Shakespeare in the Elements

Allison Wordes – Staff Writer

Saturday, September 21: Walking up the path to the Hill Theater is like ascending to another, quieter world—a realm of story, of Shakespeare’s midsummer land. The small group of Dordt English majors are heralded by the sound of trumpet music as they shuffle upwards through misty air. Led by Professor Bob De Smith and his wife, Rebecca, the group had driven seven hours east for two things: camping and Shakespeare.

Wordes.Arts.Shakespeare_PC Erika Buiter_

The American Players Theater, a world-class classical theater, put on two plays—The Book of Will and Twelfth Night—in their outdoor theatre at Spring Green, WI. Because of its remote location, the company can create a unique atmosphere, reliving historical theater.

“Oftentimes theater is in a formal setting and people spend a lot of money to see it,” said De Smith. “For theater to be readily accessible to the public is crucial—this art form should never be an exclusive event for only the elite, or those who can afford pricey tickets. It is for everyone to enjoy.”

This was an opportunity for students to understand what a play in Shakespeare’s day would have been like—in rain or shine.

“The best part about Shakespeare is the festivity,” said De Smith. “It’s a good adventure.”

Attendees used black trash bags to protect themselves from the drizzle. The theater looks like a sea of blue, yellow, and black shimmering plastic. Wet as it may be, the stage is set, and the show must go on.

“I think the weather and the wind would be the most challenging, because there are elements that you have to work through to get to the audience,” said sophomore Abby Mulder, who is majoring in Elementary Education.

Plays in the day of the Globe Theatre would have been held on an outdoor stage. That stage would not install a roof until years later.

Thespians built the thrust stage with painted wood and sparse decorations. The rest is left to the actors and the audience’s imaginations.

De Smith referred to the word “transferability” to describe why Shakespeare has remained so popular even to this day.

“He’s not a modern,” said De Smith, “but it’s easy to translate his world to this one.”

This transferability is helped by the fact that Shakespeare’s plays are not placed in a particular setting, except his historical plays. Leaving the plays in an ambiguous setting allows for overlap between culture, keeping it alive to this day.

“The coastal and more contemporary setting made this play unique,” said junior Secondary English Education major, Zac Vanderley. “I think one major similarity [to Shakespeare’s day] is the audience participation. Shakespeare’s plays always acknowledge the fourth wall.”

Wordes.Arts.Shakespeare2_PC Erika Buiter

De Smith tries to arrange the trip every time the Shakespeare class is taught, on an every-other-year basis. However, it has been over four years since the last venture, so it was time to go again.

“Part of it is tradition,” said De Smith, describing why the trip is offered. “The fact Shakespeare has continued to stay around, and we can be a part of it.”

He said it’s a good experience for the Shakespeare class and other English majors to go and see live theatre rather than just reading about it.

“I’m always astonished at the timelessness of Shakespeare’s stories,” said Vanderley. “They can be adapted into different settings, but the themes and ideas inside each story challenge even the most ignorant and stubborn of people. I would claim that Shakespeare has the greatest influence on literature and those that read and study literature.”

De Smith wanted his students to see how theatre fits into a community. There is a core set of players, pared down after about 40 years of productions that take the main roles. The actors come from a variety of places, including Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis.

“I think the show surprised me in the aspect that all the actors were there by choice and how much passion they had for the plays was clearly seen,” Mulder said.

“I was challenged to be more creative in my personal acting, while also challenged to read more Shakespeare,” said Vanderley.

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