There is something of a mini Shakespeare Festival happening at the University of South Carolina
. This April, the Department of Theatre and Dance
is offering audiences the chance to see three strikingly different renditions of three of Shakespeare’s best plays over the course of the month.
First up is perhaps Shakespeare’s most magical play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running April 11-22 at the Center for Performance Experiment. The play is a co-production with Pacific Performance Project East
, a theater company run by USC faculty members Robyn Hunt and Steve Pearson. Pearson directs while Hunt takes on the role of Titania, The Fairy Queen, in this production.
Hunt and Pearson spent 10 summers in Japan with famed theatrical innovator Tadashi Suzuki, learning his physical approach to acting and working with his company. While in Japan they also worked with Shoga Ohta on slow tempo, slowing down the pace of a play’s narrative so that even the slightest details of the actors’ physicality become powerful moments. Since then, Hunt and Pearson have continued to experiment and deepen their approach to acting, making theater and creating shows that are surprisingly visceral and unique.
Midsummer seems to be no exception. Aerialist Andrea Moon was brought in from Colorado to work with the cast on their trapeze skills. “I just thought that Puck and Oberon should probably be up in the air somewhere … or at least have the possibility of it,” Pearson says about his decision to add trapeze to the verbal gymnastics of Shakespearean text. “There’s something ethereal about it … you can get some really wonderful effects.” The choice also serves the educational goals for the show. “It’s so good for grad actors to move around a center that’s not connected to the floor,” Pearson continues. “…the training they [the MFA actors] have is so connected to how they make contact with the floor.”
Running April 14-22, director and USC theater faculty member Robert Richmond
directs Macbeth. Richmond – who has just returned from directing Henry VIII at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and who has directed at the Folger Theatre – has created a world for Macbeth that is about as different from the ethereal world of Midsummer’s fairies as possible.
“When I originally read the play it seemed that the conflict between good and evil is what most excited me,” Richmond says of the play. In order to explore the themes of good and evil the director has come up with a framing device for the play in which the witch Hecate (who in Richmond’s telling is half human and half lizard) is in pursuit of an innocent boy, Fleance.
Richmond agrees that Shakespeare is a great way for his students to learn about acting. “…Heightened language comes out of extreme passion,” he says, “and I think in this day and age when we are all too used to a kind of modern acting, and the sensibility of not saying what we mean, to work on a play that’s full of heightened passion, and humanity and sex and death and ambition and all of those things can only be a good thing to dig deep in our souls and pull out.”
Finally, Mary Tilden, a graduating senior in USC’s theater department, directs Twelfth Night or What You Will in the Lab Theatre on April 19-22. Tilden has an interesting take on the comedy, which begins with a shipwreck in which the protagonist Viola, after losing her twin brother in the surf, is washed up on the shores of a “strange new world” called Illyria.
“Because the play begins with death and it’s a comedy, I thought it would be interesting in looking at it through the lens of the Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican holiday which celebrates the dead. It’s really traditional and incorporates music and food and dancing and ritual, so I thought it would work really well for the story that Shakespeare is already telling.”
Tilden won two grants that both funded the production and paid for her to attend a South American theater festival in order to feed her artistic ideas for the show.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream will take place at April 11-22 at The Center for Performance Experiment, located in the Hamilton Gym on the corner of Pickens and Pendleton streets. Seating is quite limited and tickets can only be purchased at the door.
Macbeth runs in Drayton Hall (1300 Greene St.) Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. from April 14-22. Tickets cost $16 for adults, $14 for university faculty/staff, military and seniors and $10 for students. Call the box office at (803) 777-2551 for tickets starting April 7.
Finally, Twelfth Night or What you Will runs April 19-22 at 8 p.m. each night. The tickets, which are $5, can be purchased at the door.
for more information on all of these plays.