A hearty dose of Shakespeare is a suitable cure for any malady –especially for underlying stress from your steadily accumulating assignments. I had the privilege of attending the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario with a mixture of undergrads, grad students, and faculty members from the UR English Department. Although most of the festival selections were Shakespearean works, there was an assortment of other musicals and plays to choose from. Although it wasn’t possible to attend every production, I was able to see four productions featuring world-class actors in two days for only $250.00 – and this included lodging!
I saw two of my favorite Shakespearean works, “King Lear” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. “King Lear”, a tragedy tracing the steady decline of the eponymous king’s kingdom, family relations, and mental state, received mixed reviews from undergrad and grad students. While English Professors Mannheimer and Longenbach praised the acting ability of Colm Feore in his portrayal of Lear, others were slightly skeptical. Emily Kohlhase, a third year English Ph.D. candidate and Writing 105 instructor, spoke for a variety of grad students when she commented that “…we just weren’t as ‘wowed’ as we expected, whether because the production took too few risks [or] made stylistic choices that [the actors] didn’t follow through on.” I personally was satisfied –although not overtly so –with the production as a whole.
“Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a comedy about the temporality of love between young lovers mixed with the magical mischief of woodland fairies, strayed from its conventional boundaries. The role of the typically elegant fairy queen, Titania, was played instead by buff actor Evan Buliung, and Lysander, a devoted male lover to the beautiful Hermia, was portrayed by actressTara Rosling. The swapping of gender roles added another layer of comedic effect and, in some cases, evoked a symbolic statement of equality among same-sex marriages, given that Hermia decides to elope with Lysander against her father’s wishes and his disapproval of the match. These changes were embraced by some –English major Abby Schwartz remarked that “…it was a very playful take on a play written 500 plus years ago. So much fun!” However, sophomore Elisa Barton felt that the production “had an excess of direction that felt overdone”. Overall, if you consider fairies singing pop music or the comedic antics of a laborer who enjoys cooking on the grill to be amusing, then you most likely would have appreciated the production.
However, the most stunning theatrical experience I witnessed at the festival was “Man of La Mancha”, a musical focusing on author Miguel de Cervantes’ creation of a senile “knight” and his adventures with his dependable yet hare-brained squire, Sancho Panza. The production emphasized Cervantes’ connection to his own creation, and his eventual condemnation by the Spanish Inquisition due to his novel and the freedom of thought it presented. I was particularly moved by Tom Rooney’s portrayal of Cervantes/Don Quixote, particularly in his vocal execution of “The Impossible Dream”, the musical’s infamous piece. Professor Peck, part of the English faculty and coordinator of the Stratford trip, summarized the experience as “…a brilliant production that left everyone in the audience weeping over their own impossible dreams – dreams that make their lives meaningful despite their absurdity. God save us from reason”.
Other than displaying a rich variety of theatrical performances, the lush greenery and beautiful landscapes in the surrounding area made the experience seem all the more magical. “The town is absolutely beautiful,” remarked Kohlhase. “It’s quaint and clean, and the river is a soothing place to go that’s different from any place we have in Rochester.” The variety of shops and dining options added to the richness of the experience. “The entire town gets involved in the festival — the bookshops have books about the plays on display, the pub sells drinks named after characters,” explained senior and English major Katherine Varga.
Either way, whether you were an English major or not, everyone was able to benefit from the trip. “I really like theatre… so there was just the fun of seeing the plays,” senior and Biomedical Engineering major Michael Mayor said. “But also since I do a lot of acting and theater tech, I like to see plays for inspiration or methodology for my own work.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and found not only being an audience member rewarding, but also the ability to have a unique experience in the friendly and open atmosphere of Stratford. Despite the trip’s multiple perks, Professor Peck noted that “its success is dependent upon undergraduate participation, which has, alas, become less strong in recent years”. Therefore, if you are even remotely interested in theatre or musical performance, or simply want a refreshing distraction from the early pressures of the semester, I would highly recommend attending next year. As Varga put it, “It’s exciting to be in a place where everyone is passionate about the same art form.”
Kibler is a member of
the class of 2017.