|FEATURES Winter 2002|
The Performing Arts Department offers an exceptional summer program in London that gives students the opportunity to study Shakespeare where he worked and lived.
When Alissa Stamatis was 12 years old, she read Romeo and Julietand thought it was the most wonderful thing she had ever encountered. Years later, Stamatis attended a summer program at the Globe Theatre in London and thought it was possibly one of the most important things she had ever done.
"I had been a lover of Shakespeare as an actor and as a theater student since the seventh grade," says Stamatis, A.M. '99. "So I was very excited to find myself in a theatrical space that was very close to the space in which Shakespeare's plays would have actually been performed when he first wrote them."
For the past 10 summers, Washington University's Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences has collaborated with the Globe Education Department in the Shakespeare's Globe Summer Program in London, offering students such as Stamatis an opportunity to infuse themselves with the language of Shakespeare, to immerse themselves in his texts, and to learn acting and directing from some of the profession's best.
"I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it." As You Like It (Act II, Scene IV)
The Shakespeare's Globe Summer Program is intense: Basically it covers a semester's worth of work in four weeks. It is intimate: Students live with one another, they go to classes together, they work in close proximity with their professors, and they go to the theater together. The program engages between 18 and 24 students (usually half from Washington University) academically, socially, and culturally.
As the only four-week university summer program affiliated with the Globe offering extensive hands-on studio and performance time, it provides students the "quintessential experience," according to Henry I. Schvey, chair of the Performing Arts Department and the program's co-founder. He says, "After attending the program, students acquire a new appreciation for the history of the theater, the role of audience in the theater, andmost importantwhy theater matters in society."
Annamaria Pileggi, a senior artist-in-residence at Washington University and an acting teacher for the Globe program, says: "I love this programit gives students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study a very specific kind of theater in the place where that theater was created. London is such a treasure-trove culturally, historically, but especially with regard to the theaterand especially in terms of Shakespeare's work. And, at the Globe, we're a hundred yards from where the original theater stood, and that cannot be replicated anywhere else."
The Shakespeare's Globe Summer Program is inspirational: Students direct and perform on the stage of the only open-air, thatched-roof building in the city, on a replica of "Shakespeare's wooden 'O.'" They take master classes from some of the best in the business: actors, directors, designers, scholars, and voice coaches from the Globe Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Washington University. Past instructors have included Jane Lapotaire (a Tony Award winner), Patrick Spottiswoode (director of Globe Education and other co-founder of the program), and Andrew Wade (head of voice at the Royal Shakespeare Company). Guest artists have included Kenneth Branagh and Peter Shaffer, the writer of Equus and Amadeus.
Stamatis says the teaching was phenomenal. "Two of the best master classes I had were with Jane Lapotaire and with Patrick Spottiswoode," she says. "Patrick's class on Romeo and Juliet was one of the most amazing things I have ever been a part of: The way he broke down the material, and the incredible understanding he had of all the layers of meaning in the balcony scene, made me realize that I had not been doing deep enough work previously."
Now an adjunct professor and teacher of Shakespeare at Butler University in Indianapolis, Stamatis says: "Even now when I am analyzing a scene, as an actor or as a teacher, I go back to the master class that Patrick taught and think about the different layers of meaning he foundhow every word is there for a specific reason. And I try to do work that is that thorough."
For Brooke Bagnall, a drama major in Arts & Sciences Class of '03, the Globe program changed her life. Attending the summer between her junior and senior years of high school (she got in after a college student had dropped out), she met faculty from the University and enjoyed working with them so much that she applied to Washington University, to be a part of the Performing Arts Department.
"Typically, we had several hours of class a day, including rehearsal and performance time on the Globe stage. It was such an amazing experience to perform there," Bagnall says. "At times, tours would be going on while we were rehearsing, and when people would start clapping, we would think, 'What, us?'"
For Nick Choksi, an English major in Arts & Sciences Class of '03 who also takes lots of drama classes, the program was a holistic learning experience. He says, "Not only did we learn how to read and interpret Shakespeare's text and how to use it on stage, but we got to experience being in the Globe and seeing Shakespeare played in a theater like the one he wrote forall while being immersed in a city that thrives on theater."
Stamatis adds: "I found that having the audience, the groundlings (up to 700 people can fit in the yard around the stage), standing below the stage and right up against the edge of the stage made the relationship between the actor and the audience much more immediateas though we were all part of the same shared experience. Also, when in those great images Shakespeare talks about the 'heavens,' you look up and you can see the sky. It suddenly made those images come alive."
"The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Hamlet (Act II, Scene II)
In the evenings, students spend time rehearsing for classes, and they attend plays, with seven shows included in the program curriculum. "We didn't just see Shakespeare; it was a very comprehensive experience," Bagnall says. "We saw The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a modern text and beautiful production. We saw two Shakespeare shows on the Globe stage, and we went to Stratford-upon-Avon one weekend and saw the Royal Shakespeare Company. We also saw The Ice Man Cometh with Kevin Spaceyfor four hoursit was amazing!"
Inspired by such great theater, many students see more than seven shows, which Schvey says adds to the overall experience.
"London is a living laboratory," Schvey says. "In going from the United States to England, students go from a basically cinematic culture to a theater culture. There is so much in London that revolves around live theaterin some ways, the students learn more in four weeks there than they would in a whole semester here."
Stamatis concurs: "You live and breathe the material for the time that you are there. I love that kind of intensive training experience where you all feel like teammates working toward the same goal. That is one of the greatest things to me about live theater anyway."
"Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better." Twelfth Night (Act III, Scene I)
The capstone of the program is the Midnight Matinee, whereon one special night near the program's endstudents have the Globe stage to themselves from 11:30 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. In front of a few friends, family members, faculty, and acquaintances from London, all under simple halogen lighting, the students perform the scenes they have been working on throughout the program.
Spottiswoode, who as director of Globe Education has committed Globe resources to the program over the years, says that when the students hear St. Paul's Cathedral across the river chime midnight, they know it is time to start presenting their scenes. "It's a very beautiful and quite magical experience," he says. "In those moments, the Globe becomes the student's own, and I think that's a key feature of the course."
"Not only did we get to perform on the Globe stage under the lights, but, on the night of our Midnight Matinee, we performed while it was misting," Choksi says. "There was a real sense of communion being the only ones in the Globe Theatre under such conditions."
"I never get tired of watching the students," says Bill Whitaker, a senior artist-in-residence at the University who teaches directing for the Globe program. "You hear them talk about feeling as if they are in a continuum of the acting experience that began with Shakespeare. ... It is then that they truly realize they've been a part of something truly special."
Spottiswoode adds that students think of the great actors who now play on the Globe stage and of the ones who helped create Shakespeare's plays in the 16th and 17th centuries. "Spirits of the past and the young spirits of the present merge here," he says. "Students feel a kinship not only with the players they've seen but with the players that gave life to the first performances of Shakespeare's plays more than 400 years ago."
This kinship, along with relationships students formed during the course, creates a lasting impact. Choksi says, "Being immersed in Shakespeare with so many friends was really specialand I say friends, because, if we weren't friends before the program, we were definitely friends by the end."
Whitaker says that there is a shared interest and affection and dedication to the study, which is unlike anything that can happen at the University. "And you're there in London," he says. "All of those things collide and create, I think, an extraordinary experience."
According to Patrick Spottiswoode, director of Globe Education, Shakespeare's Globe is a place 'where actors and audiences share the same light." The exceptional space was the dream of American Sam Wanamaker, who died before the Globe opened in June 1997. The third Globe constructed to date, it is patterned after the first Globe that was built in 1599, and it stands 100 yards from where the original structure stood on the south bank of the River Thames. As a testament to the support of students, faculty, and friends of Washington University, Spottiswoode buried a time capsule filled with their names beneath the newest Globe Theatre. The longstanding relationship between the University and the Globe has benefited both institutions; this past summer the Shakespeare's Globe Summer Program had its 10th anniversary.