By Liam Dacko
Friends, Romans, countrymen and Shakespeare fans, get ready for a week full of culture and merriment.
Stonehill College will host five performers Oct. 26 to 30 as part of a residency program established by a well-known Shakespearean acting company, Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS).
The company will offer three performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Oct. 28, 29 and 30 in the Hemingway Theater at 7 p.m. Additionally, the actors will participate in a number of student workshops for classes in a variety of disciplines.
Actress Claire Redcliffe, who previously worked with the AFTLS on a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ is excited to share her craft with the Stonehill community.
“We’re very excited to come to Stonehill,” she said. “And we really hope people come to see the show.”
Redcliffe said she believes students will enjoy the actors’ workshops, as the actors plan to “get them on their feet.”
“We have a unique way of approaching the text,” she said. Professor Helga Duncan of the English department helmed the effort to bring the AFTLS to campus.
“I want to encourage everyone to see the play,” she said. “I think it will be fabulous.”
When Duncan first began trying to raise money to pay for the company’s $23,000 residency fee, she was worried she would not to be able to get the actors to come to campus. Left with very little time to raise money, Duncan was not able to secure the necessary funds.
Fortunately, Aaron Nichols, audience development manager for the ATFLS, saved the day by proposing what Duncan calls a “wonderful offer.” In lieu of the residency fee, the actors agreed to come to campus in exchange for the total box office receipts from the three shows they will be performing on campus.
“That was very, very good news,” Duncan said.
Although the company usually stipulates that students be charged $10 to come see a performance, Provost Joeseph Favazza agreed to cover half the cost of these tickets, Duncan said.
As such, students will only be charged $5 per ticket.
Favazza is not the only member of the Stonehill community to get involved with making arrangements for the upcoming residency.
In fact, Duncan said the effort to get the actors to Stonehill has been a “campus-wide event.”
“I feel as though this is very much an event that covers the college as a whole,” she said. Duncan said Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Programs Peter Ubertaccio and Noelle Preston of the Martin Institute have been instrumental in making preparations for the residency.
In addition to setting up ticket sales and distributing posters, the pair also helped Duncan secure a grant that would allow senior citizens to come to the show for free.
“I think that was very generous,” Duncan said. “Since Stonehill is committed to interdisciplinary learning, when Professor Ubertaccio and I started to talk about this, it quickly became clear that he was interested in promoting this event and being instrumental in it coming about.”
Technical Director James Petty of the Visual and Performing Arts department is also offering his services during the residency. Duncan said the show would not be possible without his hard work.
Duncan applauds the administration for their cooperation with her efforts. She said they have been “very much behind this” from the beginning.
“They were interested in it before we were made this wonderful offer [to waive the residency fee] by the Actors From The London Stage,” she said. “I would say that the College administration has always been interested in getting the actors to campus.”
Although faculty, staff and administration are playing a large role in making preparations for the residency, students also appear to be getting in on the action. Students in Duncan’s Shakespeare class have agreed to serve as tour guides for the actors when they come to campus, Duncan said.
“The actors like that when they come to campus. They like to be shown around,” she said.
Members of the English Society, a student-run organization, will serve as ushers during the nights of the show, Duncan said.
The AFTLS is based out of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is one of the oldest established touring Shakespeare theater companies in the world.
As part of the company’s one week residency program, the AFTLS regularly visits 16 to 20 schools each year. The residency program was developed by Professor Homer Swander at the University of CaliforniaSanta Barbara and co-founded by well-known British actor Patrick Stewart.
Although the actors specialize in Shakespeare, they are flexible in the types of texts they handle. As such, the actors will lead over 20 workshops for students and will be joining several classes from a variety of disciplines, including some not directly related to English or Theater Arts.
During their stay at Stonehill, the actors will be attending such classes as Professor Jegoo Lee’s “Business Ethics,” Professor Susan Mooney’s “Honors Environmental Ethics,” Professor Alessandro Massarotti’s physics class called “Astronomy, Planets, Alien Life” and Professor Nicholas Block’s class on the study of birds called “Ornithology,” among many others.
To apply to take part in a workshop, professors had to fill out a form and send it to Duncan, who then communicated with the actors to see if the classes fit the criteria of what they could offer.
Duncan tried to be as accommodating as possible to all the professors who applied, she said.
“Almost everyone who asked for a workshop got it. There were only a couple of people I had to say no to, simply be cause we had too many people at the same time whose classes are taking place. I had to make decisions based on the criteria,” Duncan said.
Professor Lisa Redpath, who serves as Music Program Director at Stonehill, is excited to welcome the actors to her class, “Ten Centuries of the Musical Mass.”
“The general plan is for me to defer to their expertise,” she said.
Redpath said she wanted the actors to come to class so that they can put music from Shakespeare’s time in a “cultural context” for students. She thinks the actors will fit right into her class, as she often has her students engage in “hands on, participatory activities,” she said.
Redpath is thankful Duncan decided to set this initiative in motion. She said she thinks the experience will be worthwhile for everyone.
“I’m over the moon with excitement,” she said. “I can’t wait for this to happen. I think it is going to be great for all of the classes they visit, regardless of their discipline…I’m just really very happy that we’ve been counted in, that we’re going to be one of the groups that receives the benefit of their guidance and input. I think it’s going to be wonderful.”
Duncan said she hopes students who are not well-versed or interested in Shakespeare will take advantage of the opportunity to come to one of the AFTLS performances on campus.
“I think Shakespeare is meant to be seen rather than read…I think if you’ve never seen a Shakespeare play performed live in any setting, whether a high school or professional setting, I’d say go, because I think it will make people rethink Shakespeare,” she said.
Duncan believes students will enjoy seeing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ because it is “very funny,” she said.
“If you are not a Shakespeare lover or a theater-goer, I think it is a good introduction to Shakespeare as a first play to see,” she said.
Students will also enjoy the show because Shakespeare is still relevant today, hundreds of years after his death, Duncan said.
“Most Shakespeare plays deal with questions we don’t have answers to,” she said. “About love, death, hatred and the big human emotions that are still stirring within us.”
Duncan said she hopes students show interest in this program and that it will continue for many years to come. “I hope very much that that will happen,” she said.
“I hope very much that it will be a success, that people will find the performance rousing and funny and all those things and that the workshops will be fantastic…[The AFTLS] would certainly like to establish a relationship with us. That’s the reason why they made this generous offer, so that we can see what they do and so they can hook us, so that we become repeat customers.”
The Actors From The London Stage will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Oct. 28, 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. in the Hemingway Theater.
Ticket prices for the show will be $5 for students, $20 for faculty and staff, free for senior citizens, and $25 for all other patrons. To reserve tickets please call the box office at 508-565-5260.