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Teatime with Shakespeare
By Katherine Duke ’05
On a Wednesday evening in early April, 10 students and a professor gathered around a table in the Webster Center—no Globe Theatre, but it would do. One student brought the tea kettle; another the tea and carrot cake. Most important, everyone had the script. At Wednesday Night Shakespeare, the play’s the thing, and written on the cake was this week’s title: The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Over the past three semesters, Wednesday Night Shakespeare had given voice to histories, comedies and tragedies— Richard III, Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet (on Valentine’s Day, of course). Anyone on campus—actor or novice, regular or drop-in—is welcome to read a part. “When students read the plays for class,” says the group’s founder, Meghan Kemp-Gee ’07, “they often have no sense of Shakespeare as theater, as something to be read aloud and performed, as opposed to just dead text on a page.” Wednesday Night Shakespeare, she says, is a casual opportunity to “celebrate the plays as something alive.”
Merry Wives is the only play that Shakespeare set in the England of his own time. Inside Webster, John Radway ’07 took the lead as the humiliated Falstaff. Most everyone else in the room performed multiple roles. Players acted opposite themselves, adjusting their voices and cadences accordingly. Hearing classmates switch between high and low voices, and French and Welsh accents, only added to the comedy. Professor of Classics Cynthia Damon, whose Latin students introduced her to the group, played Master Ford. She laughed along at a scene in which a teacher quizzes a young boy on Latin vocabulary.
While orchestrating Merry Wives, Kemp-Gee was also busy finishing her senior English thesis (guess whose plays are the subject?). She says the readings will go on next year, with the continued help of the English department, which pays for the cake and tea. Some in the group have even ventured beyond Webster to perform. Kate Robinson ’08, a regular at Wednesday Night Shakespeare, directed a student production of The Winter’s Tale that took the stage at Amherst in late April.