Actors from the London Stage teach in classrooms, perform ‘Measure for Measure’
Alexandra Muck | Wednesday, October 4, 2017
It is not often that an accounting class might find an actor from London hosting a workshop, but Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) program allows for that. This week, the five actors in the fall 2017 company are at Notre Dame for the residency portion of the program. They will be teaching Monday to Thursday this week and performing “Measure for Measure” Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night at Notre Dame and Saturday at the Westville Correctional Facility.
As part of the program, the actors will be visiting 15 classrooms ranging from Irish history to theater to accounting.
“It’s a pretty amazing thing to see them engage disciplines across the academic spectrum, and then they all come together for the performance of ‘Measure for Measure,’” Scott Jackson, the program director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, said.
Jackson said that for many of the actors, the teaching component of the program can help further their career.
“It takes them away from the stage and puts them in the classroom, often for the first time,” he said. “… A lot of our actors go on in their careers to become lecturers. For a lot of these guys it constitutes not a career shift, but definitely a career complement.”
Professors enjoy having the actors run the workshops for a variety of reasons, Jackson said and the workshops typically fill about 45 minutes after he emails professors to tell them about the opportunity. John Duffy, associate professor of English who teaches a college seminar titled “Great Speeches,” said he has brought the actors into his classroom four times.
“They are really exceptional at helping students realize the performative nature of speech,” he said. “I’m good at the academic stuff, the rhetorical theory and so forth, but the actors are brilliant at getting the students to try new things and break down their inhibitions.”
Ram Ramanan, who teaches graduate classes in Mendoza, has also been hosting workshops in his classroom with an actor for several years and said he sees it as an opportunity to develop the professionalism and presentation skills of his students.
“Our students have to go make presentations in their careers, some of which are fairly complicated financial and economic transactions, and I thought if they could read some Shakespeare, which is fairly complicated language, and learn to deconstruct it from the professionals, that would help them in their presentation skills,” he said.
In addition to teaching classes, the five-person cast will perform “Measure for Measure,” which includes 20 characters. The cast members said they have enjoyed the experience of bringing the play to life.
“The more we tear it apart, the more we perform it and explore it as a company, and the more we work on it with students at universities … [the more we realize] it’s a fascinating play with so many powerful themes,” cast member Ben Eagle said.
With AFTLS, the cast must also cover roles outside of traditional acting.
“We don’t have a director, we get to create from scratch, and we have responsibilities that I think we as actors tend to overlook, like costumes we’re responsible for, getting there on time, travel, media, etc., lighting,” cast member Wela Mbusi said. “We get to sort of understand the holistic thing of creating a piece of work.”
The cast members said they are happy with the play.
“We’re really proud of it,” Eagle said. “To put five actors in a room with a suitcase and then come out to America with a play, I’m really happy with what we’ve got.”
The program includes performances at different universities including the University of Texas and DePauw University. Jackson said this travel experience is unique because it takes them to cities the actors might not visit otherwise.
To select the cast, Jackson said AFTLS uses a traditional casting process but that special attention is paid to the personalities of the actors.
“We call it the alchemy of the five,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure these five people will not only work really well together on stage but are they going to travel well together? Are they going to teach well?”
Dominic Gerrard, a member of the cast, said the audition process was part of the reason he joined AFTLS.
“The audition process was so enjoyable and so fun, so that was a good measure of what the actual job would be like,” he said.
After the cast was finalized in mid-June, the company met once in July to get to know each other and do a read through. They began full rehearsals in August, Jackson said.
“I think right up until the point we finish, it will be a really interesting journey,” Gerrard said.