A Belated Happy Birthday to Shakespeare

With apologies for the delay, here is my contribution to the Happy Birthday Shakespeare project. Last year, I gave you all the full story of my experience with Shakespeare; this year, it’s about growth. In the twelve months since the big guy’s last birthday, we’ve had another season of summer camps, we hosted the 6th Blackfriars Conference, and we held our first week-long Leadership Seminar. Personally, I completed another round of Study Guides, I presented at the Blackfriars Conference, and I participated in my first panel at the Shakespeare Association of American conference. It’s been a big year.

In some ways, it’s actually a little appropriate that I’m finally getting around to wishing Shakespeare a happy birthday today, as today is also the birthday of Sarah Enloe, the ASC Director of Education — the phenomenal woman who holds this department together. She’s a veteran of the UT-Austin theatre studies program and the Mary Baldwin College MLitt/MFA program, she taught theatre arts at the high school level in Texas for five years, and in 2003, she won recognition as teacher of the year and an NEH fellowship to study with Shakespeare & Co. At the ASC, Sarah directs programming in the areas of College Prep, Research and Scholarship (including facilitating the ASC’s partnership with Mary Baldwin College’s Masters in Shakespeare and Performance Program), Personal Renaissance, and Educator Resources — a near-superhuman effort, really, doing the work of several people in one body (and, to the best of my knowledge, without opening any holes in the space-time continuum in order to fit more hours into her day). She’s the one who picked me out for this fantastic job that I hold, and she’s been an incredible mentor over the past two years.

This spirals around to one of the things I find so great about Shakespeare: the amazing ability his works have to inspire people. Something about these plays lights a fire in so many people, and so many of those people then feel the compulsion — the imperative need — to share that joy with others. Once you strip away the fear, once you get past that initial pushback, it can really be quite easy, if you use the tools that Shakespeare gives you — as we observed during the Leadership Seminar. Shakespeare’s plays are just that — they’re for playing. Pull them apart to find the clues, dig through the obfuscation of the intervening centuries to recover layers of meaning, — approaching his texts as plays, as living and breathing things, is both so instructive and so enjoyable. In the past year, I’ve seen the lights go on in so many heads, from nine year old students to urban professionals to septuagenarian retirees. It never fails to reinvigorate me. Our company is filled with people who feel that same fire. It has to be; you can’t do this kind of work, with this kind of intensity and this kind of infectious energy, if you don’t absolutely love it.

So today, I’d like to thank Shakespeare and Sarah both for their incredible ability to inspire me and others. Happy birthday to you both!

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