Shakespeare Shaken Up Hannah Spohnholtz: 219 Disciplinary Project

This project for 219 TCH class at Illinois State University had me diving deeper into the idea of literacy within professional theatre, my content area. As a theatre education major, it is my pride and joy to share the arts with students. That is exactly what the Illinois Shakespeare Festival tries to do like all major theatre companies. They have an educational aspect to bring theatre, in this case specifically through the lens of Shakespeare, to the young, the marginalized, and those who think it is only for the upper crust of society.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is coming up on their celebration of 40 years! It is an amazing opportunity for students and anyone interested in repertory theatre to work and play.

They perform at Ewing Manor, weather permitting, and on Illinois State Campus. Ewing is a beautiful Cultural Center as well as a Historical Landmark in Bloomington, Illinois.

Ewing Manor's space is outdoors which adds some mimicry of Shakespear's original conditions allowing for the shows to be performed with only daylight.

Kevin Rich: Artistic Director

Kevin Rich: top right Alls Well That Ends Well, bottom left King Henry II both at ISF

Kevin Rich is the Artistic Director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF); he is an extremely talented actor as well as Artistic Director for the festival. He has been working with ISF since 2009. He has been active in creating programs that combined Shakespeare with civic engagement. He has set up many civic engagement programs through ISF:

CAKEspeare had been put on for many years by the ISF Touring Company which evolved from Graduate Acting Students to Undergraduate Students. This company travels to many different locations, high schools, libraries, woman's prisons, sharing 45 minute abridgments of Shakespeare's shows.
Illinois Shakespeare Festival Touring Company toured Romeo and Juliet Abridged: Spring of 2017
ShakesFEAR is a Halloween program which takes place at Ewing Manor allowing for safe Halloween fun, and a chance for ISU students to practice their blood and guts makeup! Many ISU students donate their time and energies to these events.
Every summer ISF has a Theatre for Young Audience's show. Many of the ISU students receive internships with the festival, and the acting interns are the main performers for these pieces.

Literacy with Kevin Rich

Kevin Rich agreed to have a phone interview with myself on April 25th at 1 pm. He was excited to hear about all of the work we have been doing with the Touring Company, which I partake. When I began to explain about what this class's focus on urban education as well as integrating literacy into the classroom, he jumped right on board with the project.

As Artistic Director, it is Rich's job get young audience excited about theatre. There's an entire civic engagement arm in the company that is traditionally called educational outreach that has evolved into more, civic engagement. (Outreach involvement is the telling of the story. Engagement is when you bring the story to them.)

"Theater is intrinsically an advocate for literacy."

It is a common misconception that people in Shakespeare's era spoke in this heightened language, but Shakespeare's plays in the beginning were written in heightened language for a specific reason. William found a way to make poetry popular for a largely illiterate audience; not only did iambic pentameter make it easier to memorize but it also allowed poetry to be accessible. Kevin as a theatre practitioner loves how dramatizing language is a way for an audience member to expand their vocabulary, particularly when dealing with this heightened language.

Playwright's Intentions with Dramatic Literacy

This notion of dramatic literature is different than typical literature. When reading a play as a theatre practitioner, depending on your subset within theatre, how do read and interpret the play is important. For the Artistic Director interviewing designer and seeing actors auditioning, Rich needs to read that these individuals know the actions of the play, that they are literate in understanding the text on many levels.

It is a different kind of literacy they are looking for from the actors; they need to take action rather than just export major themes. Audience members see the themes. If actors just played themes, it would be a boring show. "Hamlet is simply melancholy, Chekhov mood of play is dour..." That is simple and one note. "Designers, actor... we see the different aspect of how the play is built, what does each character want, fight for, doing...

The playwright is writing a play, not a novel, for a reason. The playwright is taking action."

Theatre has the potential to take you a different culture. If you watch a play, you get personal exposure to different cultures. Theatre celebrates differences and similarities about culture and the human aspects. You learn about new things one would not be exposed to....

This season we are doing Midsummer. Its not set in a specific time, but has a vaudevillian air to it with music and a circus aesthetic. This exploration into the artistic culture of circus life is something many are not exposed to. I Heart Juliet is exposure to hip hop culture and another art form. The "Q-Gents" make full performances using the medium of rap to share Shakespeare's classics; they have done many adaptations.

Think of Brecht and the Theory of Epic Theatre and alienation; this is the idea of writing plays in other cultures in order to point out problems within one's society. If something is too close to home it will be too jarring to resonate and get people considering the problems at hand. Rich used the example of A Good Woman of Setzuan, Brecht wanted to do a play about the ills of his society, so he set it in a different culture and allowed those experiencing to make connections themselves as audience members. Making these considerations is important as an Artistic Director.

"Culture is very much a consideration when producing."

Rich's, as a theatre artist, primary focus is making new, modern Shakespearean plays. Will was writing new plays from the old classics. Rich, along with many other Shakespeare Companies, wants to continue to live in that innovative world of theatrical experiences that reach out. Example: Hamilton.

Hamilton is a history play that shares poetry in a popular medium rather than a cerebral function. Theatre is a way to get to students, provide incentive for traditional literacy. This can be applied to other pieces of literature: to the performance of a Jane Austen novel rather than just reading it; it is another branch of theatre that is the dramatization: making traditional literacy entertaining.

"Truth is people lie that’s the paradox of truth on stage." -Kevin Rich

To witness the reality of characters, truth on stage, one needs to see how people hide everyday. As theatre practitioners, we work to dive into these worlds of imaginary circumstances to share ourselves, different cultures, and the basic act of being human. We work to be literate in humanity as well as the language of the theatre world and tactics each subset uses to create theatre magic.

By Hannah Susan Faith Spohnholtz

Created By
Hannah Spohnholtz


Created with images by tonynetone - "William Shakespeare"

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