By Rachel Hastings
The University of Dallas’ first Shakespeare conference met with great success this past weekend, boasting an estimated attendance of over 200 graduate and undergraduate students, as well as a number of visitors and professors.
The interdisciplinary conference, officially entitled “Nothing Will Come of Nothing: The Wisdom of King Lear,” was held last Friday night and Saturday morning. It was divided into three parts: a lecture by Dr. Timothy Burns, a professor of political science at Baylor University; a dramatic reading of “King Lear” featuring Bruce DuBose of Undermain Theatre; and a series of panels discussing the literary, performative and pedagogic aspects of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.
The conference was organized by Dr. Scott Crider, UD English professor; Kyle Lemieux, director of the university theater program and drama department chair; and Dr. Joshua S. Parens, dean of the Braniff Graduate School. According to Crider, the idea of having an interdisciplinary Shakespeare conference was perfectly natural, based on Shakespeare panels UD has hosted in the past.
“UD frequently has panel discussions of Shakespearean plays the drama department is producing, and they bring together different disciplines to understand the plays,” Crider said. “UD has many Shakespeareans across different departments — partly because he was himself both a literary and a dramatic artist, partly because he had political interests, partly because he is taught so widely.”
This already-existing connection between the departments served as inspiration for the event.
“Professors Parens and Lemieux and I thought we could start a regular conference to strengthen and share UD’s understanding and love of Shakespeare by having a biennial conference on one play – inviting an important outside Shakespearean to come and share his or her work, putting on a dramatic reading of the play under discussion, having shorter papers to encourage variety,” Crider said.
Friday night’s opening lecture by Burns took the audience through the abbreviated tale of “King Lear” from beginning to end, pausing briefly to highlight and cunningly string together Shakespeare’s references to nature, justice and love. Alexa Turczynski, a senior English major and the president of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, said she appreciated the detail of Burns’ arguments.
“His argument was well-structured and grounded in the details of the play, allowing me to follow his points easily,” Turczynski said. “I particularly enjoyed the way he grouped certain characters to provide comparisons of the different ways in which justice and nature are presented throughout the play, and I appreciated his quotations and summarizations to help articulate his claims.”
Turczynski said that overall, the conference achieved its purpose and helped her better comprehend and appreciate the play.
“I not only came away with a better understanding of the play, but I also realized how inexhaustible the meaning of this play is, and how much it is worth exploring,” she said.
A staged dramatic reading took place after the lecture, and was equally well received. At 7:30 p.m., a row of darkly-clad undergraduate students filed down the side aisles of Lynch Auditorium, scripts in hand, and began a stirring and smoothly-executed rendition of “King Lear.” DuBose, a professional actor, held the audience captive with his moving performance of the aged Lear, through his rejection of his daughter Cordelia, his descent into madness after the betrayal of Goneril and Reagan and his final, overwhelming grief at the death of his beloved child.
The students complemented his stunning performance with their own exceptional readings, particularly the performances of seniors Anthony Kersting and Brian Ahern as Edmund and the Earl of Gloucester, respectively.
Senior Sean Biggins, who performed the part of Goneril’s servant Oswald, said that the rehearsals were a time commitment, but well worth the effort.
“We met four evenings for four hours to read through the play and practice the relatively modest blocking,” Biggins said. “Beyond the time commitment, preparation required conceiving and bringing to birth a character in a relatively short period of time.”
Biggins applauded the work of Lemieux, who directed the students and DuBose in a short amount of time toward a successful production.
“Mr. Lemieux’s value cannot be emphasized enough,” Biggins said. “He directed our characters’ development toward a single end. He gathered up the strands and wove them into a cohesive pattern.”
The efforts of Lemieux, DuBose and the student cast were not in vain. Over 100 people attended the Friday night performance. Senior Karen Bless said she was very impressed with the skill of the people on stage.
“Having all of the actors – or readers, if you will – dressed in black gave a serious and tragic air to the play,” Bless said. “They were all serious about their roles and portrayed them beautifully.”
According to Crider, the closing of the conference was every bit as informative as its opening. The panels featured speakers from across UD’s partments: English department chair Dr. Gregory Roper, assistant drama professor Stefan Novinski and many others.
“The panel presentations showed just how strong UD faculty, alumni and students, grad and undergrad, are on Shakespeare,” Crider said. “The whole thing was classic UD: an intelligent, festive exploration of what it means to be a human being through conversation about a great book.”
In reflecting on the conference as a whole, Bless noted the importance of hosting such interdisciplinary events at UD.
“I think an event like this is really great for all liberal arts students, not just English majors,” Bless said. “The Core curriculum has educated every UD student in great works of literature, including Shakespeare, and so we have the education and insight necessary to really enjoy and appreciate these plays.”
Crider expressed similar sentiments. In fact, he says he will continue to work for the establishment of a biennial Shakespeare conference at UD. He also says he hopes that the project will eventually result in a new theater on the Irving campus, and an academic program in Shakespeare studies.
“We hope the conference will teach us that Shakespeare is too large a subject for any one department,” Crider said. “There are many kinds of Shakespeareans, and we would like to bring them into conversation so that UD student[s] and faculty – and the wider metroplex community – can have a place to talk Shakespeare. We want that place to be UD.”