The Actors from the London Stage return to Notre Dame to teach The Bard.
By C. SPENCER BEGGS
Associate Scene Editor
The immortal words of The Bard will return to Washington Hall this week as the Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) presents "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The AFTLS began performing in 1975 when the Royal Shakespeare Company was touring the U.S. Professor Homer Swander of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) arranged for five actors from the company to stay at UCSB and do a few performances as well as a teach-in. The performances were such a success that Swander decided to make the visit a yearly event; however, he made the actors' stay longer and included other universities in their tour.
Initially, the group was called Actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, when the group began bringing Shakespearian actors from other London theatre groups, it seemed more appropriate to change the name to the AFTLS.
The cast rotates each year and consists of about five performers culled from various London theatre companies. The AFTLS counts many notable actors among their alumni including Patrick Stewart, Ian Richardson and Tony Church.
The group remained based out of UCSB until 1994 when the program through which it was sponsored, A Center for Theatre, Education and Research (ACTER), moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group again relocated, this time without ACTER, in 2000, to Notre Dame as part of the University's Shakespeare Initiative.
Because the AFTLS travels by van to each of their residencies, the shows are set in a minimalist fashion with virtually no set pieces except chairs provided by the university that they are visiting.
The cast uses sparse costume pieces and props to visually distinguish the characters that they play on stage. But Shakespeare's plays can have up to 30 roles, so the AFTLS must use their theatrical abilities to create a sense of complete composition.
Any person who has seen the AFTLS perform will recognize the versatility that these actors have. During the fall 2001 performance of "As you Like it," one of the actors had to wrestle with himself because he was playing both the parts of Orlando and Charles.
Although, such scenes are difficult to make clear, the AFTLS performers have the remarkable ability to make five simply attired actors appear to be a whole company.
The AFTLS brings out the beauty of Shakespeare's language in such a captivating way that they do not need elaborate extras or over-production to present their shows. It is the language of Shakespeare that they feel it is important to teach in their classes. And because of the number of roles each actor must perform, they are extremely well acquainted with each show.
The AFTLS currently has a nine-week tour each semester. The tour is divided into one-week residencies at various American universities. Each residency consists of three performances of a full-length Shakespeare play, two performances of a "one-hander" (a one-person show created by a member of the cast) and up to 30 class teach-in sessions.
Although, the most contact a campus may seem to have with the AFTLS is from its performances, the group spends most of its time teaching.
Teaching Shakespeare is the real focus of the AFTLS program. Swander was notorious for contacting touring Shakespeare actors and having them come speak to his classes. Interestingly enough, having professionally trained Shakespearian actors address theatre and English students was conspicuously rare when the program was founded.
The in-depth knowledge of the shows that the actors have makes teaching a natural progression, although none of the cast members are trained academics. However, teaching is not limited to lectures, in fact, the AFTLS insists that students leave their seats and participate in scenes.
Shakespeare is not the only form of theatre that the AFTLS teaches. The performers are willing to help students with just about any type of text as long as they have prior notification. Furthermore, the AFTLS does not only teach theatre and English classes, but also branches out into other fields of study like comparative literature and psychology.
"A Mid Summer Night's Dream" marks the AFTLS's eighth residency at Notre Dame.
The residency has been brought to campus by the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Letters' Shakespeare Initiative, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre and the Department of English.
Next semester, the group will return for a ninth residency to present "Macbeth" from Feb. 20-23.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be presented by veteran English Shakespeare Company alumni Sean Gilder, West Yorkshire Playhouse's Alexandra Lilley, Suezanne Packer from the Royal Court Theatre Company, Paul Panting from the Harrogate Theatre Company and Matthew Radford of the Royal Exchange Theatre Company of Manchester. Radford has visited Notre Dame before when the AFTLS presented "Twelfth Night" in 1999.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will begin this Thursday and runs until Saturday. All performances are in Washington Hall and begin at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $16 for general admission, $14 for senior citizens and $12 for all students.
Tickets are available at the LaFortune Student Center Ticket Office or by calling (219) 631-8128.
All Scene Stories for Monday, September 17, 2001