by Dwight Dunston '10
This year marked the 12th anniversary of a unique course offered at Dickinson College that combines aspects from both the Theater and English departments in order to produce a wonderful class experience. The course, “Shakespeare: Performance From the Text,” allows English and Theater enthusiasts to work side by side in managing, assisting, and producing a chosen Shakespeare play for the spring semester. The course counts as either an English or Theater class, but aspects from both departments are intertwined within the course. Students first go over the selected spring Shakespeare play, discussing themes and ideas embedded in the play, while at the same time reading exactly how to go about producing Shakespeare on the stage. Once basic themes of production and a strong sense of the text is learned, students proceed to assist the director and the head dramaturge, who are both professors in the class, in order to see the play through to the stage. Twelve years ago, Prof. Bob Hupp of the Theater Department and current English professor David Kranz worked with students to put on a production of the magical story of A Winter’s Tale. This year, Prof. Kranz once again got the opportunity to work in such a unique classroom setting, this time alongside the director of the play, Prof. Todd Wronski, to work on the production of The Tempest, and students were enthused to be a part of the experience.
Each student was required to assist the production in one way or another whether being directly on stage or behind the curtain. Some students worked closely with Prof. Wronski and focused more on the theatrical aspect of the play assisting with lighting, costume, and sound and also construction of the set. Senior English/Art History major Kara Carmack who helped construct Prospero’s staff in the production said of her involvement “Helping with the production of The Tempest allowed me to see the literary and theatrical worlds come together. When constructing the staff, we had to take into consideration its significance to the play and its connection to Prospero’s power.” Kara and other students were able to see firsthand the thought, time, and effort directors put into their productions, and how things such as set design, costume choice, and music highlight themes within the play that directors hope to get across to their audience.
A number of other students in the class worked alongside Prof. Kranz and focused more on acquainting the audience with the play through informative writing. These students, along with Prof. Kranz, were in charge of creating the booklet the audience received once they entered the theater on the night of the play. The booklet contained essays critiquing and interpreting the play, including historical information about different types of productions of The Tempest as well as literary criticism that has been made about the play over the years. These students also served as assistant dramaturges to Prof. Kranz, and were required to sit in on rehearsals of the play. During these rehearsals, students would pay close attention to the actors and the text, and would give notes to the director telling them whether the actors were staying to true to the language, pronunciation, and characterization Shakespeare has put in his plays.
Because of the input from all the students and the professors of the class, the play was very successful. The students, whether having a large part in the production or a less publicized one, truly felt they were as much a part of the play as the actors. The class “Shakespeare: Performance From the Text” is not a course offered regularly because it must be offered with a Shakespearean play. Although it does offer new aspects of learning that everyone should have a chance of experiencing, Prof. Wronski says “while ten years might be a bit long, the circumstances for [this class] need to be right and they don't come along every year”. However, when this course does appear in the catalogue, it proves to be an exciting and innovative way to learn about the world of Shakespeare.