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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Theatre and Dance

Students Explore American Shakespeare Center

An honors class led by Associate Professor Sarah Barker spent four days working and learning in an authentic Shakespearean-era theatre this past April.

This past Spring semester Associate Professor Sarah Barker taught a unique course that culminated in a four-day field trip to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. The advanced-level seminar course in theatre (SCHC 358, Proseminar in Theatre and Speech) explored original practices for performing the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including staging conditions, direct address to the audience, and the use of rhetoric to guide character and action choices. Students read and discussed the works of Shakespeare and other “early modern period” playwrights to get ready for the trip, which took place in early April.  

While at the ASC, the seven honors students (including theatre major Jamie Boller) saw five plays: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Measure for Measure; Women Beware Women by Thomas Middleton; The Sea Voyage by Fletcher and Massinger; and, Love for Love by William Congreve.  The class also participated in workshops led by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager for the ASC, that had them on their feet exploring rehearsal techniques and textual interpretation.  Additionally, the theatre’s intern scholar, Allison Jones, led the class on a tour of the Blackfriars Playhouse, billed as the world’s only re-creation of London’s Blackfriars Theatre, a famed indoor theatre which counted Shakespeare among its owners.  They even got to direct two professional actors, Lauren Ballard and Chad Bradford, in a scene from The Tempest.  Glowing reviews of the trip from students include such raves as “fun,” “amazing,” and “extraordinarily helpful in understanding modern Shakespeare performances.”  

Above: SCHC 358 students stage a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream on the
Blackfriars Playhouse stage at the American Shakespeare Center.

Shortly after returning to the university from the trip, the class ended their semester with a tour of the Shakespeare First Folio exhibition at Thomas Cooper Library.

“This is one of my all time favorite classes to teach,” says Barker.  “Taking advantage of an excellent professional company’s work really brings the learning to life.  It’s thrilling to see the students work with the actors so closely and discover how alive and well Shakespeare’s plays still are.”

Barker says she hopes to be able to offer the class again in Spring 2017.