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Sophomores on Shakespeare

The students share their experiences of prepping for two plays.

From scansion to songwriting, sophomores from the University of Minnesota and Guthrie Theater BFA program will show off their Shakespeare studies this weekend.

The students present two Shakespeare productions every year as part of the program’s sophomore curriculum. This year, the students will perform “Taming of the Shrew” and “Comedy of Errors.”  

“If you can act Shakespeare, you can act any genre because Shakespeare is very challenging,” said Steve Cardamone, director of “Taming of the Shrew.”

Cardamone said by learning Shakespeare, the sophomores strengthen the techniques they’ve been working on throughout their freshman and sophomore years. In addition, they develop new skills that come with decoding and interpreting Shakespeare.

Katherine Fried, who plays the part of Kate in “Taming of the Shrew,” said every actor uses his or her own techniques to dig deep and decode the Shakespearean messages. Fried said she focused on scansion and marked her script so the lines fit within ten beats.

Jennie Ward, director of “Comedy of Errors,” said a central part of decoding lies in the students’ attitude. The more confident a student feels, she said, the better he or she can decode the text and, therefore, bring it to life.

“[Shakespeare] is not another language. It is something that we can all own,” Ward said.

Damian Leverett, who plays the role of Lucentio in “Taming of the Shrew,” said this is his first time performing Shakespeare.

And he’s not alone. For some of the other students in the program, this is also their first time.

“These plays were written for lower-class, regular, young people, and they have been turned into this sacred, scholarly thing,” Leverett said. “[This experience is] kind of unlearning that and then putting it into this really crazy, fun, ridiculous, contemporary play.”

Once students comb through Shakespeare’s language, they choose how to interpret their parts.

Sarah Schweitzer, who plays Luciana in “Comedy of Errors,” said while actors must abide by the boundaries of Shakespeare’s verse and stressed syllables, they still have freedom in choosing what emotions to portray.

Schweitzer said Shakespeare doesn’t leave specific instructions for performers, whereas the realist playwrights the sophomores studied last semester often spelled out how to deliver lines.

“It’s a more advanced coloring book; it’s not just a blank piece of paper. I can choose what colors to fill in,” Schweitzer said.

Students also play their characters in accordance with contemporary behavior.

“It is a living story, and if we bring it to an audience today, it has to be a story that lives for them,” Ward said.

In “Comedy of Errors,” the character Luciana often tells her sister to obey her husband. Ward said most people read Luciana as a rule-follower who persuades her sister to obey the gender norms of the time, but Schweitzer interprets the role differently — lending a feisty, feminist vibe to the character.

“To make that relevant, she’s basically very sarcastic,” Schweitzer said.

Ward said the portrayal isn’t radical.

“It’s not about reinterpreting Shakespeare. It’s about creating a living relationship between the audience and story, and that has to acknowledge our current point of view on things,” Ward said.

Cardamone said the students are bringing non-acting skills to the table as well: Leverett wrote a song for the ending of “Taming of the Shrew,” and Schweitzer designed the poster for “Comedy of Errors.”

“[The students] work really hard, and they care lot about what they’re doing, which is why it’s so great to work with them. They’re enthused; they do their work; you really see them getting confident [with] balancing their first two years of their training,” Cardamone said.



What: Taming of the Shrew and Comedy of Errors

Where: Rarig Center, 330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis

When: April 2-7; Thursday and Tuesday for Comedy of Errors; Friday and Monday for Taming of the Shrew; Both shows perform Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $6

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