using the kind of synthesizer applications that you would use in a program like Logic? There's a live version of that called Main Stage. And I'm not using it a whole lot, but to be able to sort of play just a tone that will underscore a speech in a way.

David (continued): I'm giving a little bit more space to a character who I think is probably the most important character in Hamlet, outside of Hamlet, who doesn't have any lines. And that's Yorick. Whenever you see a picture of Hamlet, you know, it's Hamlet holding Yorick. He's quite sort of iconic as far as the production goes. But we don't really know too much about him [Yorick]. But he has a very interesting perspective, I think, because Hamlet is so much about death and grief. And that's one of the themes I'm trying to explore in this. And, you know, of course, Yorick sort of is on the other side of that. He does know a thing or two about it. You know, he might just be the court fool, but he is actually, something that Hamlet doesn't know, and it's not until Hamlet meets Yorick that it's after his meeting with Yorick that he's finally ready to do what he's been avoiding all of this time, not until he stares into Yorick's eyes, or what used to be his eyes. So I've sort of resurrected him, and he's helping to narrate the show a little bit. But rather than me sort of trying to write Shakespeare, I'm doing it mostly in the form of this 1930s/40s English Music Hall style, in the style of this performer called George Formby, who played a banjolele. And so I'm sort of riffing around his song style, which is very upbeat and comedic. So, tonally, it's very much against the grain of what people would expect from something like this. I'm not sure, you know, whether it's going to please people or not. But I'm just -- this is a ridiculously indulgent project. (laughs)

Cyrus: What was the process of making Hamlet, Solus? Like, I know sometimes productions can be sat on for years. If so, how many months, years, how much time has been spent?

David: We've talked about it for a long time, mostly sort of as a joke. When we're trying to think about what we're going to put in our indoor space, and something drops out. And I said, ‘Well, I can always do my one-man Hamlet’. But this year, I guess, Melissa, just put it on the calendar. And I didn't know whether she was serious or not, but I decided to take her seriously. And then the next part, I guess, was trying to learn some of the speeches of the characters that I'd not played before. So that they're sort of more in my bones, because Hamlet's very in my bones, but you know, Gertrude obviously isn't. So that was the other key part of the process, but it's been very, very much “solus”. But, you know, one of the nice things about doing a one person show is that you can always be in rehearsal. If you're in the car, or whatever you're doing, you know, you can always be working on it. But one of the downsides is that it's rather lonely. And I, one of the things I love about being in the theatre is, you know, having my fellow actors around to goof around and play with and, you know, it's a little lonely. Although I do anticipate that I can have many cast parties, and they'll all be very cheap.

Cyrus: You can invite Hamlet and Gertrude.

David: I don't know that you’d want Hamlet at a party. (laughs)

Cyrus: What do you want or hope audiences to take away from this show?

David: I think that I'd like people to connect with the themes that I want to explore. I'd like them to have a slightly deeper understanding of some of the relationships. I'd like them to sort of understand the graveyard scene as more than just a comic bit. I'd like to think that one of the advantages of doing it as a one person show is you can show characters' points of view a little clearer. Because you have to take a little bit more time in between reactions, and you can stay with reactions, you can show one person saying something to show the other reaction. But if it's just you, you can highlight some of the characters' points of view. There are some key moments. The piece with Hamlet meeting Yorick, which I'm setting up Yorick as kind of this dark comic character. But there's a seriousness when they meet. And also the scene with Gertrude -- I think there's something about the way that it's been edited that it sort of really leads to that moment. So I hope I can sort of highlight some of Gertrude's turmoil and her guilt. And I hope it sort of weirdly, even though it's very sort of edited, I hope there are some elements of the story that maybe make a little more sense. Something I'm very interested in is why Hamlet pretends to be mad. I'm making Hamlet's madness, this sort of weird, like early Pink Floyd sort of noise that sort of keeps coming back and annoying Claudius. So I can create this sort of sound character. So and again, because you're seeing things, you know, the perspective of the characters a little more clearly because it's one person show. I hope I can sort of hone in on the use of Hamlet’s feigned madness that’s a little different from what you would be able to do in a bigger production. Basically grief and madness.

Cyrus: I love that. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but what do you hope to take away from this experience? Do you think you’ll do an iambic lab or Solus project like this in the future?

David: Well we haven’t performed it yet, so we don’t know. It is an act of extreme hubris, so I could fall on my face and regret it. Or I could find wonderful new modes of expression. I mean, I’m challenging myself in ways I’ve never done before, and it’s really scary, and I hope it’s successful and it resonates. If it isn’t successful, I hope I give myself permission to be brave.

Cyrus: Lastly, do you think Hamlet, Solus is accessible to teens who have never seen Sahelsepate and how might they want to prepare for the show?

David: That’s a really good question. I hope it will be; I’m trying to make the story as clear as I can get. I do think the approach to it is playful, hopefully humorous, moving when it needs to be. That’s always a dangerous area with tragic materials -- you don’t want to overplay that comedy, but not overlay the tragedy that people are so bored with. Checkhov used to say “you need to make people laugh before they can cry”. It’ll never be boring, any of this. I do think it’ll be of interest to teens. Even if students don’t study Hamlet, they’ll probably hear some of these lines used as quotations; it’s nice to know where it sits, where it stems from.

Cyrus: Thank you so much; that’s all the questions I’ve prepared. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to teens or anyone else preparing to see the show?

David: Just come with an open mind (laughs). Everything we do, we try to make it warm and welcoming to everyone. If you don’t know Hamlet, it could be the beginning of a wonderful journey, and if you do know Hamlet, it could lend you some deeper insights.

Though Hamlet, Solus has only been in production for a few months, it seems as

though this production from David Melville was inevitable. Hamlet is interwoven with ISCLA’s very DNA, from Melville’s move to America to Independent Shakespeare’s rise in local fame. His personal connection to Hamlet creates a gripping, personal narrative that just hearing about made me jittery with excitement. From the moment I heard about Hamlet, Solus and marked my calendar to see it, to every detail I learned about its creation and nuance by talking to David Melville, I knew this solo expedition into Hamlet would be something unforgettable.

This interview-article is compiled from an audio interview conducted on 5/3/24. Not all of Mr Melville’s full responses have been included. Some responses have been edited or cut.

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Learn more about A NEW BRAIN

Q&A by Hannah Gumpert, TeenTix LA Intern

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A New Brain, a show put on by Celebration Theatre and Los Angeles LGBT Center, delves into the concepts of mortality, second chances, and the healing power of art. It follows songwriter Gordon Schwinn, who, after collapsing into their lunch and waking up in the hospital, is faced with the possibility that they might die before writing their greatest songs. The show, Celebration Theatre's first musical in years, is performed with gender-expansive casting. We get the opportunity to learn more about the experience of being in this show and theater through A New Brain's lead actor, Amanda Kruger (they/them).


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Reflections on SCINTILLA at Road Theatre Company!

Q&A by Hannah Gumpert, TeenTix LA Intern

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With global warming worse than ever and wildfires becoming a yearly occurrence in California, SCINTILLA, recently performed by the Road Theatre Company, is a timely and necessary play about the effect we have on our world. The play follows Michael and Nora as they travel to California's Wine Country to visit his mother, Marianne. As a raging California wildfire approaches Marianne's home, Michael struggles with his mother's refusal to leave, two unexpected visitors, and a complicated family history. SCINTILLA brings up the ultimate question of our very survival on Earth. Fortunately for us, we were able to hear from Danna Hyams, the show's producer, and go deeper into the process and production of SCINTILLA.Why did you choose to put on this show?

I was invited to hear the play read at the playwright's home in the fall of 2019. It was beautifully written and I was completely taken in by the different themes in the story. An extremely well drawn family conflict, juxtaposed by the outward immediate threat of fire and ultimate threat to the planet. I wanted to make this happen and I submitted it to The Road. I was thrilled when they decided to produce it for a Spring 2020 opening. But, of course, we all know what happened in March of 2020. So, we had to put the production on hold. It took three years, but I am very happy that we were able to present it now. What message do you want your audience to take away?

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Celebrate A Holiday Classic with A Noise Within

Q&A by TeenTix LA Marketing Assistant Albert Tran

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The holiday season is upon us, and A Noise Within has brought back a yearly festive classic. If you haven’t heard about the tale of A Christmas Carol, now is the time to feel immersed within this world. This universal experience unravels the story through its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, as he discovers change within himself as a person during Christmastime. Lucky for you all, we were able to learn more about this production through the creative eye of Geoff Elliott, the adapter of A Christmas Carol who plays Scrooge himself.


Why did your team decide to showcase A Christmas Carol and have it performed?

Charles Dickens’ short novel A Christmas Carol is an unparalleled tale of transformation and forgiveness. We as an audience are given the opportunity to experience, through Scrooge, the possibilities for change-how just one person can dramatically affect those around them for good or evil. We believe it is vitally important to share with the community such a transformation.

Why do we do it every holiday season and how is the audience impacted?

Well before we began performing the adaptation as a yearly event beginning in 2012, we dreamed of having this holiday tradition on a yearly basis. After we moved into our new and permanent home in 2011 we knew the time was now. The play brings new, younger, families to the theatre, many for the first time. It introduces them to the caliber of work at A Noise Within and many come back to see the other productions. It has become a tradition for members of our community with many coming back over and over again. To be onstage and feel the emotional impact from the audience at curtain call is an experience an actor never forgets.

Why is A Christmas Carol significant to you or your organization?

Dickens’ masterpiece is timeless. Its relevance today, in our rather troubled world, is a healing balm both to us and our audiences every year.

What do we hope for teens to obtain from the production?

First and foremost, that this specific classic and indeed all of the great classics have real world significance-that these plays are not dusty old library books forgotten on a shelf, but have a great deal to tell us about our lives right now. And our young audience members are given the opportunity to realize that live theatre is a once in a lifetime experience, that their active participation as audience members energizes the performers, making that particular day a group effort.


We would like to thank Geoff Elliott for sharing his experience working on this production with TeenTix LA. Click HERE to learn how to see this production for just $5 before it closes on December 23rd. Be like Ebenezer Scrooge and don’t miss out on feeling transformed by art this season. Enjoy the holiday excitement with your loved ones. We wish you all a happy holiday!

Photo by Craig Schwartz

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Get Ready To SMILE for IAMA Theatre

Q&A by TeenTix LA Marketing Assistant Albert Tran

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Get Ready To SMILE for IAMA Theatre

We are so excited to be back promoting another show with our arts partner, IAMA Theatre! SMILE premiered on November 10th. This show explores the story of a 17 year old girl from Northeast Philadelphia. When an “incident” follows pursuit at her affluent school landing her in the guidance counselor’s office, the two find themselves forming an unlikely yet complicated relationship. The main character is also learning how to navigate a world defined by her race, gender, and class. We wanted to learn more about their upcoming production so we asked Stefanie Black, IAMA’s Artistic Director, for more insight.

Why did your team decide to showcase SMILE and how did it come about when choosing which productions to perform?

SMILE was originally developed in 2018 in IAMA's New Works Festival. Melissa Jane Osborne, the playwright, is an ensemble member and submitted the piece. We have been developing it with her and director, Michelle Bossy since 2018. It was originally programmed to premiere in the fall of 2020, but due to the Pandemic, it had been postponed till now. We were and still are so excited about sharing this very relevant and timely piece of theater. It's a story with many perspectives and touches on the very potent themes of grief, trauma, and connection.

What message do you or your team want for teens to obtain from seeing this production?

We want to create more dialogue around feeling seen and heard as a young person. This play examines the many ways that teenagers do not have agency over their own experience, their bodies, their choices; how they rely on adults for safety and care, and how their feelings and perspective is so important. That their voices matter.

What’s something you or your team have learned while participating in this production and are there any lasting impressions you might have?

We have learned that centering the experiences of others around us is the best path to true collaboration and trust. In an environment where you are developing a new play, it's so important for everyone to feel they have a voice in the process and are a vital part of telling this story.

If you could explain this production in one word, what would it be and why?


Why do you think this production deserves to be seen by audiences?

There is a lot to be learned from the past. Not just our own, but our society's. It's so important to be able to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see where we have grown and where we still have work to do. This play helps us look at how not much has changed since 1992 and that we, as a society, still have much to do when it comes to uplifting women and their freedoms.

We would like to thank all of the members in IAMA Theatre, including Melissa Jane Osborne, Michelle Bossy, and Stefanie Black for all of their hard work to piece together this production after a long hiatus. This story serves as a touching reminder reflecting on our own society and how much change there is still needed to have.

Check out our events calendar for more details on this interesting and complex production. Teens – take advantage of this deal while you can! In addition, TeenTix LA is having a TeenTix Night with IAMA Theatre on Sunday, November 20th. Don’t miss an opportunity to sign up for lots of fun, food, and a post-show talkback!

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Celebration Theatre Recognizes Transgender Experiences

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran


Happy Pride Month, everyone! We are so excited to celebrate Celebration Theatre’s current production, TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS. This important show acknowledges transgender individuals and their immense erasure and/or unrecorded moments from history. Based on personal and real-life experiences, TALES OF THE TRANCESTORS brings to you all an interpretative, first-time, live-telling of 6 transgender stories across history. Performed by 6 different artists, it’s a multi-genre experience infused with music, poetry, and one-acts that will bring about an authentic and unique perspective to the intersectional transgender experiences LIVE on stage. We asked Shaan Dasani, the play’s director, to further elaborate on this production.


Why did your organization want to specifically showcase TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS?

Celebration Theatre’s 40-year mission has been to entertain, inspire, and empower with innovative productions that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. The stories of our trans* family within that community, however, have too often remained untold. Celebration’s Interim Artistic Director, Ann James [Hamilton, Lempicka] (she/they) says, “This is a show that everyone can learn from and enjoy. I hope that the Hollywood Fringe and PRIDE audiences come out to see these artists bring respect to our community ancestors.”

What message do you (or your team) want for teens to obtain from seeing this play?

We're at a time right now where the conversation around trans* identity in media has been both a powerful tool for visibility and community building and has also put trans people under a sometimes uncomfortable microscope, especially as related to teens. We want younger folks to know that there were people who came before, that this isn't new, and that they are a part of a resilient history, and that resilience is a part of them.

What is an emotion/feeling you and your team hopefully want audiences to feel and why?

Inspired. Here are 6 stories about people who lived in their identity when it might have been near impossible to access community, medical care, stable employment, or other resources we have access to today, but they did it on their terms. They found a way to live true to themselves, which is ultimately what I hope we all strive for.

What is the meaning behind this production and what does it mean to you?

Trans history isn't taught in schools. And the history that has been recorded was many times sensationalized by the media at the time. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to explore the history of trans identity through cultures and through time, and bring these stories forward with dignity and respect, through the interpreted lens of these people, by actors who would feel connected to them. In this rendition, we go as far back as the mid-1800s, focusing largely on people who lived in North America, so this is just a small window into our history.

How important is this production to you and is there anything within the show (that you can disclose) that leaves a lasting impression?

At the end of the day, TRANSCESTORS is not just a show about trans people, it's a show about people and how they lived... some were musicians, some fought in wars, some are more rooted in local community impact.... all of them just happened to be trans. That's important, because seeing our stories from this frame helps humanize our experience beyond just one identity. It helps us be seen as a part of the fabric of society in a more holistic sense.


TeenTix LA would like to echo Shaan, the 6 artists, as well as the rest of the Celebration Theatre team that words have remained truly unspoken for many transgender folks throughout history. This uplifting production celebrates the transgender community and creates much-needed visibility for them. We are so thrilled this production exists -- not just for LGBTQ+ audiences, but for everyone who can gain inspiration from watching it. Just in time for Pride Month, this production is available with our TeenTix Pass for only $5. Fair warning – they only have TWO SHOWS LEFT (one on the 24th & other on the 25th) so once you are done reading this, click on our events calendar tab and make a plan to see this show!

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Governor “ANN” Richards Is Ready To See Us

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran

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Pasadena Playhouse sets the stage for audiences to check out ANN, their newest production. ANN is written and performed by none other than Emmy Award-winner Holland Taylor. Taylor performs a memorable tribute and shines a positive light on the late Texas Governor Ann Richards. Through Taylor’s performance as Ann Richards, she is able to exude confidence and accompany a fresh yet colorful side to the character. Taylor’s successful performances throughout Texas, Chicago, Washington, DC, and at Broadway’s Lincoln Center have made this a long-awaited event in LA To get you excited for this awesome show, we asked Nelly Mueller, Marketing Manager for Pasadena Playhouse, a few questions about this highly-anticipated play.

- Why did Pasadena Playhouse choose Ann?

Ann was originally part of our 2019 - 2020 Season, before the pandemic hit. We're thrilled to be bringing back this show for its West Coast premiere this season, particularly because this will be Holland Taylor's last time performing this role. Our Producing Artistic Director, Danny Feldman, put it this way: "Holland Taylor is a true legend - her conception, writing, and performance of this show are evidence that she is truly one of the best we've got. It is a privilege to have her here with us to tell her delightful version of the story of Texas Governor Ann Richards one last time."

- What are some highlights or challenges from this production?

As is the nature of live theater, it's important to be ready for anything, and we have a truly excellent team here at Pasadena Playhouse that is always ready to expect the unexpected! We've also been lucky enough to collaborate with some of the team members at ZACH Theatre in Austin, TX to ensure that this production is the best it can be.

- What do you hope for teens to take away from the experience of viewing this production?

We hope that beyond enjoying the return of live theatre after a two year long absence, teens feel encouraged to register to vote! Holland Taylor reminds us that Ann Richards always said to "quit whining, and start participating." For this show, we've even teamed up with When We All Vote to make it easier than ever to register and participate in local and national elections, just like Governor Richards said we should. Visit WhenWeAllVote.org/Ann to learn more.

- What your team is most proud of when doing this production?

This is our second in-person show that we've put up since COVID, and we're so thrilled by the amount of support we've received from our community. We're very proud of being a member supported theater, and it was the support for those members and the greater Southern California community that has allowed us to keep making bold and important theater. It really does take a village!

We are so happy and ecstatic that Pasadena Playhouse is back and better than ever. Their shows never fail to succeed and that is why so many community members around the Southern California area love them so much to keep their in-person shows running. We can’t wait for you all to go see ANN and hope y’all can be moved by Holland Taylor’s legendary portrayal of an iconic leader. Remember teens, you can head over to our events calendar and purchase your $5 tickets using our TeenTix Pass. Get your tickets as soon as you can before Governor Ann Richards retires for the VERY last time.

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