Davidson College Will Host Royal Shakespeare Company Residency
October 24, 2001
The world's foremost interpreters of the works of William Shakespeare-- Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company--will bring the Bard to life at Davidson College during a twelve-day residency from February 19 through March 2, 2002.
About 50 members of the troupe will be on hand to produce, in association with Davidson College, 11 performances of the Royal Shakespeare Company's The Merchant of Venice in the college's new 600-seat Duke Family Performance Hall. These will be the Royal Shakespeare Company's only North American performances of The Merchant of Venice this year. The residency will also include an extensive series of educational events.
Performances are scheduled for the evenings of February 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, and March 1. Daytime shows will be offered on February 23, 24, and March 1. Ticket information and other details will be available starting January 16 at 704-894-2135 between 2-5 p.m.
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) residency will headline a semester-long celebration of the performing arts at Davidson to inaugurate the Duke Family Performance Hall. The hall opens in January 2002 with performances of the Brazilian Guitar Quartet and Porgy and Bess. Following the RSC residency, other events in the hall include the Davidson College theatre department's presentation of Picasso at the Lapin Agile in March, and the English department's "Performing Shakespeare" class's production of Love's Labor's Lost in April.
Housed within the new Knobloch Campus Center, the Duke Family Performance Hall (DFPH) will be a first-class performing arts auditorium--the finest venue of its kind in the rapidly growing area north of Charlotte. It includes a 60-foot wide by 60-foot deep stage, full height stagehouse, retractable orchestra pit, state-of-the-art sound and light technology, and three levels of seating. A portable orchestra shell is included that will configure the stagehouse to support symphonic performances.
A highlight of the Royal Shakespeare Company residency will be the gala dedication of the Duke Family Performance Hall on Saturday evening, February 23. The hall was made possible by a gift from The Duke Endowment, a private foundation that serves the people of North Carolina and South Carolina by supporting selected programs of higher education, health care, children's welfare, and spiritual life. Davidson College is one of four institutions of higher education that receive annual grants from The Duke Endowment.
Dana Professor of English Cynthia Lewis, who has taught Shakespeare at Davidson for more than 20 years, said Davidson students will enjoy an unparalleled opportunity during the RSC residency. RSC personnel are scheduling meetings with classes across the Davidson curriculum, including the departments of English, theatre, art history, and psychology. "They'll never forget it," Lewis said. "The RSC troupe is not only the world's premier Shakespeare company, it's arguably the best professional acting company in the world. In addition, they're brilliant teachers as well as actors."
Lewis, theatre department Chair Joe Gardner, and other Davidson faculty and staff are working with the RSC to develop the educational component of the residency. Sessions will be led by RSC actors, as well as by its artistic personnel, education staff, and production crew. The events will include teacher workshops, panel discussions, master classes, and pre- and post-show discussions. Non-Davidson students, educators, and members of the public will be invited to participate in selected public events.
Carrie Van Deest, the RSC project coordinator at Davidson noted, "The 'residency' aspect of this event makes it most exciting, since it roots the company firmly in the Davidson community for nearly two weeks. This extended visit allows time for developing relationships with Davidson College students, faculty, and staff, and also with area high school students, teachers, and community organizations. Their eagerness to be involved in and around Davidson rivals our excitement in hosting them."
The Royal Shakespeare Company has operated in its present form since 1961, when it adopted its current name, established a London base, and widened its repertoire to embrace works other than Shakespeare. The company seeks to create outstanding theater that is relevant to our times through the work of Shakespeare, other Renaissance dramatists, European theatre, and new plays.
The RSC has five home theaters in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. The RSC's policy is to perform its work throughout the UK and overseas as well as in its home bases in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. It has only conducted overseas residencies since 1998, when it began the practice at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The year's production of The Merchant of Venice will open in the RSC's Pit Theatre at the Barbican complex London in November, move to its Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon later in the month, and then transfer to a mobile auditorium for performances all over Great Britain before coming to Davidson.
The Merchant of Venice is a fascinating study of justice, mercy, love, and the power of money. Regarded as one of Shakespeare's most controversial, and even cruel, plays, it is celebrated for its captivating villain, Shylock the Jew. Shakespeare created Shylock as a character for Elizabethan audiences accustomed to seeing Jews as comic foils for Christian heroes. In the play, Shylock attempts to enforce a contract in which he is owed "a pound of flesh" for an unpaid loan. He is ultimately undone by the witty heroine-turned-lawyer-in-disguise, Portia.
Shylock's energy and suffering are such that many modern productions have elevated him to the level of tragic hero, excusing his wickedness as a justified reaction to Venetian anti-Semitism.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.