by Clare Gates, Staff Writer
The lights go down. Various space-age characters appear onstage, including students wielding light sabers and Fr. Wulfstan Clough dressed as a Klingon. Is this a reenactment of Star Trek and Star Wars? The answer might surprise you: these actors are taking part in “As You Like It,” the play the Shakespeare Club has selected to perform this semester. This club will perform the Shakespeare piece in the school auditorium at the end of the fall semester, but the actors are adding to the play an extraterrestrial theme in order to bring a classic work of literature to a modern audience of college students and disprove the belief that Shakespeare is dull.
Shakespeare Club began just three years ago when students decided that they wanted an opportunity to put on non-musical performances. According to the club’s president, Stacy Shirer, “It was formed to be a student-run group dedicated to performing Shakespearean plays. The goal was to bring Shakespeare to the Saint Vincent Campus and make his plays more entertaining.”
English Professor Fr. Wulfstan F. Clough, O.S.B., Ph.D., has been the club’s moderator since its inception. “Every year he’s willing to help us with scenes from Shakespeare, and he also auditions for the show,” Shirer said.
The officers for the club as well as the director change after annual elections, and senior Kylie McGinnis was chosen to direct “As You Like It.”
The club draws from various Shakespearean plays every year to create a showcase of scenes during one semester, and performs a complete play with its original text the next semester. Previous performances include “Hamlet,” “Chaucer vs. Shakespeare,” “Twelfth Night,” “Scenes From Shakespeare: Mr. Shakespeare’s Neighborhood,” “Scenes from Shakespeare: ThouTube,” and “A Winter’s Tale.” Club member Jillian Janflone described the club in its early days saying, “After I saw Hamlet, I immediately wanted to join up with Shakespeare club—the production was just amazingly well done. Back then, we were in the old leaky science center. There were puddles on the floor, and we would have to mop them up before performances. We also had to change in the hallway—once a tour group came through in the middle of the show. Now we’re in the auditorium, which is a great venue.” The fall semester performance this year will be a full play with three showings.
As for the club members themselves, Shakespeare Club has traditionally attracted two specific groups of people. In Shirer’s words, “The club usually attracts the English majors who are big fans of Shakespeare and Shakespearean works, because our club comes across as kind of intimidating. Some people might hear about us and think that we just sit around and read Shakespeare together, but really we work to make Shakespeare more enjoyable by setting the plays in different time periods, pointing out that Shakespeare has a lot of innuendoes, and even making fun of Shakespeare.” The club also attracts students who think of themselves as serious actors, but Shirer gives her assurance that the club is open to anyone who wants to join regardless of acting experience. She says the plays “show the talent of the people who come out; we have a lot of people who have never acted before with a bunch of people who have been acting since high school.”
Shirer went on to explain this year’s show. “The play “As You Like It” is a comedy. We like the traditional Shakespeare, but we also like to put our own twist on it, so this year everything will be given a space theme ‘in a galaxy far, far away.’ Some characters will not be people, but robots or aliens,” she said.
“One character’s job is to entertain exiles with songs, so he’s even going to be a boom box,” said Shirer, “as for the lead roles in this tale of noblemen, outlaws, and forbidden love, Jillian Janflone will play Rosalind, Zachary Noble will fill the role of Orlando; her male counterpart, Robyn Trappen will be playing the court fool named Touchstone, and Fr. Wulfstan will play the character Jacques, famous for his line ‘All the world’s a stage’.”
Shakespeare Club has yet to acquire their costumes, scenery and props for the show, but the club has made a small gain already this year in terms of prop space.
“We’re really excited, because now we have a storage space in Alcuin Hall for the props for our shows; we are independent from the theater. We use the stage, but we try to make our own props and our own costumes. In years past, as a thank you for letting us use the theater, we have donated some props and costumes, but then we started with nothing the next semester and the next year. Now if we need daggers for our spring show, things won’t get lost. We can start building our own arsenal of props so we’re not spending tons of club money on tons of fake mustaches and beards that we use every year,” Shirer said.
The club faces other challenges in addition to working independently of the theatre.
Shirer explained, “Our biggest challenge would be that we tend to have a small cast of people. Small casts aren’t bad, but Shakespeare has elaborate plays with many extras, so it’s hard not to have to double cast roles. We have about 20 people in our cast this time.”
Shakespeare Club has another challenge in refuting stereotypes and attempting to gain recognition as members of a club that is entertaining and enjoyable as opposed to stuffy.
In spite of the challenges that these Shakespearean actors face, the end results make everything worthwhile, including the time they spent searching Salvation Army for obscure costumes, learning lines in iambic pentameter and practicing British accents.
“It’s rewarding to learn a random Shakespearean play that nobody knows and nobody cares about, because even though the play might be in English that we might not understand, when we put it on stage, we can communicate to the audience exactly what’s going on,” Shirer said. She added that the audience finally recognizes the humor in Shakespeare, saying, “they realize just how great a playwright Shakespeare was, and they realize his plays are still relevant today.”
Keep an eye out for the posters that will appear around campus advertising “As You Like It” show times; the club president won’t reveal the details of the first scene of the show, but she promises “It will open with a bang!”