KEYNOTE SPEAKERS INCLUDE PATRICIA AKHIMIE, KEITH HAMILTON COBB, AND SIR TREVOR NUNN
American Shakespeare Center (ASC) will gather scholars, students, and aficionados from around the world for a week of symposia, lectures, and more when it hosts the eleventh Blackfriars Conference in Staunton, Virginia from November 2-5, 2023. Created in 2001 as a biennial event, ASC’s Blackfriars Conference was paused during the COVID pandemic and returns this year for the first time since 2019.
During the height of the Shenandoah Valley’s famed fall colors, the Blackfriars Conference hosts scholars and practitioners who explore Shakespeare both in study and on stage, exploring ways for these two worlds to collaborate. This year’s conference features a brilliant array of keynote speakers who all engage in Shakespeare performance and scholarship: author, educator, and editor Patricia Akhimie, Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library; actor and playwright Keith Hamilton Cobb, author of the award-winning play American Moor; and world-renowned director Sir Trevor Nunn, CBE, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.
“The Blackfriars Conference distinguishes itself by focusing on the collaboration between scholars and artists,” says Aubrey Whitlock, ASC’s Associate Director of Education Programming, “We are always interested in the infinite variety of intersections between page and stage, and each Conference offers us a chance to continue that conversation wherever it leads. This year we were also particularly invested in (and excited about) welcoming the next generation of scholars and practitioners into that conversation. Not only will several graduate students from various institutions present papers at this Conference, but attendees will also hear from a handful of passionate undergraduates.”
Conferees will also have the opportunity to see the three plays in American Shakespeare Center’s fall repertory season: Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Coriolanus.
On Sunday evening, after the Conference concludes, Sir Trevor Nunn will also be presented ASC’s 2023 Burbage Award, which honors theater-makers whose work has made it possible for actors to perform and audiences to enjoy the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The Burbage Award is named for James Burbage, the man who erected the first of London’s large outdoor theatres and later converted an old Dominican dining hall into the original Blackfriars Playhouse. “It is our honor to present this award to Sir Trevor Nunn,” notes ASC Artistic Director Brandon Carter. “Having directed all of Shakespeare’s plays on the world’s most distinguished stages as well as on screen, Sir Trevor has revealed new glories in Shakespeare’s works to generations of theatergoers.”
At the ceremony, the Robin Goodfellow Award, so called after A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s “merry wanderer of the night,” will be presented to Judy Cohen. Since 1993, ASC has presented the Robin Goodfellow Award to those who have provided extraordinary service to the American Shakespeare Center. “This year we honor Judy Cohen, whose support and untold work helped create and sustain the American Shakespeare Center from its birth,” says ASC Co-Founder Ralph Alan Cohen.
American Shakespeare Center’s 11th Blackfriars Conference will take place November 2-5 at the Blackfriars Playhouse. A schedule of Conference events, registration form, and information on performances can be accessed here.
About the Keynote Speakers
Patricia Akhimie is Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She is also the Director of the RaceB4Race Mentoring Network and Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches Shakespeare Renaissance drama, and early modern women’s travel writing. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Race: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (Routledge 2018), editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Race (2023), and co-editor, with Bernadette Andrea of Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World (University of Nebraska Press 2019). She is currently at work on a new edition of Othello for the Arden Shakespeare 4th series, and a monograph about race, gender, and editing early modern texts. Her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Ford Foundation.
Keith Hamilton Cobb is a speaker, actor, and playwright who has been drawn mostly to the stage in his working life but has also been recognized for several unique character portrayals he has created for television. He has appeared in classical and contemporary roles on regional stages nationwide. His award-winning play American Moor (published by Methuen Drama), which explores the perspective of the African American male through the metaphor of Shakespeare’s Othello, ran off-Broadway at Cherry Lane Theatre in the fall of 2019. It is the recipient of an Elliot Norton Award, an AUDELCO Award, two IRNE Awards (Independent Reviewers of New England), a 2022 Cleveland Critics Circle Award, and is part of the permanent collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Keith is the director of Project Untitled, LLC, a company evolving socially just processes of analysis and inquiry at the intersection of humanities education and theater-making, and of The Untitled Othello Project, currently in residence at Sacred Heart University in collaboration with Blessed Unrest Theatre Company, which operates as an extended “interrogation and rehearsal with artists and educators” of Shakespeare’s play, Othello, disrupting antiquated ideas of its purpose and value, and exploring the human struggles with race, religion and sexuality, and other salient issues that it activates whenever it is performed.
In addition to his work as director and administrator, Keith speaks at academic institutions around the country on the topic of the intersection of race and Shakespeare, particularly as it is reflected in American Moor, and in The Untitled Othello Project.
Sir Trevor Nunn, CBE, dedicated himself to theater while at Downing College, Cambridge; after graduating in 1962, he worked for the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964. At the age of 25, Nunn was made Associate Director at the RSC and quickly found success with productions that included The Revenger’s Tragedy (1966) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). In 1968, he was appointed to succeed Peter Hall as Artistic Director. The following year he directed Judi Dench in the roles of both Hermione and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale. Nunn’s decision to harness the style and music of the 1960s made this an influential production. For the RSC’s 1976 production of Macbeth (with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen), Nunn staged the play for an intimate audience of 200. The production was televised and played worldwide.
In 1980 Nunn and John Caird directed the RSC’s innovative eight-and-a-half-hour staging of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens in London, which was given several Olivier Awards, including for Best Direction. This inclusive event opened on Broadway in 1981 and won four Tony Awards, including those for Best Play and Best Director of a Play. In London, his production of Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber and T S Eliot opened in 1981 and ran for 21 years, making it the longest-running British production of a musical, until it was eclipsed by Les Misérables, which he directed for the RSC in 1985 and is still running. Both Cats and Les Misérables were the recipients of numerous Tony Awards in 1983 and 1987, respectively, including those for Best Director of a Musical.
After retiring as RSC Artistic Director after eighteen years, Nunn continued working with the company, directing productions of Othello (1989), Measure for Measure, and The Blue Angel (1991) whilst also directing the Lloyd Webber/Hampton/Black musical Sunset Boulevard in London and on Broadway and the operas Porgy and Bess and Katya Kabanova.
From 1997 to 2003, Nunn served as the Artistic Director of the Royal National Theatre, directing many productions, including Oklahoma! (1998) with Hugh Jackman, and the unknown Tennessee Williams play, Not About Nightingales (1998), both of which won him nominations for Tony Awards for Best Director in their Broadway productions. In 2000 he won an Olivier Award for his direction of three RNT productions: Summerfolk, The Merchant of Venice, and Troilus and Cressida. His productions of My Fair Lady and Anything Goes were also award-winning and he was the recipient of the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement.
After leaving the RNT, Nunn directed a ground-breaking Hamlet at the Old Vic, the Lloyd Webber/Zippel/Jones musical The Woman in White (2004), Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll (2006), and Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (2008). In 2011 he joined the Theatre Royal Haymarket as resident Artistic Director and directed four plays, including the rediscovery of Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path and The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes. In 2019 his revival of Fiddler on the Roof opened in London to huge acclaim.
Trevor Nunn has also directed several movies, including Hedda (1975), Lady Jane with the young Helena Bonham-Carter (1986), Twelfth Night (1996) and, with Judi Dench, Red Joan (2018). In 1978 he was made a CBE and in 2002 he was Knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to the Theatre. Sir Trevor has recently completed a book on William Shakespeare, since he has now directed all 37 of his 37 plays.