A hush fell over the Alumnae Auditorium as the first sounds of artificial thunder rolled across the audience. It was Monday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m., and the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Macbeth had just begun, instantly enchanting the students and faculty of Judson College and Marion Military Institute alike. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and the filthy air….”
The American Shakespeare Center (ASC), stationed in Staunton, Virginia, is well-known for its use of Shakespeare’s original staging conditions (such as universal lighting, minimalistic sets, live music, lavish costumes, etc.) and traveling theater troupes. During their two-day visit to Judson’s campus, students were able to attend viewings of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
“The most interesting thing about [using Shakespeare’s staging conditions] is being able to see students actually understand Shakespeare’s writings,” explains Thomas Coppola, stage manager for the ASC’s traveling troupe. “There’s this ‘Shakes-fear,’ as I like to call it, that is not intentional by any means; English teachers decided that Shakespeare should be studied like a poet. And the thing is, these plays [. . .] aren’t meant to be studied in the classrooms. They’re meant to be seen, interacted with. They have that approachability that’s only available when you come and see a live show. To me, it’s really cool seeing the audience get hyped about Shakespeare when they realize that they can understand it. There’s finally a connection.”
This connection is something that the ASC takes quite seriously. In Shakespeare’s time, plays were performed on a thrust stage—a type of stage that literally “thrusts” into the crowd—and actors had the ability to communicate directly with the audience members as they performed the play. This is a characteristic that the center brought to Judson; stage seating was provided for a small number of students for both performances. With the stage seating came actor-audience interaction, including a full conversation, a passing of the coat and a grabbing of the hand, and even dancing with the actors onstage.
Additionally, students had the opportunity to attend workshops that focused on deciphering Shakespeare’s verse and exploring the world of sound effects and musical underscores used to develop scenes onstage.
Grace Terry, a freshman and music minor, attended the music workshop. “I was impressed by the several different ways you can make sound with random objects,” she observed. “My favorite part was when they showed us the water pipe that they used to make the supernatural sounds in Macbeth. It really opened my eyes to my view of music, especially when [the actors] talked about how we naturally fall into a steady rhythm. I used to think sound effects were just simple add-ons to the scene, but now I know that they construct an entire atmosphere and build the world in which the play is set.”
“I really enjoyed the rhetoric workshop that Thomas put on,” Jr-Soph Alexis Burt states. “I loved learning how actors can interpret Shakespeare however they see fit to really bring a performance to life. It’s interesting to see how we still use most of the language Shakespeare used today. The workshop really gave me insight on the language of the time and helped me better understand the plays.”
According to Dr. Laura Schrock, chair of the Concert/Lecture Committee, the ASC’s visit to Judson’s campus is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event for the college. “To be a Judson student and have this level of professionals to come here and do this much—it’s really staggering,” she says.
To the students of Judson, Schrock’s statement rings true. Not only did the ASC’s presence on campus bring a unique and intriguing new vigor to our tiny college campus—it brought a heightened sense of excitement and enthusiasm for performing arts that Judson students might have never gained otherwise. After the back-to-back-performance Monday and Tuesday night of two plays from the ASC’s repertoire, students were overheard on Wednesday in the cafeteria lamenting that there was “no play tonight”—a sure indication that the ASC’s presence left a lasting impression on the students of Judson College.