Shakespeare Festival brings world class theater to campus

Rachel Clifford
Contributing writer

Two of Shakespeare’s plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “A Winter’s Tale,” will come off the script and onto the stage in the 11th annual Shakespeare Festival.

“The Shakespeare Festival originally started because Dr. Warren Edminster, one of the English professors, wanted to find a way to bring high quality performances to Murray State students and it was opened to the general public soon after that,” Rusty Jones, Shakespeare Festival chair, said. “Now we have schools that come in and pretty much anyone who wants to can come see them. The plays that are going to be performed this year are both comedies. There are no tragedies — no cutting off Macbeth’s head or stabbing Hamlet with a poisoned sword. It’s all fun this year.”

The American Shakespeare Company is based in Stanton, Va., and is on their “Almost Blasphemy” tour.

“The great thing about the Shakespeare Festival is that it allows students to see world class theater for $5 instead of $50,” Jones said. “Tickets for these events would normally be anywhere from $50 to $80.”

The week-long event will kick off with A Midsummer Flash Mob in the rocking chair lounge of the Curris Center.

“In conjunction with our theater department, we have a flash mob planned,” Jones said. “Although since it isn’t a secret, I guess it’s not really a flash mob. Basically some of the theater students are going to be performing scenes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’”

The week will feature more than just theatrical performances of Shakespeare’s plays. The American Shakespeare Company will hold several workshops throughout the week.

Barbara Cobb, English professor and associate chair and education coordinator of the festival, will give a lecture over Shakespeare as a graphic novel.

“I will be looking at graphic novel editions of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ including the Neil Gaiman Sandman series episode in which Shakespeare and his fellow actors perform the play for the Lord of Dreams and his entourage from the dream world,” Cobb said. “We will examine the pros and cons of using graphic novels to study Shakespeare’s plays.”

For Cobb, the Shakespeare Festival is a chance to share with others a passion she’s had for many years.

“When I was 9 or 10, I found a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works in a bookcase in an unused bedroom,” Cobb said. “I started reading the plays to myself, and, over time, I enlisted one of my friends to take parts and read the plays with me. We were sure we were doing something that we weren’t supposed to, so we kept it a secret.”

Cobb said she was interested in the women of Shakespeare’s plays from an early age.

“I was fascinated by ‘Macbeth’ and ‘King Lear,’ particularly the strong, independent women,” Cobb said. “‘Lear’s’ Cordelia was a hero of mine from a very young age.”

She hopes her lecture will make Shakespeare more accessible to students.

“The graphic novel is a genre that is growing in popularity, and a lot of people of all ages find sequential art as an asset in reading,” Cobb said. “Sequential art can open up Shakespeare to some readers. A play like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is action packed, and the graphic novel medium can work well in helping a reader to engage with that action.”

Jones, too, hopes students will be able to connect to Shakespeare in a new way at the end of the festival.

“We want students to come away from the festival with a better appreciation of Shakespeare,” Jones said. “What we hope to accomplish is to diminish of what some teachers call ‘Shakes-fear,’ which is basically a fear of Shakespeare, thinking it’s too boring or tedious. We want people to see that Shakespeare is fun and ultimately we want them to have a good time.”

Cobb said she wants students to walk away from the Shakespeare Festival with a better understanding of the connection between the situations the characters face and the situations the students face.

“The plots are universal, the issues as relevant today as they were for Shakespeare’s first audiences,” Cobb said. “Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius, in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ are very much like the audience members who will see this play here at Murray State next week: Hermia has a domineering father who is trying to control her life; Lysander and Hermia decide to elope in order to begin their life together; Helena has been loved and dumped, and wants to get the guy back; and Demetrius, that guy who rejected Helena, really doesn’t deserve her. There’s nothing here that isn’t familiar to us.”

The Shakespeare Festival will run from Monday to Feb 11.

General admission tickets are $10. Tickets for students and faculty traveling from beyond the western Kentucky region are $7.

Tickets for Murray State students, faculty, staff, children and all other students in the western Kentucky region are $5.

All workshops and lectures are free to the public.