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Concord University Bringing Theater Outdoors with Shakespeare Comedy
ATHENS - As almost any Shakespearean scholar will tell you, Shakespeare’s plays were to be seen and heard, not merely read on a page. This summer, Concord University is offering students, faculty, staff and members of the community a unique opportunity to explore Shakespeare in performance.
Erin Bone Steele, who grew up participating in summer Shakespeare plays with the Athens/Concord Community Players, has returned to the area to direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the first production for the Appalachian Shakespeare Project.
The project aims to bring Shakespeare to people in the region. Concord University students, area middle and high school students and members of the community applied to join the production. Dr. Gabriel Rieger, a specialist in English Renaissance drama at Concord, is supervising a one-hour independent study course for Concord students who successfully complete the eight-week rehearsal and performance program, and turn in a research project.
Performances are scheduled for Friday, July 23, Saturday July 24 and Sunday July 25. The show will be presented outdoors under natural lighting conditions. The gazebo by the Jerry L. Beasley Student Center will serve as the playing space.
Audiences are invited to begin arriving at 6 p.m. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. and has an estimated running time of two hours. The Appalachian Shakespeare Project is offering all three shows as “pay-what-you-can” performances, and suggests patrons consider donations in the range of $5 per adult. Audience members are encouraged to bring camp chairs, blankets and picnic dinners.
“A quality theatrical production is certainly one of our top goals,” Steele said, “But the university setting is also the perfect place to reach people who might not otherwise be able to access Shakespeare, and to allow veterans and first-time actors alike the chance to explore Shakespeare’s themes and language.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is probably Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy. It presents the story of two young couples who flee the oppressive conditions of their home in Athens to follow their love interests into the woods. Also within the woods are a troupe of Athenian craftsmen and would-be actors, and the feuding Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, whose misadventures with a love-potion flower cause the young mortal men to fall in love with the wrong women. The play contains both broadly comic characters and intricate poetry.
“One of the reasons we chose this play, besides its immense popularity, is its regularity of meter and rich poetic language,” Rieger said.
“We are very excited that Concord’s Department of Languages and Literature has given us a home,” Steele said, “The students we have this year are dedicated and extremely enthusiastic. But a show like this would not be possible without the support of the community as well.”
In addition to the inclusion of local residents among the actors, the Athens-Concord Town Social Committee has generously offered to loan one of their tents to shade and protect the audience, and Concord United Methodist Church has allowed the use of a large open room for extra rehearsal space, she said.
The play will be offered under some conditions similar to those Shakespeare’s own company encountered. Much like Elizabethan acting troupes, this summer’s actors will assemble their own contemporary costumes and will perform with limited scenic pieces.
Steele and Rieger, as well as many of the actors, express hopes that this will be the first of many Appalachian Shakespeare Project performances at Concord. “We want to become a regular part of the university and community fabric,” Steele said.