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Leading Off: In need of a scare? Nebraska Repertory Theater presents 'ShakesFear'

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Friar Laurence, played by Robbie Exstrom, is one of the characters meant to cause fright at the Nebraska Repertory Theatre's "ShakesFear at the Haunted Temple."

The scary season — that time of year when there's an inexplicable desire (by some) to be frightened to the point of losing all bodily control — is in full swing.

A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Oscar, Roca Scary Farm's deranged cattle prod-carrying clown, who promises he could make you "soil yourself" without laying a finger on you.

It's all in the presentation, attitude (and the makeup), he insists.

But there are other ways to inspire, fright, says Robbie Exstrom, one of the residents at the Nebraska Repertory Theatre's  "ShakesFear at the Haunted Temple."

"Being scary is all about subtlety," said Exstrom, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore from Kearney. "It’s all about working with what scares people. It’s more about the stillness than the screaming."

Exstrom plays Friar Laurence from "Romeo and Juliet." Unlike Oscar and his cattle prod, he is armed only with a bell and an aspergillum, the instrument priests use to sprinkle holy water.

Not your typical tools of terror. No matter, he says. 

"I can still scare some people," he said.

Geographically speaking, "ShakesFear" prides itself on being Lincoln's only haunted attraction. Roca is still worth the short drive, though.

Last year, "ShakesFear" had a sold-out run inside the Studio Theatre at the Temple Building, 12th and R streets.

This year, it has been expanded.

"We've added some new haunted characters, animatronics and scares," said Andy Park, the Nebreska Rep's artistic director and "ShakesFear" director. 

The specials effects are better — as is the scenery, lighting and costumes.

But let's be honest, to some the scariest thing about William Shakespeare is the thought of comprehending the Bard's Old English.

However, once that's mastered, readers are exposed to the blueprint for every storytelling archetype — the cheat codes — for every tale ever told.

"A lot of people have only struggled to read his plays in English class," Park said. "It's exciting to present Shakespeare in an accessible way."

If accessible means coming with an ample portion of dark-and-gloomy fright, Shakespeare has definitely been made more approachable — and just in time for Halloween.

Patrons are guided through a haunted house setting that features various Shakespearian characters. 

Friar Laurence, who shares his scene with Rosaline, is portrayed as Romeo's protector. However, in a weird twist of fate, Rosaline, another lover of Romeo's, becomes possessed after he chooses Juliet over her.

Hell hath no fury like a scorned lover — especially one that is possessed.

As for the friar, Exstrom portrays him as "very much silent, but deadly character."

This is Exstrom's first appearance as a theater major. After majoring in music as a freshman, he made the move to stage and is now one of 13 freshman in the Johnny Carson School of Emerging Media's first BFA class.

"Music wasn’t the right fit," he said. "For me, I love performing. … Here I get to learn about the craft and also perform so much stuff. It’s a better fit for me overall. You really get that individualized attention by being one of 13 people in the BFA program.

"I think it is really helping me become a better actor, a better performer and a better human being."

The program calls for the actors to learn all jobs in the theater — from lighting and sets to makeup and costumes. Once one learns that there are no small jobs in the theater and that the success of the actors comes by virtue of many thankless people, it puts everything in perspective.

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"You’re thrown into everything," Exstrom said. "You are doing more than just performing. … It really provides a full-circle experience as an actor. Therefore, with more life experience, you become more compassionate, and that makes you a better human in the process."

Make no mistake, Exstrom is a fine human being — a work in progress as an actor — and his job over the next two weeks will be to scare the heck out of anyone who comes near him.

"It's so much fun," he said.

To everyone else, you've been warned. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7391 or

On Twitter @psangimino


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UNL graduate Alan Schuster brought "STOMP" to his New York theater in 1994 and now serves as excutive producer for the popular performance troupe that will return to the Lied Center for Performing Arts Thursday. 

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