“Shakespeare’s plays can be studied in myriad ways: as fine examples of poetic language, as cinematic adaptations, as historical artifacts, and perhaps most importantly, as dramatic stage productions,” says Assistant Professor of English Rob Carson. His course, Shakespeare’s Tragedies in Performance, encourages students to critically view performances in order to gain a deeper understanding of how Shakespeare viewed production of his plays. To enhance students’ understanding of these works as play-texts, Carson recently accompanied his students to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, North America’s largest repertory theater.
Thanks to a grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning, students enjoyed two stage performances, met some of the actors, and toured backstage to see what goes on behind the scenes of Shakespearean productions. Prior to the festival, students wrote creative and analytic study of a scene from one of these plays, regarding themselves as directors and artistic designers. The task fostered a sense of personal interest in the plays they experienced at the festival, which included “Macbeth” transposed into “mythical mid-century Africa,” Carson described, as well as a production of “Julius Caesar.“
English and Media and Society double major Karilynn Williamson ’11, who experienced “Julius Caesar” on stage for the first time at the Festival, found the performance captivating. “Julius Caesar was consistent in the execution of the world it created and thus made the play more accessible to a wider audience,” she said.
Having worked extensively in costuming for the past four years, Williamson described the costume warehouse as a “treasure trove.” Particularly surprising was learning that the Festival archives a few costumes every year, never to be used or seen again, except in displays. “In addition, I learned a few tricks to use in costuming in the future, ” she reflected.
Following the trip, students submitted an informal journal reflecting on the plays, as well as a formal theater review for one of the productions.
“Many of these students had never seen Shakespeare performed on stage before,” explained Carson. “Watching these performances gave students a concrete image of the staging, direction, and design needed for a live production of Shakespeare’s plays while simultaneously uniting the class through the shared learning experience.”
In the photo above, students in Carson’s Shakespeare’s Tragedies class gather outside the Festival Theatre during a field trip to Stratford, Ontario.