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Shakesperience 2017: Shakespeare Was Only Half The Fun

Brianna Henshaw, English Literature student, Bishop's University

Four days, six plays, four post-show chats, three workshops, and three behind the scenes tours. That's a lot to do with little time for classroom talks. But that's exactly the point: this wasn't a regular classroom experience, and it wasn't trying to be. Though we had little time for normal classroom learning (and when it did happen it was over dinner, before shows, sitting at benches in a park) we had more than enough time for learning. That's what this whole week was about. When we weren't leaning from the plays we watched or the workshops we attended we learned from each other; heated debates pre- and post-performances, and long discussions over meals about what we did and did not like, what was true to the text and what interpretive leaps did or did not work. Collaborative learning. The nature of this course meant that I was able to learn more hearing my classmates' perspectives than I would ever have done in a classroom. Not only was I exposed to the wonderful world of theatre, where nothing is ever exactly the same and no one sees the same play as anyone else, but also to the interesting and varied views of my classmates. Theatre sparks heated debates, and prompts a new understanding of the texts: what worked? what didn't work? where did that interpretation come from? did the performance present a new understanding of the text?

I can't pick a favourite activity; learning a dance, stage combat, and cold-reading a play, the costume warehouse, and more. Not even a favourite show. Though this was coded as a Shakespeare-oriented course, that was only half the fun. In only reading half the plays we saw, we could approach the other half with fresh eyes and an open mind. Before Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens, and Romeo and Juliet I already had an idea of what the performance could look like, who the characters were, what the story was and what it all meant. But there's something different about watching a textual piece come to life before your eyes; the characters are four dimensional, the emotions rawer, the action more exciting. Seeing the different ways the directors staged their plays was a big topic of conversation, especially around Timon of Athens which made the biggest setting change of the three. Then with Guys and Dolls, Bakkhai, and The Changeling–plays I'd never even heard of before–we talked about other things: what we understood about the play, what we liked or didn't like, how they used setting, lighting, sound, and staging. I absolutely loved the modern setting of Timon of Athens, especially in the theatre-in-the-round with audience members on all four sides. I'd never seen Romeo and Juliet live before, and it sparked new interest in the play I'd never really been invested in before. Never having heard of The Changeling before, I found myself entirely enthralled and dying to read it.

But most of all, hearing the actors speak about their performances afterwards was more than interesting, it was something I never would have gotten to do without Shakespearience. Not only that, but I have a whole group of wonderful new friends from three different universities with whom I can always talk about Shakespeare

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