Blackfriars Conference 2013–Lunch and Learn Session: The World Shakespeare Project

Good afternoon! Sarah Martin here in the Blackfriars Playhouse to liveblog the second Lunch and Learn Session of the Conference. Today’s session about The World Shakespeare Project features presenters Sheila Cavanaugh from Emory University and Kevin Quarmby from Oxford College, Emory University. The title of today’s session is “It is a Novelty to the World”: The World Shakespeare Project in a Global Context.

The World Shakespeare Project links Oxford, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia so that students at both of Emory University’s campuses can can hold digital classes and group projects via Skype. Cavanaugh and Quarmby give examples of students sharing sonnets on separate campuses  and joint classes as far apart as London and Argentina.

Cavanaugh lends her iPad to Emory professor Paul Peterson who explains how the internet connection between the different locations works. He shows students the maps of the different internet cables that are beneath the world’s oceans and how they literally connect the classrooms across the world.

Cavanaugh and Quarmby also reach out to the world’s classrooms outside of the confines of Shakespeare. Cavanaugh explains that they connected with a classroom in Casablanca who did not have an anglo-centric curriculum and were able to adapt their English literature emphasis to French. Quarmby provides an anecdote of the Morrocan students’ views of fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as dangerous versus our Western views of fairies as magical and harmless and how this sparked other conversations between the students and provided a forum for cultural exchange.

Cavanaugh explains that non-native English speakers “are incredibly attentive to meaning” and Quarmby says that their Argentinean students “had an appreciation for the beauty of language”.  The international students’ attention to the nuances of the language helped American students find moments and meaning in the text that they might have missed out on otherwise.

The project has gone to India, Morrocco, and countries in South America. Cavanaugh explains that students in Argentina and Brazil are only one hour away from her American students in terms of the time difference so they can hold joint classes during traditional school hours. Cavanaugh’s travels to India have been both rewarding and potentially perilous. She said that each time she has traveled to India, she has been given twelve armed guards. Cavanaugh and Quarmby are quick to explain that they do not intend to patronize third world and war torn regions, but rather to highlight the similarities between the seemingly disparate cultures of the United States and nations thousands of miles away.

Cavanaugh and Quarmby use popular video chat program Skype to facilitate their virtual classes. Quarmby says that one university that they visited in Casablanca received government funding as a result of their project and now boasts video conferencing suites and a theatre with complete internet access.

The World Shakespeare Project  has  been able to conduct virtual sessions with Internet Shakespeare Editions and the Folger Library in Washington, DC.

The project’s classes are three and a half hours every day to provide students with a full semester’s worth of classes in three and a half weeks and often include exciting moments of cultural exchange. Stephen Unwin of the Rose Theatre  Kingston in London  directed Emory students from his theatre in the UK.  During one class meeting between Macbeth director Tom Magill in Belfast, students in Argentina, and students in Atlanta a unique moment of cultural exchange that might have been impossible previously. When the discussion turned to the common comparison of Lady Macbeth to popular political figures only two weeks after the death of Margaret Thatcher, students in Northern Ireland and Argentina were able to describe the impact of such a comparison from each of their perspectives to American students.

Salman Rushdie visited Emory in a particularly special moment for the Project and even performed Iago for that day’s class.

Cavanaugh concludes by stating that the ultimate goal of the Project is to “use Shakespeare as conduit” to bring together local traditions with the classic texts. For more information about this fascinating initiative, visit http://www.worldshakespeareproject.org.