This weekend, the University of Dallas hosted the Second Biennial Shakespeare Conference, which was devoted to the comedy “As You Like It.”
The event featured a monologue competition for high school students, a keynote address by Ralph Cohen (co-founder and director of The American Shakespeare Center) and a dramatized reading of “As You Like It.”
The reading was directed by Drama Professor Stefan Novinski, and it was followed by panel discussions on Saturday morning.
The American Shakespeare Center emphasizes original practices and attempts to recreate the kind of experience Shakespeare’s audience would have had.
For example, the lights are kept on during the performance and the audience is included in the action. Each actor may play several characters.
Sets are minimal, inviting viewers to use their imaginations. While costumes may be elaborate, they are familiar to contemporary audiences, not the period of the play. For example, “Julius Caesar” would have originally been staged with Elizabethan clothing, not togas. Here at UD, Friday’s performance reflected these ideas.
The performance was described as “a dramatized reading,” but it went far beyond that.
In fact, it was more like a play, with minimal sets and costumes, albeit performed with scripts in hand.
The production was held in the Braniff Atrium and made creative use of the environment.
For example, junior Sam Pate, playing Orlando, had his head shoved in the fountain during a fight scene before decorating the pillars with love poems.
Senior Zeina Masri starred as ingenious and strong-willed Rosalind, with junior Elizabeth LaFrance playing her sweet, girlish cousin Celia.
Senior Meg Boyd was comical and endearing both as the elderly servant Adam and the crass peasant Audrey.
Nick Moore played the witty fool Touchstone.
Minor characters were brought to life just as vividly by the supporting cast.
The entire cast, many of whom were also working on the Mainstage and Senior Studio productions, had less than a week of rehearsal to prepare for the dramatized reading.
While the performance included noted professional actors David Goodwin, Raphael Parry and Jeremy Schwartz, the real weight of the performance rested on the students.
The play also included original music, composed and performed by Dominic Del Curto, with finale vocals by Alonna Ray.
Saturday morning featured panel discussions, which approached the play through the lenses of literary analysis, performance and teaching. The academic discussion explored serious themes within the exuberant comedy.
Director Thomas J. Walsh and actress Jenny Ledel shared their experiences with the play as artists.
Dr. Walsh spoke about his philosophy of directing, emphasizing the beauty of the text and the love between the characters.
Ledel continued the theme of Shakespeare performed in unexpected contexts; in addition to traditional performances, she has also participated in Shakespeare in the Bar at The Wild Detectives, a program that shares many of the artistic ideas of the American Shakespeare Center and UD’s own production.