“I witness to the times that brought them in”: 2016 Year in Review

If the internet is any judge, a lot of people will be really glad to see 2016 out the door. Political turmoil and celebrity deaths have taken their toll, expressed in hashtag memes like #SayByeto2016inagif and #wtf2016. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to celebrate, and in ASC Education, 2016 had quite a few high notes!

Most excitingly, we officially welcomed Lia Wallace and Adrienne Johnson to the Education team! Both are recent graduates of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance MLitt/MFA program. Lia began work with us way back in 2012 as an intern, then became an Education Artist, and is now our College Prep Programs Manager, overseeing the ASC Theatre Camp. Adrienne has previously served time (like Director of Education Sarah Enloe also did, back in the day) as personal assistant to Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, and she is now our Camp Life Coordinator as well as the ASC Company Manager, responsible for the upkeep of the Playhouse and other properties. You can read about their transitions into these positions here on the blog: Lia and Adrienne.

61Big events this year included the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp trip abroad: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. For ten days, Ralph, Sarah, MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, and I shepherded a fantastic group of 22 Shakespeare enthusiasts around England and Wales. In the Cotswolds, the moors of York, and the fens of Cambridge, we wandered through history, discovering the world as it would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his audiences. To catch up on those adventures, check out the NKSC16 tag.

05fbdda7-86d4-48d4-9aab-11cac67d650b2016 also saw the publication of two all-new Study Guides, in addition to updates to several volumes. The Tempest and King Lear were on the Student Matinee line-up for the first time in my tenure, giving me the opportunity to dive into two of Shakespeare’s best-beloved works. We’re celebrating with a flash sale on those two guides, so nab yours before 5pm today to save 20% on these shiny new volumes!
Buy King Lear or The Tempest ASC Study Guide.

13087333_10104284381621743_4879776445061724543_nIn April, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a block party that spanned downtown Staunton. Hundreds came to enjoy the food and wares offered by over two dozen merchants, and children of all ages got to experience mini-workshops and Shakespeare-themed craft activities, delivered right in front of the Blackfriars Playhouse. You can see pictures from that event here.

We also partnered with UVA’s Special Collections Library as it housed a traveling copy of the First Folio, offering workshops in Charlottesville in April, ahead of the Folio’s arrival, and in October, when the tome was on-site.

In December, we had a Staged Reading in a new format as a special event: rather than having one group perform a 90-minute show, four groups came from across the Shenandoah to put on four shorter shows, all demonstrating how English drama has marked the Christmas holiday throughout the centuries. With a mummery from Shenandoah Governor’s School, a mystery play from Shenandoah University, a vaudevillian masque from Spectacle and Mirth, and a Victorian-style pantomime from Stuart Hall, we filled the Playhouse with mirth and laughter for a festive night at the start of the holiday season.

And, as ever, we had a year’s worth of Student Matinees, Little Academes, and other workshops. In the 2015-2016 school year, we welcomed over 11,000 students from 284 schools, homeschool groups, and other organizations, and we have already had 142 groups join us so far in the 2016-2017 school year. We also welcomed International Paper back for their fifth Leadership Program, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again this spring.

So what’s forthcoming in 2017? More of everything: matinees of The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado about Nothing; all-new study guides on Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Henry VI plays, and Sense and Sensibility (that’s right! I’m taking on Austen for the adaptation that will be on the 2017-2018 tour); Leadership Programs on-site at the Playhouse and at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville; visits from the Road Scholars; the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp back in Staunton to explore the theme of Shakespeare and art; ASC Theatre Camp 2017, featuring 1 Henry IV, Titus Andronicus, and The Sea Voyage in Session 1 (June 18-July 9) and King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle in Session 2 (July 16-August 8); and, of course, since it’s an odd-numbered year, the Blackfriars Conference (Oct 24-29) will welcome hundreds of scholars and students to celebrate Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Happy New Year from all of us at ASC Education! We hope to see you soon, whether at the Playhouse or out on the road.

Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Shakespeare’s Influence, Far and Wide

It’s April 23rd again, and that must mean it’s time for the Shakespeare Birthday Project. I’m pleased to once again be taking part in this celebration of Shakespeare’s life and the great joy he’s brought to so many people for so many years.

The thing of it is — I wasn’t quite sure what to write about this year. I’ve already devoted a post to how Shakespeare shaped my life path, and last year I discussed his inspirational power to teachers. Fortunately, circumstances aligned to provide me an avenue for discussion, because this year, Shakespeare’s birthday falls swift on the heels of an incredible eight-day stretch of ASC Education seminars. We began on Friday the 12th with our Spring Teacher Seminar, and that barreled straight into this year’s second annual week-long International Paper Leadership Seminar. Having these two events back up against each other allowed me to see the full spectrum of engagement with Shakespeare, from our super-excited educators, eagerly throwing themselves into immersion, to a group of business professionals, lawyers, and mill foremen, most of whom had little lifetime exposure to Shakespeare, and some of whom primarily spoke languages other than English.

There are ways in which our Teacher Seminars are like shooting fish in a barrel, because those educators (particularly those attendees who come multiple times a year) are always hungry to indulge their love of Shakespeare. That can be a double-edged sword, however, because it means I feel a lot of pressure to give them new, exciting material. So, for this event, I was pleased to be able to give them over to our Tempt Me Further tour actors for two workshops. I think they always get different insights from such active practitioners, even if they’re covering the same material that Sarah and I would. They also got to listen to a Master Minds lecture from an MBC graduate student and had the opportunity to discuss common misconceptions about early modern female performance with her. Best of all, though, they threw themselves willingly into every activity, listening attentively, offering their own viewpoints, and feverishly scribbling notes to take back to their own classrooms. Thanks to their enthusiasm and cheerful participation, I finished the weekend feeling, as I typically do after Teacher Seminars, more energized, rather than drained.

Our Leadership Seminars are a different animal, since the people we see for those typically come from well outside the world of Shakespeare or even of education. On the first day of this program, the International Paper coordinator asked the participants to rate their impression of Shakespeare on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “would rather eat glass” to 10 meaning “have a secret crush on him.” We heard a few encouraging responses of 8+, but we also heard (not unexpectedly), a few in the 1-3 range — so we had our work cut out for us. We know that going in, though, and we’re always up for the challenge. 

The Leadership Seminar involves three major focus points: exploring Shakespeare’s examples of leadership through demos led by our actors and discussed by Dr. Ralph; writing and performing personal statements about a work-related challenge; and building short scenes in small groups through the use of cue scripts. Many of the challenge statements, perhaps unsurprisingly, focused precisely on the obstacle of communication — some of those quite literal, from those facing language barriers, others more abstract, as new leaders learn to negotiate team motivation or the transmission of information between departments. Others don’t feel like their team’s needs are always heard and recognized by those higher up in the organization. Our goal in a Leadership Seminar is to give participants the tools, using Shakespeare as inspiration and the vocal and physical techniques of the actors as a form to build around, to address these issues effectively once they return home. We examine both the technical construction of their statements as well as their presentation skills, adjusting each day. The difference from the start of the week to the end is always dramatic — and the great joy of it is getting to watch people get better at something through the coaching and exploration. We see the participants start to use their voices and their bodies to greater effect; we see them train themselves to plant their feet, stand up straight, and make eye contact; we hear them reconfigure their thoughts to be more evocative and persuasive.

What impressed me the most about our group from International Paper, though, was how game everyone was to try things out, even if they were uncomfortable, even if we were asking them to dig into something that was not their native language. It wasn’t easy work much of the time, but the participants were willing to engage and to make the attempt — and that makes all the difference. What they discovered was that Shakespeare is funny, moving, expertly constructed, and, the greatest surprise of all, often relevant to their own lives. The cue script activities taught them lessons about communication, leading by listening, and working as a team. The work they did showed the group that Shakespeare’s company faced many of the same basic problems they do in their positions. The demos, and the scenes themselves, often illustrated how those issues of communication, credentialing, and empathy speak across boundaries of time and language. Several participants ended up working Shakespeare’s lines, in direct quotation or in more oblique reference, into their challenge statements. Are all of these people likely to refer to Shakespeare often in their everyday lives? It’s unlikely. But they may think a little more positively about him — I think we converted some of those 1-3s into at least 5-7s by the end of the week, and we got at least a few lines into their mouths and into their brains. 

So, happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! Thank you for continuing not only to provide me with a career, but with the opportunity to share positive experiences with so many, so different people. May we continue to celebrate your natality for centuries to come.

My Birthday Tribute to Shakespeare

Today, bloggers from all over the world are celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday by sharing how Shakespeare has impacted their lives — Thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for putting this project together.

My love affair with Shakespeare began at the age of eleven, when I picked up Romeo and Juliet on a whim. I was vacationing with my family on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, strolling through a shop that had a table full of “required summer reading” — encouragement for vacationers to get a start on schoolwork. Never one who needed much encouragement to read, I decided Romeo and Juliet looked like something worth trying, and my mother, far from expressing bemusement at my choice, agreed, saying she thought I’d really like it. I started reading my first Shakespearean play on the sandy shores of Corolla Light, and by the end of the week, I was standing on the back deck of our rental house, declaiming Juliet’s balcony speech in my swimsuit for the benefit of my parents and a gathering of seagulls.

And that was pretty much it. From then on, I was hooked, and I couldn’t get enough. My mother started searching out Shakespeare productions every summer, and we toured all across Virginia in pursuit of new delights. I appropriated my father’s Riverside Shakespeare and spent hours poring over it, stretched out on the floor of my bedroom, reading King John, the Henry VIes, and Troilus and Cressida, just because I wanted to. I begged my 8th grade teacher to let us read A Midsummer Night’s Dream out loud, and I thoroughly frightened all the boys in AP Brit Lit 12 with my perhaps over-enthusiastic rendering of Lady Macbeth. In 2004, I made my first trip to the Blackfriars Playhouse for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It wasn’t my first exposure to the company — I’d seen them as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express years earlier, doing Much Ado about Nothing in Charlottesville — but I was giddy at the realization that I could sit on the stage in such a gorgeous theatre. In college, I took up with an extracurricular Shakespeare performance troupe, which not only gave me the opportunity to act in and to direct some great shows, but which also introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve had in my life — amazing people I might never have met if we hadn’t shared a love for Shakespeare’s words.

Fourteen years after that first encounter on the beach, I live in what was once a dizzy daydream for me: I got my BA in English and History at William & Mary, I hold a Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College, and now I get to work for the American Shakespeare Center, where what I do all day long isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. I get up excited to go to work in the morning, and I’m happy to go to bed tired at night. I’m far from alone in this — I don’t know how many places there are where so many people voluntarily work so hard for so many long hours, just out of sheer love for what they’re doing. I feel so privileged to be part of a truly wonderful and dedicated community — and here again, as at William & Mary, I’ve made incredible friends, who are part of my world wholly due to our mutual love for Shakespeare.

With all of that, the impact that Shakespeare has had on my life is clearly huge. Shakespeare gave me not just a source of entertainment or a focus of study, but a career. My eleven-year-old self had no idea what she started when she opened up that text for the first time, and there are still some days I can’t believe my good fortune.

That impact goes far beyond my scholastic path and my budding career, though. I’ve come, over the years, to appreciate so much about Shakespeare — the wordplay, the rhetoric, his clever use of the space — but what attracted me at the first, and what still sticks with me more than anything, are his characters. Shakespeare populated his plays with such vibrant people, who are so real and so very human. Their words, their thoughts, and their emotions have thoroughly permeated my life. As a teenager, I looked to Beatrice, Kate, and Silvia for strength, for assurance that wit and spirit were valuable traits in a woman. I’ve long borrowed Helena’s words about Hermia to describe myself: “She was a vixen when she went to school, and though she be but little, she is fierce,” and the quote accompanying my picture in the yearbook as a senior in high school came from Beatrice: “But then there was a star danc’d, and under that was I born.” Last year, suffering from a broken heart, I took comfort from Adriana and Julia. In higher spirits in more recent months, the great queen Cleopatra has been my inspiration. I think about the rhetorical cleverness and persuasive power of Mark Antony and Henry V when I speak and write. These magnificent characters always have something to say to me, and there’s always something new to discover within them.

So, happy birthday, Bill. Thanks for bringing so much delight into my life, for filling my world with the most amazing people, both fictional and real, and for providing me with a passion worth giving myself over to. Here’s to your next 447 years.