The Catholic University of America

Nov. 24, 2009

English Students Add a Little Drama to Their Studies

'As You Like It' and 'Taming of the Shrew" to Be Performed Dec. 1 and 3

 

 
  In "As You Like It," Celia, left, is played by Aja Crites, and Rosalind is played, as in Shakespeare's time, by a male, Alex Carrion.

When William Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage," he might have been foreshadowing an assignment in Catholic University's English 461 course.

Students in The Plays of Shakespeare course will produce the comedies "As You Like It," and "The Taming of the Shrew" Dec. 1 and 3 as a part of their studies. Shakespeare's often-quoted passage that begins with "All the world's a stage" appears in the play "As You Like It," which will be performed by class members on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Other students will perform "The Taming of the Shrew" on Thursday, Dec. 3. Both performances are from 9:30 to 10:50 a.m. in Caldwell Hall Auditorium.

The English students are responsible for all facets of the productions, from script work, casting and directing to blocking, costume development and set design. Each student also has to perform as an actor.

Each play "has to run less than an hour and 15 minutes (the class period) but using the original text," said their teacher, Todd Lidh, clinical assistant professor and coordinator of CUA's First-Year Experience program. "They can't modernize the text. That's not really Shakespeare."

The team performing "As You Like It" has bowed to tradition and cast a male in a significant female role. They are "acknowledging original casting, where all the actors would have been male," Lidh said.

But audiences should expect a few twists. Both teams are adding music, and most costumes will be modern dress because of ease and expense.

 
Rosalind and Celia take on new identities when they retreat into the forest with Touchstone (Richard Owens). Colleen Crawford, right, plays Rosalind disguised as Ganymede. Andrea Albertini plays Celia disguised as Aliena.
 

The class is made up of English majors and a diversity of students taking the course as a general elective. Only a few are drama majors. They will be graded not on their acting, but on their preparation. "I can guarantee you even if they were doing a drama, it would be a comedy," Lidh said. "We're going to be doing a lot of laughing."

The point is to have fun and learn about Shakespearean productions.

"Even though my class is an English Shakespeare class," Lidh said, "we have looked at every play as literary text but also as questions about performance and questions about audience because these were written to be performed. This gives students additional insight into what those words mean, not just on the page."

For the majority of class members, participation in a play replaces researching and writing a major paper. Students will receive grades for a rehearsal journal and a paper about how they prepared for the performance, whether they felt the performance succeeded and what they learned about Shakespearean productions.

"They are responsible for everything, which would have been true in Shakespeare's time as well," Lidh said. "No directors; no lighting. They just get up there and do the play with an audience.

 
  Orlando, played by Kendall Backas, is smitten with Rosalind. The class was challenged to improvise with costumes and casting.

"The learning process is how they get to the performance - everything they had to do in preparation for it. And then the performance itself is just an opportunity to share that experience with other people," Lidh said.

The performances are free and open to the public. The English 461 students have been asked "to include the audiences as much as possible because that was true in Shakespeare's time, as well," Lidh said. "I have encouraged them to engage with, use, play with the audience. So an audience should come prepared for that. They are not just going to be passive listeners. They might actually be incorporated into the play."