For the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Shakespeare Garden, multiple organizations are coming together for the Shakespeare Festival–the first of its kind and scale. The festival is taking place outdoors in the Shakespeare Garden on April 24 at 12 p.m., and consists of a variety of experiences such as performances, games, contests and much more.
The most unique aspect of the event, according to many of those involved in organizing it, is how it gave so many campus groups a chance to collaborate. The main organizations involved are Camerata, No Such Organization, Merely Players and the Barefoot Monkeys. Sarah Johnson ’16 of Camerata described the process of preparing for the festival: “The leaders of Camerata, NSO and Merely Players met a few times to brainstorm ideas and discuss what would be logistically feasible (we decided that serving rabbit fricassee wouldn’t work out), as well as working out financial details with Chris Sundberg. We then set out on our own to pull together our groups’ contributions.” In addition to the various student organizations, Senior Lecturer in English Karen Robertson, Associate Professor of English on the Anne McNiff Tatlock Chair Leslie Dunn, Associate Professor of English Zoltan Markus and Professor of Drama Denise Walen will also give brief talks on a range of relevant topics.
According to Max Fine ’17, the complexity of the event inevitably brought along some challenges. He said, “I think the most difficult part of organizing the Festival is that there have been a lot of moving parts, so to speak, so it’s sometimes been difficult keeping track of all of them.”
The event brings Shakespeare’s legacy to life in unique ways, and every aspect of the festival, from panels to the music, incorporates the dramatist and his influence to some extent. The theatre performances of scenes from Shakespeare’s works are the most obvious manifestations of this. Some of the performances include “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged” as well as a preview of Merely Player’s full length show, “Arden of Faversham,” whose authorship is unknown but has been attributed by many scholars to Shakespeare. The cast of “Arden” also brings a musical component with a performance by the Faversham Band, which Zachary Boylan ’16 of Merely Players is particularly excited for. He explained, “The music is really catchy and they have a lot of fun playing it.”
As for Camerata’s role in the festival, Talya Phelps ’19 [Full Disclosure: Talya Phelps is on the staff of the Miscellany News] and Isabel Morrison ’19 stated in an emailed interview: “The Camerata Orchestra will be performing a few pieces from Shakespeare’s time, including ‘Fantasia a 4 Viols’ by John Coperario and ‘Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa’ by Gesualdo di Venosa. There will also be individuals and smaller ensembles from our group playing duets and trios by John Coperario and William Byrd. We’ll also be happy to talk to visitors about the role of music in the 1600s and show off our period instruments.” Sarah Johnson added that the music that the organization will be performing is music that Shakespeare might have heard during his time in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. She said, “Our program ranges from drinking songs to more serious topics, such as ‘Say love, if ever thou didst find’ by John Dowland (an ode to Queen Elizabeth I) and especially ‘April is in my Mistress’ face’ by Thomas Morley, which has a very Shakespearean themes: ‘April is in my mistress’ face. . . .But in her heart a cold December.’”
Along with musical performances, the Festival will include a number of activities for the participants. Some of them will be on the quirkier side. Ezekiel Maben ’17 of NSO declared, “The NSO is going to be running a boffing tournament, which is basically a duel involving giant foam swords.” Fine described some of the other games and activities, “We will be playing Kill Shakespeare, a board game about trying to stop the combined forces of Lady Macbeth and Iago from taking over the world. There will also be a Shakespeare Insult-off.” In addition to those attractions, there will be food appropriate to the time period and a photo booth with available costumes.”
The planners of the Shakespeare Festival are all excited about the many rewards and opportunities this occasion will bring. “I think meeting other enthusiasts of Shakespeare and early music will be exciting, since these are two topics that deserve a larger audience than they usually draw,” said Phelps. Fines echoed similar sentiments, “I think that this event will be a great opportunity to hangout and reconnect with other classical theatre enthusiasts and have a good time doing it.” On the other hand, Johnson is particularly looking forward to the cultural activities that will be available. “It isn’t often that you have a chance to hear Shakespeare’s works in combination with music and activities of the time period, so I hope it will help people to see Shakespeare in a new way.”
“I’m hoping that anyone who knows about our event or sees stuff happening in the Shakespeare Garden will at least stop by at some point during the day. I hope anyone who comes has a good time and gives us enough positive feedback to improve upon what we do this year and offer even better events in the future,” said Boylan of his hopes for the event. He also believes that the festival is a great and rare opportunity to connect with other classical theatre enthusiasts.
“This event is a celebration of Shakespeare’s works and influence throughout the ages. My high school has a yearly Shakespeare Festival that I did for two years and it was always a really great experience, and I’m excited to be celebrating Shakespeare in this way at Vassar.”