ND Shakespeare Festival promotes student involvement
Courtney Becker | Friday, December 4, 2015
The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival (NDSF) is offering students the opportunity to work with world-class theater professionals this summer.
This Saturday, Ryan Producing Artistic Director of the NDSF Grant Mudge and the two directors for this summer’s main shows, Pirronne Yousefzadeh and West Hyler, will hold auditions for students and other members of the Notre Dame community for the festival.
“We have a mission that primarily is to explore the plays of William Shakespeare but focus on our surrounding communities,” Mudge said. “One of our key components is providing opportunities for students with the pros. That’s how Shakespeare’s Company did it. … So it’s an unusual program in that regard and I think it’s a very special program because of that.”
Mudge said in addition to undergraduate and graduate students, the Company hires professional actors from surrounding communities to participate in the festival.
“We have a young company … that’s undergraduates, grad students and recent grads who tour a Shakespeare play or a classical play all throughout Michiana,” he said. “They … form a part of the professional company, which are [Actor’s Equity Association] actors from the union of professional actors and local pros, designers and coaches that come from all over the country and work at Notre Dame in the summer. … [Students] would be working right alongside Tony award nominees and Chicago’s version of that, Jeff awards.”
Aside from the hired actors, Mudge said he is particularly excited to work with Hyler and Yousefzadeh, who will be directing “The Tempest” and “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” the festival’s two featured shows this season.
“[Tempest director Hyler] has a bunch of great experience that has led him to another gig he has next year. He’s directing the first ever Broadway production by Cirque Du Soleil, which is the largest theater company in the world,” Mudge said. “This is the first time they’ve ever been on Broadway and he’s the staging director. … So what’s nice is because we’re Notre Dame, and because, also, it’s a really lovely kind of family atmosphere and a lovely place to come to work, he returns and works with us on multiple years even though he could be off doing anything.”
Because of Hyler’s outside experience, NDSF is able to experiment more than they have in the past, Mudge said.
“If anybody has tumbling, gymnastics or musical skills, we want to see them, or at least know it,” Mudge said. “West is going to be adding elements of modern circus arts into The Tempest.”
Mudge said Yousefzadeh, who is directing Pericles, brings a slightly different perspective than Hyler.
“She just has that kind of terrific perspective you want in someone who works with undergrads,” he said. “She treats them seriously, makes sure that they have a chance to be as creative as professionals, recognizes that sometimes at that early career phase you don’t quite know where you’re really going. So she knows when to step in and guide a little bit more. [She has a] really great sensibility for that.”
Mudge said NDSF also gives Notre Dame faculty a chance to showcase their skills, too.
“Right here [at Notre Dame], too, are resident artists,” Mudge said. “Marcus Stephens teaches scenic design and other theater courses, and he is a brilliant designer who always brings a different lens through which to see the play and through which to be onstage and inhabit the play. He has a tremendous creative brain that I very much value and enjoy working with.”
The first priority of NDSF, however, is to ensure that the basic foundation of Shakespeare plays — the text — shines through, Mudge said.
“Our focus, always, is on great storytelling and compelling narrative,” Mudge said. “If there were a core to [NDSF], it’s ensuring that the phenomenal language with which Shakespeare crafted the plays rings through very clearly. If you’ve got all the effects in the world but you can’t hear ‘to be or not to be,’ something’s missing.”
Students who audition and aren’t cast in the Company or would prefer not to act also have an opportunity to work on the festival. Junior Mary Patano worked as an assistant stage manager during last summer’s festival.
“I had never really done a lot of stage management before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it made me appreciate all of the work that goes into the shows,” Patano said. “I helped with some of the set building, I helped with costume changes, I was there for teching the lights, the sounds and all of these wonderful things that people put so much work into just kind of made the show. It’s a lot of work.”
Patano also said she enjoyed interacting with students outside of the festival.
“You all live together in the houses, so you have these dinners, and everyone comes together and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I really liked living in the house. We had a super-fan house where everything was covered in Notre Dame stuff.”
Because of the valuable experience and the bonds created, Patano said she recommends students get involved.
“I’ve never regretted auditioning for something, because if you don’t audition or don’t try it, it’s an automatic no,” she said. “So giving it that shot, I think, is worth it, especially for NDSF, especially because Shakespeare’s so relatable to everyone. … I learned how to take initiative and work with people who aren’t just students. You’re working with professionals… You can’t beat their experience.”
Mudge said students like Patano who participate in the festival use the experience they learn for years to come.
“Many of the folks who’ve been through the young company report that it is an absolutely profound, life-changing experience,” he said. “Their awareness of how people behave and why people behave that way is enhanced immeasurably by working with these plays. … I keep coming back to them because I change. My perspective change and suddenly I see new things in the plays all the time.”