Blackfriars Conference 2013–Lunch and Learn Session: “The Actors are at Hand!” Bringing the ASC to your town

Hi everyone. Sarah Martin at your service once again. Today marks the first “Lunch and Learn Session” of the Blackfriars Conference at 11:30am in the Tyson Education Center at the ASC.

Our session featured presentations from ASC Tour Operations Manager Darlene Schneck, ASC Director of College Prep Programs Kim Newton, and Dr. William (Rusty) Jones from Murray State University.

Our session also featured short scenes from two of the Touring Troupe’s 2014/2015 World’s Mine Oyster Tour productions (Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor) and featured Touring Troupe actors Rick Blunt, Russell Daniels, Patrick Midgley, Patrick Earl, Stephanie Holladay Earl, and Bridget Rue.

Today’s session began with a brief scene from Shakespeare’s Othello featuring ASC Touring Troupe actors Patrick Midgley and Rick Blunt. ASC Tour Operations Manager Darlene Schneck then asked everyone in the room introduce themselves and gave a brief overview of the Touring Troupe’s tour schedule and the locations they usually visit. According to Schneck, the Touring Troupe manages approximately seventy performances and one-hundred workshops (which range from stage combat to clowning to rhetoric sessions) on the road. Schneck described the frons scenae that the Touring Troupe uses to adapt the myriad of different stages to the thrust staging popular in Shakespeare’s day.

Dr. William (Rusty) Jones from Murray State University and the Chair of the Murray Shakespeare Festival talked to the session attendees about the benefits of having the ASC Touring Troupe come to one’s institution. Dr. Jones passed around a handout that detailed the history of the Murray Shakespeare Festival and a breakdown of events from this year’s festival that was produced in conjunction with the ASC Touring Troupe. Dr. Jones explained that the Murray Shakespeare Festival helped to get students involved with Shakespeare, both in terms of scholarship and performance. The Festival encouraged students to enjoy their studies included a screening of the recent film version of Coriolanus starring Ralph Fiennes of Harry Potter fame and a campus-wide Shakespeare insult battle! Dr. Jones also recruited local high school students to join in the festivities and asked the ASC actors to get involved with the local community theatre. Dr. Jones encouraged the attendees to, “make it a town event” when the ASC comes to visit. The  Murray Shakespeare Festival culminated in a final performance of Twelfth Night that had an audience of seven hundred and fifty!

ASC Director of College Prep Kim Newton then took the floor to discuss the logistics of ASC Touring Troupe residencies and the various workshops and educational seminars available to teachers. Echoing Dr. Jones’ example, Ms. Newton discussed the possibility of making an ASC residency a true community event. ASC Education programming has workshops and seminars appropriate for all ages, from school-aged children to different business retreats. Newton also explained that ASC Education can customize workshops  for specific classes and gave an example of an instance where the residency was able to customize a workshop for a class that was studying Bertoldt Brecht–not an obvious choice for a Shakespeare company!

After Ms. Newton’s presentation, Dr. Jones screened a video that captured the ASC Touring Troupe’s residency at Murray State.  The video featured ASC actors Jacob Daly and Rick Blunt who explained the American Shakespeare Center’s emphasis on using Shakespeare’s staging conditions in performance as a pedagogical tool. Rick Blunt also talked about the opportunity for the ASC actors to form relationships with the community, especially when the ASC returns to a town year after year.

After the video, Dr. Jones explained how an institution manages to pay for a week-long residency. He emphasized outreach within the community, such as getting local schools involved to become your audiences. He also suggested selling merchandise, contacting alumni, selling advertising to local businesses, and  applying for external grants to generate funding. Dr. Jones mentioned that he also advertises through the local NPR station a few weeks before the residency by broadcasting what he calls, “a moment with Shakespeare” twice a day as the residency approaches. Social media and regional newspapers also provide helpful advertising space for the residencies. Dr. Jones works with a committee of professors, student employees, student volunteers, and community volunteers to make the Murray Shakespeare Festival run smoothly.

Murray State University uses a theatre much larger than the Blackfriars during the ASC residencies and they are able to fit sixty gallant stools on their stage! Dr. Jones talked about issues of space and how the ASC can adapt to incredibly small performance spaces. The actors took to the stage, or, rather, to the floor in the small Tyson Education Center to demonstrate just that with a brief scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor that featured Touring Troupe actors Bridget Rue and Stephanie Holladay Earl.