Director of education Sarah Enloe reflects on the state of Shakespeare in 2018.
One day into this new birth year of the man who pays our bills, who changes our hearts, who shifts lives and perceptions, I reflect on the fact that not a day goes by without some evidence of the continuing effect of the work of Shakespeare—in the news, in community centers, on stages, and in classrooms. This week, I had an exceptional opportunity to see the profound impact of the figure I have called Boss day in and day out for over 10 years.
Each April, the American Shakespeare Center is abuzz with activity. This one held true to form and then some. We wrapped our remarkable Actors’ Renaissance Season, hosted a group from International Paper for a week of Shakespeare and Leadership training, interviewed remarkable candidates for our open Artistic Director position, bid the ASC on Tour troupe welcome home and our ARS troupe good bye with a phenomenal Band Candy concert, welcomed over 2500 students to our student matinees (many of whom stayed for workshops and tours and attended our lecture series), hosted a teacher seminar, mounted a community celebration complete with a bouncy castle, dancing, costumes, blood, and too many other things to list, and we will open Equivocation before the month rings in its end.
Each of these experiences brought new and old friends to our playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. Each gave us the opportunity to show his continuing legacy, set in the comfortable shadow of two mountain ranges in our architecturally and culturally rich community. Each face we saw light up in our lit playhouse brought us one step closer to showing that his work continues to bring joy, is accessible, and that exploring it is worthwhile. We are working hard to eliminate ShakesFear and will keep that at the forefront of everything we do.
On the actual day of our Bard’s birthday, I found myself headed to New York City to support the ongoing work of our partner the English Speaking Union and their National Shakespeare Competition. 20,000 students participated this year, and 55 finalists came to New York City to compete in the final round. These young Shakespeareans stayed together, played together, and performed their pieces under the lights of the hallowed Mitzi E Newhouse theatre inside of Lincoln Center.
I arrived (just) in time to witness the 10 competitors selected to complete the experience. The other judges and I stood in complete agreement that this particular crop of students offered amazing turns that made the task of narrowing to just three nigh on impossible. We discussed and discussed and discussed (and maybe argued just a bit) the merits of each wonderful presentation. We talked about facility with language, acting choices, connection to character, ability to cold read difficult monologues. I stood up for a Margaret who’s status was impeccable and who’s cold reading exceeded expectation, for a Mercutio who will be an amazing professional actor or speaker or just plain amazing human as he goes into the next season of his life; the additional performances of remarkable Parolles, Iagos, Aarons, Tamoras, Dauphins (from King John), and a stunning Rosalind filled the space and gave us so much hope for the coming generation—for their intelligence, their passion, their courage. I am excited to think about what is next for these young people.
As if that wasn’t enough, I joined Gregory Jon Phelps and Sara Hymes, two of my favorite New York-based actors, for a discussion about furthering the ASC’s vision for Shakespeare and Leadership programming. In 2003, we began a communication-based experience for business and government leaders that has grown to include Continuing Legal Education. The next step is upon us as we tap into new markets. These wonderful folks are helping me hammer out the details to achieve that objective in our first pilot. Their input served as a reminder of just how fortunate ASC has been to employ and work with amazingly talented humans who then go off to enrich other parts of the world—look around you, wherever you are, you are likely to encounter an ASC acting alum, an MBU Shakespeare & Performance alum, a former camper, a staff member, someone who has experienced a program at the ASC. We stretch from China to New York, to Los Angeles, and back to the middle of the country—Texas, Utah, Michigan—over to the Baltic, Morocco, France. It is with all seriousness that I say just try asking a few people if they have been to ASC, worked for ASC, or experienced ASC on the road or in some way and you will find someone who has.
This morning, barely 10 hours into the new year of Shakespeare, my breakfast (Mac & Cheese pancakes at Mom’s on 9th) conversation was with Christy Burgess, a dear friend from the Shakespeare Theatre Association and a woman who has inspired me and helped me to envision new ways of working. She told me about an amazing young man in her middle school program at the Robinson Community Center. This fellow has been involved with them for several years, all while his own father suffered the debilitating effects of MS. Only last Thursday, his dad succumbed to his illness. On Friday, this brave 7th grader arrived for the Friday afternoon Shakespeare class that he had attended so faithfully. In amazement, Christy (one half of a team that embraces and develops a wonderful group of young people in South Bend, Indiana) changed the lesson plan for the day to align with the new need this new circumstance presented. She did it through play and Shakespeare. Tearing up over our home fries and an omelet, Christy told me more stories and showed me videos of her students playing through their pain, finding their expression, knowing they can do anything because they have gained confidence through the excellent relationship Christy and RCC have given them with Shakespeare.
We brainstormed ways Shakespeare could reach into the far parts of the country, working with our treasured partners in STA and elsewhere. We dreamed in the way Shakespeare makes possible. With big ideas, clear language, collaboration of spirit and heart. We look forward to finding new pathways into neglected communities, offering what we can, and responding to the need communicated to us. We look forward to what the year of our Bard 455 will show us about ourselves, our students, and our humanity.