Valparaiso University’s inaugural Shakespeare Week, March 17-22, was a campus-wide celebration of the work of William Shakespeare. Featuring Actors From The London Stage, one of the world’s premiere Shakespeare companies, the weeklong event featured lectures and performances across disciplines centered on Shakespeare and the role his work plays in a range of arts and sciences.
“The week was a collaboration between Christ College and the Departments of English and Theatre,” said Betsy Burow-Flak, professor and chair of the Department of English. “We were thrilled to have the Actors From The London Stage spend a week with us and to have our departments collaborate to talk about the importance of Shakespeare to what we do.”
Actors From The London Stage performed three productions of “As You Like It,” Thursday – Saturday, March 20–22. They also visited classrooms across campus to discuss their work and how it applies to disciplines beyond the theatre.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Lee Orchard, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre. “They attended our rehearsals and worked with the students and coached some of the scenes. They also visited an acting class, movement class, and some of our intro classes.”
Professor Burow-Flak said that while Shakespeare Week is an interdisciplinary effort, it is also the brainchild of Peter Kanelos, the dean of Christ College. The author of two books and dozens of articles, chapters, and reviews, Dean Kanelos is internationally renowned as a Shakespeare scholar.
“Every culture has its central canonical authors. For the Greeks, it was Homer; for the Spanish, it’s Cervantes; and in the English-speaking world, it became Shakespeare,” said Dean Kanelos. “Shakespeare is of interest to a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons. His work is a great means to bridge different parts of the campus community — from English and theatre, to philosophy, history, and foreign languages.”
Prior to his position as dean of Christ College — The Honors College, Dean Kanelos founded the Interdisciplinary Shakespeare Studies program at Loyola University, Chicago. Both as a professor and as a student, he has witnessed firsthand the power Shakespeare can have to shape a young life, regardless of his or her major.
“The very first Shakespearian play I saw was when I was a freshman in college at this small, up-start theatre in Chicago,” he said. “Some friends of mine were going, and I thought it sounded like fun and just went along for the ride.”
The experience was not only formative but also serendipitous.
“I sat there enthralled,” said Dean Kanelos. “It planted a seed in me. As an English major I continued to study Shakespeare and made the decision to attend grad school.”
And that obscure little theatre company grew to become the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, one of the foremost Shakespearean theatre companies in the United States, where Dean Kanelos would return 25 years later to edit and publish a book about celebrating the theater’s rich history.
It’s the kind of story Dean Kanelos hopes might someday be recreated in the lives of students who will encounter Shakespeare on Valpo’s campus — students like Emily Prough ’12, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in Arts & Entertainment Administration who also received her bachelor’s degree in music education from Valpo.
Emily worked with the Actors From The London Stage in two of her classes: Event Planning and Promotion and Comprehensive Project Planning.
“One class was involved with some of the promotions for the week,” she said. “The other was involved with the actual planning and execution of all of the details.”
Emily’s instructor for both classes, Professor Kari-Anne Innes, is thrilled about the opportunities Shakespeare Week created for her students.
“They had an opportunity to learn not only event coordination but also to become familiar with Shakespeare’s body of work,” said Professor Innes. “We read “As You Like It,” and they saw “Macbeth.” They learned about Shakespeare and arts administration at the same time.”
It’s these interdisciplinary opportunities that Dean Kanelos envisioned when he first dreamt of making Shakespeare Week a reality at Valpo.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for us to cross over and share and experience something together,” he said. “People think Shakespeare, and they immediately think of theatre and English, but there’s this common currency that becomes part of our cultural conversation and cultural inheritance with Shakespeare. You could be a lawyer or a physician, and you might not have much else in common, but you have this shared experience.”
In addition to the weekend performance of “As You Like It,” on March 18 the English and music departments hosted “The Songs and Music of Shakespeare” featuring faculty readings of Shakespeare’s poems and soliloquies and musical performances of songs from and inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. And, on March 19, the Theatre department performed on “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” Abridged! — selections from two of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
“This is really the beginning of a new tradition. As we continue this event in the future, we hope to find more and more ways to make connections more broadly across the University,” said Dean Kanelos. “We really hope this will continue to be a campus-wide experience.”