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Summer Shakespeare returns to the Dome

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Summer Shakespeare 2006 is wrapping up another successful season, capped off this weekend with the last performances of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” Billed as “The Professional Theatre In Residence at the University of Notre Dame,” the program is now in its sixth year.

Summer Shakespeare grew out of a course called “Shakespeare as Performance” taught by Dr. Paul Rathburn, which had a performance – rather than academic – emphasis. The first production of Summer Shakespeare in its current incarnation was “The Taming of the Shrew,” which was performed at Washington Hall in 2000.

“The original [plan] was to hire a couple of professional actors to work with a largely student company,” Jay Paul Skelton, Ryan Producing Artistic Director, said. “Students could get the opportunity to work side by side with professionals to learn how an actor or a director in the professional world would look at Shakespeare as a performance text, rather than simply as a text.”

This philosophy has informed Summer Shakespeare throughout the decade, as it has grown and evolved over the years into a program that consists of three distinct, but interconnected, shows – the Mainstage Production (“The Comedy of Errors”), the Young Company (Plautus’ “The Brothers Menaechmus”) and ShakeScenes (collected scenes from Shakespeare’s canon). The program has grown into a major production that involves more time, resources and people than ever before.

“This year, the program has nine equity contracts, 20 Young Company members, a Young Company production, specific training classes for the Young Company members and outdoor performances in different communities,” Skelton said.

ShakesScenes is an outreach program intended to increase involvement the community. According to Skelton, it consists of about 100 members of the South Bend and outlying areas, ranging from ages seven to 70.

Unlike the Mainstage Production and The Young Company production, ShakesScenes is not a unified play, but is rather a series of ten to 15 minute scenes from Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

The Young Company production this year, Plautus’ “The Brothers Menaechmus,” features several Notre Dame students in addition to regular Young Company members. The play, written sometime in the third century B.C., served as the primary inspiration for Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” “The Brothers Menaechmus” features Conor Woods, Kevin McCarthy, Luke Cieslewicz, Margaret Robenalt, Andrew Roth, Tashi Thomas and Patrick Vassel, all of whom are current Notre Dame or St. Mary’s students.

The Mainstage Production this year is Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” directed by William Brown. As one of the earliest – if not the earliest – plays in the Bard’s oeuvre, it is also the shortest (in actual number of lines) and one of his funniest.

The Bard’s version of “The Brothers Menaechmus” and follows a series of mistaken identities as two sets of twins try to find each other. Both sets of twins are in the same town on the same day – unbeknownst to their counterparts – as the townspeople mistake one set for the other.

Although “The Comedy of Errors” does employ no less than eight professional actors, it also utilizes members of the Notre Dame community.

“This year is special in that we have three Young Company members in major roles,” Skelton said.

Those three are Conor Woods (Dromio of Ephesus), Joe Garlock (Antipholus of Ephesus) and Angela Aiea Sauer (Luciana), all students or former students at Notre Dame.

“I believe that those three individuals in those three roles are the most high-profile in the show,” Skelton said. “Students haven’t been as integrated into the show as much in the past as they have this year.”

The cast is filled out by a mix of community members and Young Company members.

As another mark of increased community involvement, this is the first year in which all costumes were constructed at Notre Dame. As in the past, they were designed by Theatre professor Richard E. Donnelly, but this year they were constructed entirely in the costume shop, managed by Jane Zusman.

Though Summer Shakespeare is split into these three shows, the goal this year is to incorporate all three aspects into a singular experience, as opposed to a focus primarily on the Mainstage Production.

“What I’ve tried to do is help the program arrange itself in such a way that each piece of it is more involved with each other rather than be distinct and separate entity,” Skelton said.

Though two of those pieces have concluded, “The Comedy of Errors” will be performed through this weekend. Student tickets can be purchased at the DPAC box office for prices between $12 and $15.

More information can be found at http://shakespeare.nd.edu.