Rex Willis, director of guitar and composition studies at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), will make his debut appearance at the Asolo Repertory Theatre as a performer in “Shakespeare in Love,” a romantic comedy opening in preview at 8 p.m. Jan. 10. The production is based on the academy-award winning film and is directed by Rachel Rockwell.
Willis, the music director-conductor for musicals produced by the SCF Musical Theatre department, will play a musician in the production, playing the lute and a steel guitar in both street and tavern scenes. Willis, who also is writing his third musical, said he’s had only a few opportunities in the past to perform on stage and he was excited to “expand his horizons” by appearing in a production at the Asolo.
“I have learned a lot,” Willis said. “Rachel Rockwell is an amazing director. I have already had experiences that I can talk to my SCF students about as a teacher and a director. I already know things that I’m going to say that will help inspire, offer technical advice and get them to focus more.”
Willis said being in “Shakespeare in Love” has raised his awareness of what his students are doing on stage and has instilled a little more empathy. “It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done in recent memory,” he said.
“It’s very difficult in two hours to move while playing and singing and be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “But I will know what it takes to get the job done. It’s a lot of practice and repetition; writing down notes and rewriting notes. I have pages of notes I review every single day to make sure I get it right.”
While Willis is learning lessons he can convey to his students, being a performer isn’t all work it seems.
“I’m having the time of my life,” he said. “These actors, the professionals and Master students, are full of life and a passion for what they are doing. I’m having an amazing time getting to know them and what makes them tick.”
Besides, he said, the show is just delightful. It’s hilarious and moving and offers action with its sword fights.
To purchase tickets to “Shakespeare in Love” visit asolorep.org/shows/shakespeare-in-love/2017-2018. The production runs through March 28. For information on SCF’s music programs, visit SCF.edu/music.