It is May, spring has officially arrived in Ashland. This past weekend, people gathered together to experience ShakespeareAMERICA’s opening event, Much Ado About Shakespeare in Contemporary America.
ShakespeareAMERICA is a collaborative project between Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The institute provides programs that enlighten, educate, broaden perspectives, reveal new information, and entertain. These programs offer a unique American approach to teaching people about the works of Shakespeare and live performances of Shakespeare’s plays, such as A Much Ado About Nothing. From audiences to practitioners, and scholars to students. “The organization of ShakespeareAMERICA Institute began nearly 2 years ago,” says director of the Department of Performing Arts, David Humphrey. “The idea was to have a way to study Shakespeare accessible to everyone and also study what Shakespeare is in America.” After receiving a $20 thousand grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, David and others were able to make this idea into a reality. When asked about why a collaboration with OSF, David replied stating, “Nobody does Shakespeare better than OSF.”
And so on May 2nd the institute planned their public debut.
The event included a screening of a modern adaptation of Much Ado created by Josh Whedon in 2012 followed by a discussion segment. After which, the organization and its members served lunch in the Center for Visual Arts (CVA) Courtyard at SOU. What followed was a student production and discussion known as “An Ill Word”, which was also a modern take on the Shakespeare play Much Ado directed by Shanti Ryle and Frankie Regalia.
Miss Ryle is also known as the understudy to Leah Anderson, who portrays Hero in the OSF performance Much Ado About Nothing. Joining her is a cast constructed entirely of student volunteer actors and actresses, “How can we make the students’ voices heard, at the same time address issues including feminism and illustrate the effects of gossip were some of the things I wanted to incorporate into this performance.” says Ryle. “And what better place to set the stage but in Hollywood!”
Even though the managing crew only had their cast for just 2 weeks, the performance received high applause and positive reviews.
“I really enjoyed it. I think it stayed true to what Shakespeare meant and what he would have wanted. And it also did a wonderful job highlighting the importance and effect of media.”
“I think it was fantastic. I’m looking forward to what it will become.”
The play itself will continue to be worked on in preparation for the Oregon Fringe Festival on June 4th in Ashland.
An Ill Word also featured a discussion panel with guests Evelyn Gajowski, Lydia Garcia, and Leah Anderson with David McCandless as the panel leader. They discussed Much Ado at OSF, topics included the liberation of characters (specifically female character such as Hero), men in the play, social structure between men and women, the perspective of the story being told, and more.
The event ended with presentations by Steven Vineberg who discussed Hollywood’s Debt to Shakespeare, McCandless and Gajowski, and Vinberg in an overview panel, and lastly David Humphrey and Paul Nicholson who closed the event.
Leaving audience members wondering, what’s next for ShakespeareAMERICA?