Blackfriars to Stage World's First Tag-Team Shakespeare Performance
The American Shakespeare Center will present the first known performance ever of any play by William Shakespeare to be staged by multiple teams of cast members. The experimental production of Antony and Cleopatra will have one single performance at the Blackfriars Playhouse on August 1. The production is the culmination of a five-week Summer Institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The program has brought scholars from colleges and universities from around the United States to Staunton to study how Shakespeare on stage connects to scholarship and classroom teaching.
(PressZoom) - Staunton, Va. - July 21, 2008 - The American Shakespeare Center today announced today that it will present the first known performance ever of any play by William Shakespeare to be staged by multiple teams of cast members.
The experimental production of Antony and Cleopatra will have one single performance at the Blackfriars Playhouse on August 1. The production is the culmination of a five-week Summer Institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
We believe this experiment in multiple casting is squarely in the spirit of Shakespeare because it will create a uniquely interactive experience for both the performers and the audience, said Ralph Cohen, the director of the NEH Institute and the founding executive director of the American Shakespeare Center. Such a kaleidoscopic performance also represents a kind of postmodern approach that will help the audience question the connection between actor and character, and perhaps experience the liberating insight that -- for all of us -- human personality is fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing.
Eight teams of actors yielding a cast of nearly fifty will split roles among themselves, with each team taking about one-eighth of the show. Quick costume changes, sometimes on stage, will allow the audience to track roles as they pass from actor to actor.
For the audience, it will be more about following the costumes than the actors, said Cohen who, along with Paul Menzer, director of the masters program in Shakespeare in Production at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, developed the format for the performance. As far as I know, no one has ever done anything like this, Cohen says.
Because the actors keep changing, the focus stays right where it should be: on the story, the action, and of course, on the language, said Ellen Kaplan, professor of acting and directing at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., who plays the Clown in the production. This show should be entertaining, a participatory experience where the audience is part of the game, figuring out whos who in the puzzle of action and putting it all together, rooting for the relay teams as they come and go.
Aside from its tag-team casting, the other unusual aspect of the production is that some cast members are professional stage actors, while others, including Kaplan, are scholars of literature and theatre at colleges and universities around the United States. Graduate students from Mary Baldwin College will also participate on stage.
Major dialogue of key roles will be covered by some of the most experienced actors from the Blackfriarss resident acting troupe, while the professors and graduate students will take shorter sections of dialogue.
Even Shakespeares minor characters retain a degree of inscrutability and mystery, said Nick Crawford, assistant professor of English at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala. Im playing Dolabella, a character I had never thought much about but, after this experience, I am now fascinated by his complexity.
The experience of producing a performance with Blackfriars resident troupe actors is a new one for many of the scholars, who have come to the American Shakespeare Center for an extended course in Shakespearean staging practices held under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The performance of Antony and Cleopatra will be the culmination of the five-week NEH Summer Institute program entitled Shakespeares Blackfriars: The Study, The Stage, and The Classroom.
Working closely with professional actors has been a huge boon for my scholarship, said Annalisa Castaldo, associate professor of English at Widener University in Chester, Penn., who plays three roles in the show. I have a new understanding of how Shakespeares original first audience¬ his acting company¬ would have reacted to the text.
Antony and Cleopatra will be performed on Friday, August 1 at 1:30 pm at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Va. The performance will be open to the general public and admission will be free of charge, with seating first-come-first-served. More information is available from the Blackfriars box office at 1-877-MUCH-ADO.
About the American Shakespeare Center
The American Shakespeare Center, located in Staunton, Va., recovers the joys and accessibility of Shakespeares theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education. The ASCs Blackfriars Playhouse, the worlds only re-creation of Shakespeares indoor theatre, is open year-round for productions of classic plays, which have been hailed by The Washington Post as "shamelessly entertaining" and by The Boston Globe as "phenomenalbursting with energy." Founded in 1988 as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the organization became the American Shakespeare Center in 2005 and can be found online at www.ASCstaunton.com.
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