Students journey to American Shakespeare Center
During the weekend of Oct. 12-14, 2012, Dr. Rusty Jones traveled with fourteen English and creative writing majors to Staunton, Virginia. The group participated in an educational workshop and saw two Shakespearean dramas performed at The American Shakespeare Center, a nationally renowned company housed in a magnificent recreation of Shakespeare's own Blackfriars Theater, which Shakespeare's troupe used after 1608.
After a beautiful drive through the Shenandoah Valley at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, the group arrived in Staunton, a town established in 1761 and steeped in colonial history. On Saturday, MSU students took to the Blackfriars' stage to participate in an academic/theatrical workshop conducted by Sarah Enloe, the ASC's head of education and outreach, and by two actors portraying Jessica and Lorenzo in the ASC's production of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. During the workshop, students watched the actors perform a scene from the play and consulted production scripts and the actors themselves. The students then redirected the scene based on three criteria: the nature of the poetry, stage directions embedded in the script, and the amount and type of contact with the audience. The actors restaged the scene, incorporating the students' suggestions and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the new staging.
After a brief tour of the Blackfriars (including a behind-the-scenes backstage look at the trap door area beneath the stage, as well as costume, prop, and rehearsal rooms), the students enjoyed some free time to eat and to explore downtown Staunton, with its centuries-old churches, modern coffee shops, antique stores, and beautiful Mary Baldwin College.
In the late afternoon, students saw a brilliant and hilarious performance of one of Shakespeare's most infrequently performed plays: Cymbeline, King of Britain. Combining elements of tragedy, comedy, romance, spectacle, and farce, the play moved students from laughing to gasping; some MSU students were even fortunate enough to watch the show from Juliet's balcony on the stage itself!
That evening, students attended a performance of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and all were moved by this stirring exploration of the themes of prejudice and justice, punctuated by moments of comedy and deep pathos; as Shylock left the stage, for example, spurned and humiliated, forced to reject his faith, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. The students came into a new understanding of Shakespeare's power to explore all sides of very controversial social issues in ways that are thought-provoking, heart-rending, and deeply entertaining.
Dr. Jones wants to thank the students, the Department of English and Philosophy, the MSU College of Humanities, and the American Shakespeare Center for making this tremendously educational and entertaining event possible.