Shakespeare festival to launch into its 18th year in the summer
Andrew Cameron | Tuesday, May 2, 2017
For its 18th consecutive year, the Shakespeare at Notre Dame initiative will present the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival this summer, drawing upon student and professional talent to bring new life to the Bard’s works.
A production of “Twelfth Night,” performed entirely by undergraduate and graduate student apprentices from colleges across the country will tour the Michiana area. Additionally, “Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed on campus by a cast of both student apprentices and professional actors. The festival also features a touring theater company, Actors from the London Stage, one of two major programs managed by Shakespeare at Notre Dame. The initiative’s mission, according to its website, is “to establish Notre Dame nationally and internationally as a center for the study of Shakespeare in performance.”
Grant Mudge, former founding artistic director for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, has served as the artistic director for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival for the past five years. Although this will be the 18th year of the festival, Shakespeare has been performed at Notre Dame nearly since its founding, Mudge said.
“Shakespeare goes back to the absolute earliest years of the University,” he said. “Just a few years ago, in 2014, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first ever Shakespeare performance on campus — the first full production. They did scenes of ‘Henry IV’ as early as 1847.”
Mudge said the festival has four programs — a professional company, a touring company and both an adult and youth performance of “ShakeScenes,” in which members of the community rehearse and perform 10-minute scenes from Shakespeare, assisted by professional direction, staging and lighting.
The cast of “Twelfth Night” will be entirely comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, primarily from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, but also from other colleges across the country, Mudge said. They will rehearse for three weeks before touring to deliver 10 to 11 shows.
“In the morning the apprentices have voice text and movement classes, in the afternoon they have shop assignments — whether that be scene, costume, marketing, lighting or sound, depending on the needs of the week,” Mudge said. “And then in the evenings, they rehearse outdoors. They rehearse their show for three weeks, and then run it on the road.”
This year’s professional performance of “Much Ado about Nothing,” Mudge said, will take a very different direction from last year’s performance of “The Tempest.”
“Last summer we had the Cirque [du Soleil]-inspired [performance] with aerial acrobatics and one of the world’s greatest jugglers playing Trinculo,” he said. “It sold out the entire run, so this year, one of the big challenges was how we were going to top that. The answer of course, is that you don’t try to top it — you try to do something in a different vein. ‘Much Ado’ will be set in the Second World War era, and we’ll have a live, big band on stage … we began to realize that that generation is leaving us, and we won’t have many more chances to do a sort of love letter like this.
“Much Ado seems to speak to a whole lot in our experience, but certainly the experience of coming back from armed conflict, the experience of being ‘right’ in what you know, but then having reason to reevaluate that, and it’s simultaneously a great love story between two of the greatest wordsmith characters of all time, Beatrice and Benedick.”
Mudge said it remains important to perform Shakespeare’s plays because of the insights about the human experience in Shakespeare’s writing.
“[Shakespeare’s] gift is in finding just that right thread that explores what it means to be a human being on this planet,” he said. “Students come alive when they realize that there’s way more than meets the eye with these plays — way more in the innuendo, way more in the discoveries of insights about human interaction and, as they discover that, the lights really come on and that’s why we keep doing Shakespeare.”