Theater students experience ‘original practice’ at the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia during spring break

Senior theater major Ryan Weichmann overlooks a balcony at the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia during spring break. Photo courtesy of Johanna Schmitz

Theater professor Johanna Schmitz and six students traveled to Staunton, Va., to study and interact with actors who perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center.

According to the American Shakespeare Center website, the Blackfriars Playhouse is “the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s original indoor theatre,” which opened in September 2001.

Theater Department Chair Jim Wulfsong said Schmitz was “pivotal” in the arrangement, which took place during spring break.

According to Schmitz, she first introduced the students to the American Shakespeare Center’s director of mission, Professor Ralph Alan Cohen, when she took them to hear his lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as part of the 2013 London Theater Study Abroad Program. It was at that meeting that Cohen invited her students to the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Senior theater major Ryan Weichmann said Cohen “warmly received” them and that “everyone enjoyed their time” at the Blackfriars Playhouse.

According to Weichmann, Cohen was friendly and proactive “taking us beyond visits and tours [and was] really welcoming and educational.”

“He really made [the] time and effort to make us feel like guests,” Weichmann said.

The students participated in three workshops. They learned about Shakespeare’s staging conditions, studied rhetoric or language in the plays and directed two professional actors on a scene from “As You Like It.”

Weichmann said instructing the actors was amazing.

“It was really fun being able to see how quickly and savvy they could change having worked in educational theater,” Weichmann said.

Weichmann said he became more comfortable with his skills after attending.

“We were able to meet with the classically trained professional actors and learn in more depth about the style of acting. As a performer interested in Shakespeare it really opens your eyes because Shakespeare can be really difficult, but when you get hands-on experience it becomes more natural,” Weichmann said.

Seeing the actors perform in shows in the natural environment and lighting was “inspiring,” according to Weichmann

Weichmann said Schmitz is good at setting up programs that are both educational and fun.

“[It’s] so that you really don’t feel you’re in a teaching environment but you’re immersed with so much info that you just jump right in,” Weichmann said.

Wulfsong said the educational trip to Virginia along with the abroad program in London is a great new component of the theater program.

“It helps to focus some of our education with summer abroad with a cheaper, more accessible format than [just] summer abroad in England. The idea of them dovetail very nicely,” Wulfsong said.






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