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American Shakespeare Center Works With Students by Meagan Cole


American Shakespeare Center Works With Students

Meagan Cole

For the past week, three performers from the American Shakespeare Center returned to Roanoke College since their adaptation of Othello. This time, they are here as teachers of informative workshops, helping students understand the tricks of the Shakespearean trade. Different topics are discussed at each meeting, some of which included: clowning, rhetoric, asides, and even stage combat. Additionally, they met with the Performance Theory and Shakespeare classes to apply their personal experiences to course study. All around, they left an impact on campus.

Each actor brought their field into the discussions for a well-rounded, Shakespearean balance and vision. Kim specializes in facts and history; Dan in stage combat and clowning; and Andrew in rhetoric and diction. Their individual pieces to the puzzle came together to create the hands-on whole received by the students. Such a unique dynamic made the learning environment exceptional, and the best part was their willingness to work with any level of actor. No judgment was ever passed, regardless of awkward noises, slurred words, or even random gestures.

With that being the focus, the workshops opened up a lot of room for making mistakes and challenging oneself in order to learn. Rhetoric and asides, for example, took an educational standpoint by giving cold reads of Shakespeare’s scenes. The students, who may have read one or two plays in high school, otherwise did not know exactly what it was they were doing or saying. Thus, the interpretation came solely from the direction given by Andrew and Shakespeare’s own internal suggestion.

The American Shakespeare Center is a big advocate for performing the way Shakespeare meant his plays to be performed, so asides and stage directions were crucial to engage audience members. Another workshop dealt with identifying these minute details in order to better direct a production. For example, the students searched for key signifiers within the text of Richard III and pinpointed how the actors needed to be best staged.

The workshop that gained the most interest was stage combat. The night began with tae kwon do and led up to sword fighting. Tae kwon do entailed exercising through balance by applying pressure against one another’s palms and being firmly planted in a squat stance. Sword fighting, on the other hand, was self-explanatory. Of course, no actual weapons were used and contact was never made with the foam rapiers. Safety was the most crucial rule. Each step was first choreographed by Dan and needed to be carried out without any improvisation. The end result became a thrilling fight sequence where each pair of students acted out Macbeth’s death with imaginary broad swords.

Although the workshops were open to all of campus, primarily English and Theatre majors attended, but those who did got a lot out of the experience. Such a positive response between the workshops and their earlier performance of Othello has generated talk of bringing them back for another week of workshops during the spring semester. Those who did not get to see them, therefore, can. Also, don’t forget to support the entire American Shakespeare Center company; they’re just two hours down the road at the Blackfriar’s Theatre in Staunton, VA.