Say "Shakespeare" and most Americans think of tights and posturing, of British accents and three-and-a-half-hour productions, of memorizing speeches in school. Since the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) began in 1988 (as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express), the company's mission has been to make "Shakespeare" synonymous with vital, contemporary entertainment -- entertainment that both expresses and creates the palpable sense of community that Shakespeare's audience enjoyed. ASC accomplishes this task by employing the basic staging conditions for which Shakespeare wrote. ASC actors and directors commit to "two hours traffic on the stage"; to a cast of 10 to 15 actors who double roles; to thrust staging; and to universal lighting, which ensures that the audience and the actors can see and, more importantly, engage each other. Combined, these elements bring the language of the play directly to the audience and illustrate how Shakespeare pulled his listeners into the dramatic action and made them part of the world of the play. ASC thrives on the paradox that re-creating the original conditions of Shakespeare's theatre produces the energy, muscularity, and pace that make the plays work like new entertainments. In short, ASC's vision is to create interactive productions that show how alive the language of Shakespeare is for today's audience.
The American Shakespeare Center is and always has been a touring company. In our 25-year history we have taken affordable, accessible Shakespeare to audiences in more than 45 U.S. states, five other countries, and one U.S. territory. Each year the ASC on tour travels 50,000 miles to performing arts centers, universities, and high schools. Actors on ASC tours (and at home at the Blackfriars Playhouse) also lead a wide variety of hands-on workshops for high school classrooms, college English and drama classes, and performing arts symposiums that provide an intimate learning experience.
Perhaps most importantly, our audiences, both in the Blackfriars Playhouse (the world's only re-creation of Shakespeare's indoor theatre) and on the road, rediscover the sense of community created by Shakespeare's staging conditions. Because all of Shakespeare's plays were originally performed under universal lighting in which actor and audience alike shared the natural light of the sun or full illumination of a room lit by candelabras and wall sconces (and sunlight through the windows), Shakespeare's spectators were always a visible part of the production. This sense of community is one of our main goals, and we have seen it work from Ivy League colleges to inner-city high schools. Audiences discover that Shakespeare has written them collectively and individually into the show; and to ensure that everyone in the audience can see themselves in the plays, male and female actors of all races are considered for all roles.
Such an approach to Shakespeare is not simply a matter of authenticity, but also a matter of economics. Without the need for lights, sets, sound systems, and the paraphernalia of most modern theatres, the American Shakespeare Center can bring affordable Shakespeare to communities from coast to coast, and the productions -- lively and accessible shows in which audiences see themselves -- can change minds about the meaning of the word "Shakespeare."
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Antony and Cleopatra
Saturday, August 29, 2015, 2:00 pm
The Winter's Tale
Saturday, August 29, 2015, 7:30 pm
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Sunday, August 30, 2015, 2:00 pm
2015 SUMMER/FALL SEASON
2015 HOLIDAY SEASON
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