In 1916 the people of Fargo-Moorhead devoted an entire week to all things Shakespeare. With the U.S. on the brink of entering global turmoil, the F-M community entered a bubble of sorts, harkening back several centuries to celebrate the English playwright’s works, which became the cornerstones of English literature, influencing the language itself as well as culture around the world. The 1916 festival included many events, including a parade with elaborate floats that drew a crowd of 4000 people to the streets in anticipation of the spectacle
Now, as though to prove that the works of the Bard of Avon truly are timeless, the Fargo-Moorhead community is taking another go at giving the literary icon his due respect. However, this time, the festival is going to last a whole month.
ShakespeareFest 2016, this year’s installment of F-M’s WinterArts Festival, will bring a wide range of Shakespearean events to the F-M area throughout the month of February. From the streets of Verona to the seacoast of Bohemia, Rosencrantz to Guildenstern, ShakespeareFest will have music, drama, film, academic talks, food and much, much more.
WinterArts Festival board members Verena Theile, who is an associate professor of early modern literature in the Department of English at NDSU, and Chelsea Pace, assistant professor of movement in theater at NDSU, sat down over a happy hour discussion last week to give High Plains Reader the scoop on what ShakespeareFest is all about.
According to the Theile and Pace, the reason Shakespeare is still so relevant is because the plays are essentially “a slice of life – the human experience magnified.”
“This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and English already had funding set aside for ShakespeareFest in the Department,” says Verena Theile. “When Theatre B said they could join their own efforts with ours, we knew that ShakespeareFest would outdo even last year’s BeethovenFest. Shakespeare is such a cultural icon that we were certain the whole College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences would pitch in. And they did thanks to the leadership of Dean Sandstrom.”
Quite a few of the events this year are academic talks and seminars, part of a lecture series hosted by NDSU’s College of AHSS. And while people might expect a Shakespeare-related talk to be dry and boring, Chelsea Pace assures that these will be the exact opposite: to employ her words, they’re actually “pretty sexy.”
“The stuff that’s being talked about in these lectures is exciting and engaging – really cool conversations,” says Chelsea Pace.
“He is not owned by any one discipline,” adds Theile, “so the fest lends itself to a combined effort among the arts, humanities, and social sciences at NDSU. After seeing how Shakespeare relates to all of those disciplines … we have a million Shakespeare projects now.”
NDSU’s “Tuesdays at 2” lecture series will focus on the many unexpected intersections where Shakespeare emerges in particular academic disciplines. For the seminar “Justified or Justice Denied” (Feb. 9, 2 p.m.), Theile partnered with Jeff Bumgarner, professor of criminal justice at NDSU, to address how Shakespeare relates to crime and the justice system. In particular, Bumgarner looked at “Hamlet” to explore the idea of punishment throughout the play, breaking it down into different categories and looking at all instances in which Hamlet seeks punishment against King Claudius and how, in the end, he is able to exact his revenge.
The “Shakesperience This!” academic talk series includes “Branding Shakespeare: A History of Shakesploitation” (Feb. 12, 4:30 p.m.), in which professor Douglas Lanier of the University of New Hampshire focuses on Shakespeare as a commodity and his use in advertising over the years. In “Still a Dick” (Feb. 26, 4:30 p.m.), professor Jennifer Roberts-Smith (University of Waterloo) will look at how Richard III used media to manipulate audiences and how, if more media had been around during Shakespeare’s time, it would have affected the play.
But there is so much more to do besides attend lectures, including many other opportunities to experience Shakespeare on stage as well: “Equivocation” (Theatre B); “I HATE HAMLET” (FM Community Theatre); “Romeo and Juliet” (Theatre NDSU). “SLASHROSALIND,” a live performance at Ecce on Feb.17-19 at 6 p.m., will play with gender and sexuality and give Shakespeare the “slash fiction” makeover, in which the performers will be soliciting quotes, monologues, and feedback from the community through Twitter and then integrate their contributions into their performance.
There is the weekly ShakesBeer Happy Hour, which all four local breweries take turns hosting on Thursday nights throughout February. Keep an eye out for the drink deals as well as NDSU theatre student Sam Olson, in character as the genial, buoyant Falstaff, mingles with customers and Matthew Collie as the Great Bard himself charms beer aficionados with verse and wit.
“Shakesing It Up!” events include Shakespeare exhibits at NDSU and a “Write like Shakespeare” workshop at NDSU’s Center for Writers. Fargo Public Library’s Shakespeare on Film series features film critics Matt Olien and Tony McRae for a discussion and screening of classic film versions of “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” And on Feb. 14, from 4-6 p.m., the American Guild of Organists will present “If Music Be The Food Of Love,” pairing a Shakespeare-inspired organ music concert with hors-d’oeuvres.
There is so much going on that, frankly, the month could be overwhelming for those trying to participate in every, single event. However, the WinterArts Festival website has an interactive calendar laying out a complete rundown of the when, where and what of each event. And, with the festival passports provided at each of the events, you can have your own personal, portable calendar of events, so you can keep your head amidst the Shakespearean tempest. Having a passport also allows you to the chance to win prizes – simply get your passport stamped for each event attended and hand in the completed passport at the festival’s end to be entered to win.
Both Verena and Chelsea worked hard for months to prepare ShakespeareFest for the public, but the effort was truly that of a team. Many people were essential in making the festival a reality, including Michele Sherman, administrative assistant of NDSU’s English department, who through ordering posters and sending out emails, essentially “‘adulted’ for us,” according to Pace. But the tremendous amount of work has already paid off.
“To have the opportunity to make a work to engage the community and work with the stories and take the incredible language, that’s so exciting to me, and bringing students into it is so cool too,” says Pace.
What began as a literary event at NDSU has bloomed into something much larger – now the entire F-M community is set to pick up right where it left off in 1916.
“The whole college is thinking Shakespeare,” says Verena.
“… and we’re going to expand that to the whole community,” Pace adds. It’s this massive thing … we’ve got some really cool events going on for the entire community. If you consume media and take part in your world in any sort of cultural capacity, then there is something here for you.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
For a calendar of the events, go to http://winterartsfest.org/events/
All AHSS sponsored events are free, open to the public, and many are catered. Eat, drink and think Shakespeare, Fargo-Moorhead!
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