Long helps bring modern understanding to Shakespeare’s words

Long, who attended Carver High School and Alabama State, is the new managing director for Play On Shakespeare; Through her role, she’s helping Montgomery students

Long helps bring modern understanding to Shakespeare's words

Reprinted from the Montgomery Advertiser

Montgomery native Kamilah Long is the new managing director for Play On Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare’s works are brilliant and inspiring, both in his day and in ours. But they were written in the Elizabethan era of the late 1500s and early 1600s, using expressions of his day.

“We don’t talk like that anymore,” said Montgomery native Kamilah Long, the new managing director for Play On Shakespeare.

This standalone not-for-profit group, originally a part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is devoted to enhancing today’s understanding of Shakespeare’s plays through contemporary translations. The goal is to unpack the modern meanings and equivalent expressions behind what the Bard wrote.

“I think about it like the Bible,” Long said. “You’ve got the King James translation, you’ve got the New International Version, and all the other translations that you can look at for a more modern way of having an understanding for it.”

To do this kind of work, you’ve got to have a deep love of the subject matter. Long, who lives in Ashland, Oregon, developed her love for Shakespeare in Montgomery. Long said she’s definitely a product of her hometown, where her mom still lives.

“(Long) sees the world through an expansive creative lens, and has a depth of experience as a producer on the artistic side and senior director on the development side,” said Lue Douthit, Play On Shakespeare’s CEO and creative director.

“Having traveled with Kamilah to attend productions of Play On translations in theaters around the country, I’ve felt her enthusiasm for the project and her desire to help make Shakespeare more accessible,” said Play On Shakespeare board president Ken Hitz.

Here in Montgomery, Long’s reputation proceeds her at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where earlier in her life she worked as an usher and an actor.

“She is incredibly well regarded by colleagues, and I’m looking forward to meeting her,” said ASF Artistic Director Rick Dildine.

Along with working with ASF, Long said she’s looking forward to using her new role to work with Montgomery students. She is currently partnering with instructor Michael McDonald of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School to get Shakespeare translations into student hands.

“And then (McDonald) will pick one (of the plays) for them to actually perform during a Zoom meeting,” Long said. “I’m excited about all the ways that I can partner in my hometown.”

Early days

As a student at G.W. Carver High School, Long remembers crying in class during an assignment. She was reading “Romeo and Juliet” aloud, and the emotions of it got to her.

“I didn’t have the translation, and I didn’t understand all the words,” Long said. “But it changed my life reading it. I never forgot that play.’

After high school, Long went to Alabama State University as a biology major. Instead, she would graduate from ASU’s theater department. Long said she was pulled into theater by a fellow student.

“I didn’t even know what a monologue was at the time,” Long said. “But I knew poems. I would recite Maya Angelou and stuff like that. I was an orator more than I was a theater person, I believe.”

She trained with Tommie Tonea Stewart at ASU, though she left for a short while for her first professional acting job with Disney World. “And then I came back to ASU to complete my degree,” Long said.

After earning her MFA in Kentucky from the University of Louisville, with a certificate in African American theater and a chance to visit Africa, Long came back to ASU as an adjunct professor. She also taught theater on a high school level at BTW Magnet.

“After I did that, I taught in Lowndes County with the Head Start program for four years as a creative arts associate,” Long said.

She was also frequently in Montgomery doing open mics nights as a producer, director and MC.

One day Long got a call urging her to meet Sharifa Johka from Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who was visiting Montgomery. Long was intrigued about what the program had to offer, and decided to go for it.

“I went through a strenuous and competitive interview process to become a producing fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2013,” Long said.  She got in the next year.

She described OSF as like a little New York, because of the quality of their programs.  “They’re such a big theater influencer,” Long said.

In 2015, Long found herself hired at OSF in a permanent position. For more than five years, she held several roles, including associate director of leadership engagements, director of leadership gifts, and senior director of individual giving and development operations.

“I ended up getting into the fundraising side of theater,” she said. “I moved into development work as well. That’s where I learned about Play On Shakespeare.”

Play On!

The group began in 2015 as a commissioning program within Oregon Shakespeare Festival called Play on! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare. The goal was simple, but ambitious — translate 39 of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.