On April 27 and 28, Vassar’s Shakespeare Troupe presented its one and only spring production, “Coriolanus.” This year, the troupe chose to perform one of the lesser-known Shakespeare plays to honor a different type of storytelling. Unlike “Romeo and Juliet,” a fictional tragedy, “Coriolanus” is based off a real-life history, but one packed with intensity, laughter and tender moments.
Cast member Brynn Gauthier ’21 commented on the Troupe’s decision to perform “Coriolanus,” stating, “A member of our group loved ‘Coriolanus,’ and part of our group dynamic is giving into people sometimes.” She added, “That sounds terrible…[but in all seriousness] it was just that idea that somebody we love loves this a lot, so let’s try it out and give it a chance..I think that was really part of the joy of it, because no one had preconceived notions about anything that we were going to do. We were all excited about doing something that was unknown to us.”
“Coriolanus” is set in the midst of a famine in Rome. The show begins with townspeople ravenously searching for food and protesting the government. Soon, the famous Roman soldier and protagonist, Coriolanus, is introduced and the audience learns of his elitism and disdain for the Roman people. The viewer is also apprised that a neighboring town called Corioli plans to invade Rome. The army is headed by Coriolanus’s long-time enemy, Aufidius. The rest of the play traces the battle between Rome and Corioli, Coriolanus’s rising fame and involvement in the government, and his complex relationships with his wife, his mother and his enemy-turned-lover, Aufidius.
Director Lily Berman ’19 commented on the play’s relevance to today’s politics: “This play is really interesting because it is about a democracy and about a terrible leader who gets elected, so I think we chose it because it has resonances to today.” She continued to break down the message: “Everybody is wrong in the play [in some way] so nobody is completely right, but nobody is completely full of blame, and no one is completely blameless either. It is really just about how democracies aren’t perfect.” Troupe set designer Andrew Schrynemakers ’19 expressed a similar view to Berman, commenting, “Whether the characters are trying to be good or trying to be bad, they all just end up destroying things that they love by being selfish.”
While Shakespeare Troupe plays are traditionally performed outside, “Coriolanus” had to be moved inside due to the weather. Despite the change in scenery, the imaginative aspects of the set design shone through. Schrynemakers commented on the set and how he conceptualizes set design in general, saying, “It is a lot more about indicating a space than actually building one…a lot of doing a set design is showing time passing in a space. For instance, as the play goes on, Coriolanus’s wife and his mother accumulate more cups and dishes to show that they are home and they are worried. Sometimes lots of [props] aren’t really necessary, because it is all about the people in the space.”
Moreover, the general creativity of the play flowed from the collaborative group dynamic. Schrynemakers continued, “A lot of the design process really comes from a collective effort in things called ‘A-tudes’ where we all come in and try stuff for different scenes … We’ll go somewhere on campus and try something and just work it out as a group of people…that will bring us the design elements.”
In addition to emphasizing collaboration behind their work, the Troupe fosters a warm, familial dynamic in which members not only feel comfortable experimenting creatively, but also open up to the group about their lives. Berman recalled how she felt when she joined the group as a first-year, saying, “I feel like I’ve grown up in this group…[the Troupe promotes] this feeling that you love [other Troupe members] no matter what. I remember feeling very comfortable and people were so excited that I was there. I was being welcomed into this family that already existed, and I just got swooped up into it.”
Schrynemakers felt similarly: “Shakespeare Troupe is a great place. It’s a little family. We have check-ins and talk about what’s going on in our lives. And that’s always the base of the group dynamic, these check-ins. If somebody’s having a hard day, that’s where you come and talk about it.”
It was apparent that the play’s success was a product of the artistic empowerment cultivated by the Troupe members’ deep friendships. Gauthier said in a final comment about her hopes for what is conveyed about the Troupe through the production, “We are all just here to have fun and love this beautiful language and do it justice. It’s a very nerdy kind of unity…It’s wonderful.”