Not every college student is willing to trade spring break for a week of study, especially if that means sandy beaches and sunny skies are replaced by a foot of snow and centuries-old texts. But IWU Theatre majors aren’t every student, and Shakespeare isn’t your average study subject when the stage is your passion.
Three professors and nine students spent spring semester, 2013 studying Shakespeare’s plays and then traveled to Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia in early March. The Blackfriars is the only world’s only re-creation of the original Blackfriars Theater in London, and the home of the American Shakespeare Center.
The Center presents Shakespearean plays in the original practices tradition. Lights remain up at all times, interaction with the audience is common, and the cast is about twelve or thirteen professional actors playing multiple roles with no director and often very little rehearsal time.
The students and faculty saw several productions in Staunton and during a quick day trip to the Folger’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Their days were filled with workshops at the Blackfriars on everything from stage directions, to language, dance, stage combat and practical makeup. They also sat in on numerous rehearsals, seeing how professionals shape future productions, even while performing in the evening.
Ashley Nossett, Junior (Brownsburg, IN), said the rehearsals made the classroom come to life, since they had studied the original practices before the Virginia trip. “I think today we’re so used to seeing more of the “spectacle” side of theatre, it’s hard to imagine the Renaissance style,” Nossett said. ” Seeing it actually happen was like seeing a whole other side of theatre – and it made everything we’d read about make sense.”
Lauren Crane, Senior (Leawood, KS) enjoyed the contrast in styles, seeing different types of performances back to back from the Blackfriars to the Folger’s. “We’d been learning about the Actor’s Renaissance process and had seen members of the American Shakespeare Center perform in that style the night before, so seeing Henry V (in DC), which was staged like a “normal” theatrical production, was a wonderful way to compare and contrast the two different ways to perform Shakespeare,” she said.
Nathan Hudson, Sophomore (Greensboro, NC) enjoyed the student’s own rehearsal time on the Blackfriars stage. “It was almost like a hands-on experience to the knowledge in the classroom,” he said. ” It also showed the work process that professionals must go through.”
To add a little more spark to their “spring” break, the group was greeted by more than a foot of snow midway through the week, which put a mild damper on some of the Blackfriars public performances, but left even more time for students to interact, learn, and also appreciate the beauty of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Dr. Katie Wampler, Professor and IWU Theatre Artistic Director and Dr. Greg Fiebig, Professor of Communication, co-taught the Shakespeare special topics class, along with Dr. Craig Edwards, Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English.
“My favorite part of the experience was watching my students watch professional theatre,” Wampler said. “Our spring break was a wonderful week of workshops, rehearsals, and performances. ” And much more than a vacation away from school.