Food Allergies, Shakespeare

The below comes from a dear friend and talented Director, Jemma Alix Levy. She is also the wife of Steve - in my book, Allergic Girl, he’s my Oxford University buddy with whom I dined weekly, allergen-free.


A Nut-Free Rehearsal Process

Just before beginning our rehearsal process for Muse of Fire’s production of As You Like It, I received an email from one of our actors asking for a favor. She explained that she has a severe allergy to peanuts and hazelnuts and cannot be in close proximity to them. In particular, she had to be careful about touching or kissing anyone who might have nut residue on their skin or lips. She asked, rather tentatively, if, as the artistic director, I could make the cast and crew aware of this “issue,” not knowing, of course, that I am very experienced with severe allergies. I have accompanied a friend to the ER with an anaphylactic allergic reaction, and I have a husband who carries an epi-pen lest some fish creep into his chicken sandwich. I sent out an email to our entire cast and crew with very specific instructions about our henceforth nut-free rehearsal process: no nuts in the room, and thorough soap-and-water handwashing before entering. I asked the actor who played opposite her and might have to kiss her through the course of rehearsals to also wash his face.

Actors with severe allergies face a dilemma: to tell, or not to tell. Will telling your director or producer make you seem difficult? Will your collaborators think you are just being a diva (only green M&Ms, please)? Will not telling anyone mean a trip to the
hospital? A nut-free rehearsal process was fairly simple to arrange, although it did mean a few more minutes spent reading ingredients on protein bars and smoothie packages. But I was happy to accommodate this actor, as was the rest of the cast and crew. And it was well worth the effort: she is helping us put on a magnificent show.


If you’re in the Chicago area, I urge you to check out Muse of Fire Theatre Company Presents “As You Like It” at Ingraham Park – it starts this weekend August 6, 2011. From a press release:

Third Annual Free Shakespeare Production in Evanston, Illinois

Muse of Fire Theatre Company Presents “As You Like It” at Ingraham Park in August

In its third summer season, Muse of Fire Theatre Company will once again bring free Shakespeare-in-the-park to the Northern suburbs of Chicago. The company has been playing each August to enthralled outdoor audiences in Evanston, captivating kids and parents new to the bard and old Shakespeare hands alike.

This summer, Muse of Fire will present As You Like It, a fanciful romp full of cross-dressing lovers, feuding brothers, wrestling, jokes and songs. Plus, this year the company will introduce an outreach program that will bring fun and Shakespeare to the City of Evanston’s summer camp at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

Muse of Fire’s outdoor setting, low-tech approach and extraordinary acting have made Shakespeare’s plays accessible to all. The company’s aim is to provide audiences with a thrilling and unintimidating experience a lot like Shakespeare’s original performances – and nothing like your average high-school English class.

As You Like It will play in Ingraham Park, behind the Morton Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave., in Evanston at 3:00 pm every Saturday and Sunday from August 6 through 27.

Muse of Fire’s free Shakespeare-in-the-park has been sponsored each summer by the City of Evanston and by donors from the community. This year we are thrilled to be partially funded by a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

For further information, please go to our website:, or call (847) 707-8632.


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