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Shakesperience 2017: Fun and Informative

Jami Michalik, 3rd year, French Major, Acadia University

Shakesperience was one of the best, if not the best, literary and theatre experiences of my life. Very few other courses or programs exist that have so much theatre packed into such a short amount of time, especially at a university level. Seeing six plays in four days, on top of all of the behind the scenes and supplementary programming we were able to participate in, was amazing. It also served as a fantastic starting point for immeasurably interesting and intelligent conversation.

Over the course of the week we discussed anything and everything: from politics and world issues, to metatheatrical jokes in Shakespeare’s works, to which actors made the most interesting interpretive choices. Because of the emphasis Dr. Riddell put on curiosity-driven learning and listening to comprehend rather than listening to respond, the discussions were productive and respectful. We all learned from one another, refining ideas and opinions collaboratively. I spent a lot of the week simply amazed at how profound and intellectual the conversations taking place around me – even idle chatter waiting for the street light to change or over a meal was far beyond the small talk I would have expected from a group mostly made up of near-strangers.

The classroom session and impromptu lectures were fun and informative. The focus on collaboratively building knowledge rather than having a professor ‘impart knowledge’ worked well and opened a lot of discussion possibilities. After the first day of classroom learning, a lot of our conversation centered around the collaborative nature of education and theatre and how different types of engagement shaped our experiences as members of the audience or class. We also discussed how perspective effects the story being told, and the value of polyphonic narratives compared to single-voice narratives.

On that note, I would have liked to have had another day or two in the classroom, either at Bishop’s or in Stratford, especially since I don’t have as strong a background in Shakespeare and English literature as some of the other students did. As we discussed themes and characters of the six plays we’d seen, there were several moments during the conversations where a character, plot point, or concept would emerge that was unfamiliar to me; I would have loved to have more time to discuss those, rather than having to hurry on to the next talking point. We also didn’t really have time to cover all the activities and brainstorming sessions Dr. Riddell had originally planned, and I think those things would have been valuable to our discussion as well as a lot of fun. Getting to spend some more time brainstorming and workshopping how we would want to stage some of Shakespeare’s works would have been great.

The Stratford team, especially Stephanie Johns who was our liaison/coordinator, was wonderful. Everyone we met – actors, tour guides, alumni, and other special guests – was extremely gracious and welcoming. Getting to unpack some of our questions about design or directorial choices after the shows was fantastic; the actors all had intelligent, socially and politically aware answers that provided new perspective on the productions. The focus on making Shakespeare relevant and applying the concepts and issues he wrote about to today’s society was interesting and well done. There was much discussion – both amongst ourselves and with cast members – about how to keep five-hundred-year-old plays fresh and relevant, and I think that it was especially valuable in today’s uncertain political climate. Shakespeare’s works have always been political and social commentaries, and in my opinion it is important that this facet of them is explored and used to look at our modern society through different lenses.

I had an amazing time participating in Shakesperience, and am very grateful to have had the opportunity. I didn’t realise that so much learning and exchange of ideas could be packed into so little time!

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