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Whether one is a devoted fan of William Shakespeare or has only been exposed to the work of “the Bard” in a terribly dull high school English class’ languid crawl through Romeo and Juliet, the critically-acclaimed American Shakespeare Center (ASC) promises a greatly entertaining show with each performance.
“If you’ve seen Shakespeare before and it was boring, come see us,” said Dennis Henry, Troupe Manager, Assistant Director and third-year actor for the ASC. “We’ll make it interesting.”
Soon, New College students will have the chance to test out this theory. In early March, the touring branch of the ASC, in keeping with an annual tradition four years’ running, will be visiting the campus as part of their spring 2011 tour. The troupe will perform two plays, following their usual trend of presenting one that audiences will find familiar and one that is a bit lesser-known. The first will be As You Like It on March 7, and Measure for Measure will be performed on March 8. The plays will be performed in the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center and will begin at 7:30 p.m. Doors open and music will be played starting at 7:00 p.m. Audience members are advised to arrive early as seating will be first-come, first-served.
In addition, the troupe plans to host a number of acting and theater workshops for any interested participants. In the past, the topics for these have included demonstrations on stage combat and fencing, music in Shakespeare’s plays and Shakespeare’s staging conditions. This year, according to Henry, the workshops will most likely focus on Shakespeare’s verse and topics relevant to the plays being performed. Officially, the number and nature of the workshops has not been determined, but Dean of Students Wendy Bashant estimated that there will most likely be two to three, most or all of which will be scheduled on Monday, March 7. Bashant intends to inform the student body via e-mail once the details have been confirmed and invites all interested students, regardless of theater experience, to attend.
The ASC is primarily committed to entertaining its audience but the troupe also strives for the utmost faithfulness to the first productions of Shakespeare’s plays at the original Globe Theatre. Thus, audience members can expect a thoroughly authentic Shakespeare experience, in spirit if not in terms of complete historical accuracy. The performances are meant to be a hybrid of the original principles of Renaissance theatrical production and modern conventions familiar to present-day audiences. With this in mind, the troupe makes frequent use of Shakespearian trends such as actor doubling, gender-bending, live music and colorful and symbolic costumes.
The plays in Sudakoff will also make use of universal lighting (that is, all of the lights in the room will be turned on), which simulates the daytime natural-lighting environment of the Globe Theatre by lighting up the audience and cast alike. According to the ASC’s website, “When an actor can see an audience, they can engage with an audience. Leaving an audience in the dark can literally obscure a vital part of the drama as Shakespeare designed it.”
In general, the actors make a consistent effort to make theatergoers feel like an essential part of the action, weaving in and out of the rows of seats and directly interacting with random patrons. “[Shakespeare] wrote with the audience in mind,” Henry said. “We like to include them too.” Incidentally, this is another good reason to arrive early, as those who walk into the performance late are likely to find themselves the butt of the actors’ jokes and shenanigans.
For more information about the ASC and its schedule, visit www.americanshakespearecenter.com.