Every Tuesday and Thursday at 1:00, a group of about 40 students cram into a classroom in William Smith to discuss, debate and laugh about The Tragedy of King Lear. These students are part of the King Lear: Text and Performance class. The class is primarily taught by Dr. Katheryn Moncrief, Chair of the Washington College English Department, and drama professors Jason Rubin (director) and Tim Maloney (actor, King Lear).
This class is the first time the Washington College English and Drama Departments have collaborated to such a degree on a mainstage production. The purpose of the class was to have a group of passionate students — actors, crew members, Shakespeare enthusiasts, learners from all departments — to bring their varied skills and interest together as we explored the landscape of Shakespeare’s play. As stated in the title of the class, we are especially interested in the relationship of text and performance, how a production evolves and becomes something bigger and more meaningful than words on a page. An excerpt from the class syllabus:
This course will focus exclusively on the study of Shakespeare’s masterpiece tragedy King Lear, as both a text for reading and a script for performance in preparation for a production of the play (April 4, 5, 6, 7). It will explore the interpretation of the text, including historical and cultural contexts, formal elements (structure, imagery, characterization, themes, etc.), editing issues, and critical responses to the play. It will also explore interpretation of the play for performance, including performance history and practical production issues (dramaturgical research, directing and acting choices, scene, lighting and costume design). The course will end with consideration of King Lear in a modern context—why does it matter now?…All students cast in the production are required to take the course. Those not acting will be required to participate in the production. That participation is to be determined but may include costumes, props, scenery, run-crew, etc. and other duties as assigned….In this course you will have opportunities to develop your ability at literary interpretation, to acquire and to advance your reading and production skills, to experience the process of transition from text to performance, and to expand your understanding of Shakespeare’s King Lear in his time and ours.
For the first part of the semester, our focus was on interpreting and understanding the actual text, learning about production history, and developing a comprehensive overview of the world of the play. As the show date loomed nearer, we started doing in-class rehearsals, wherein non-actors contributed ideas and notes.
Our final independent assignment was a creative exploration of the play in any format we chose. Students presented songs, poems, drawings, set designs, adaptations, comic books, trailers, videos — even a tap dance. Some of these contributions are included under the Projects section of my blog.