Foot-stamping, singing along and even getting up to dance with the cast may not be what comes to mind when you think of “Shakespeare,” but from now on, a performance at Ave Maria University of the comedy “As You Like It,” which featured all these unexpected elements, will forever set the standard for me any time I see a Shakespeare comedy.
Five live performances were staged by Ave Maria University’s acting troupe, Shakespeare in Performance, from April 19-22, a capstone project for a theater course taught by Dr. Travis Curtright.
This should have been a grueling ordeal for those students, but if so, you would never know at the final performance, which I attended, given the exuberant energy and high spirits of the performers.
My own love of Shakespeare impels me to attend performances of his plays whenever the opportunity — and the admission fee — allow. Of all the performances I’ve gone to, this one was the most fun, and that would include my former favorite: Peter Brook’s celebrated iconoclastic production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in 1970.
In that performance, Brook used a stage that was a pure white box, costumed his actors in leotards and tights, and set them on trapezes and gargantuan stilts where they dazzled the audience with their acrobatic antics.
In this production, the AMU troupe outdid Brook’s in simple staging, holding the play in an ordinary classroom, devising their own costumes, and successfully engaging the audience in their dialogue, songs and dancing to a degree I’ve seldom seen matched anywhere.
A large degree of interaction between the audience and the actors was all part of what Curtright, a Renaissance scholar who trained professionally in Shakespearian acting, had in mind when he decided to direct the play in a way that would be true to the theatrical practices of
Back in the Bard’s day, audience participation was encouraged by means of using a thrust stage -- which extended into the audience on three sides -- and speaking directly to the audience.
The AMU performers practiced this type of up-close audience interaction through what Curtright calls “Flash Mob Shakespeare,” where students went into coffee shops and pubs to perform scenes, speaking their lines to any passersby who happened to catch their eye.
Accordingly, when an actor caught my own eye and ended up singing on bended knee to me, it seemed only right to start whistling along. When modern tunes were played by “princesses” with lively fiddles and a “Duke” on drums, the audience joined in the singing. Don’t ask me how nearly everyone in the audience ended up swing dancing with the actors at one point, but we did.
If William Shakespeare could come back and sample the many modern productions of his plays, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was the version he would like best. Probably would have danced with me too, which I would have enjoyed greatly. Curtright says he looks forward to expanding these performances in future years. I’m already looking forward to it.
You can find more information about what’s happening at Ave Maria by checking out the Ave Herald (www.aveherald.com), which Patricia publishes along with her husband, David Shnaider.