New Shakespeare Program Garners Funding, Students

September 3, 2002

Beginning just its second year, Mary Baldwin University’s unique master’s degree program in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature in performance has won a large, prestigious grant and has more than doubled its enrollment, drawing students from all over the country.

The Philadelphia-based Carpenter Foundation has awarded Mary Baldwin $1.5 million over five years to underwrite its master of letters (M.Litt.) and master of fine arts (MFA). Each degree combines stagecraft and scholarship.

Eleven new students from California, Florida, Ohio, and Oklahoma, among other states, have arrived for the fall semester, joining six who are returning. The new students’ backgrounds vary widely: teaching, acting, marketing, and industry. Colleges attended include Swarthmore and Mount Holyoke, the University of California and Boise State University. Some students are recent graduates. Others are embarking on new careers and vocations. Their ambitions are hardly the same. Some intend to teach, others to act, still others to read and develop scripts or otherwise work in the theatre. All welcome a rare opportunity to understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries in performance and in a rich context: historical, cultural, and artistic.

The master’s program is offered in partnership with Shenandoah Shakespeare and its Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, which also serves as classroom and laboratory. Said Andrew Gurr, director of research for the new Globe theatre in London, England: “In historical terms, Blackfriars Playhouse is one of the five most important theatres in the world.”

Shenandoah Shakespeare has been praised in this country and abroad for its fresh, briskly paced productions that explore and experiment with Renaissance staging – such as leaving the lights on and engaging the audience. Said The Boston Globe: “Its combination of intelligence, spirit, and sheer kinetic energy is profoundly exciting. This is pure Shakespeare, richly alive. Like all great artists, the company works its magic with the simplest of elements.”

The M.Litt./MFA program is led by Frank R. Southerington, Oxford-educated professor of English at Mary Baldwin, where he is also a Virginia Worth Gonder Shakespeare Fellow. Working closely with him is Ralph Alan Cohen, executive director and a founder of Shenandoah Shakespeare. Cohen is professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and visiting professor at Mary Baldwin.

Mary Baldwin University, with a main campus in Staunton, Virginia, and five regional centers, excels in providing leadership training, character development, and career preparation with a strong academic foundation. A master’s level university, Mary Baldwin offers three undergraduate residential programs for women – the Traditional Program for Women, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, and the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership – as well as coeducational, nonresidential bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Mary Baldwin offers the B.A. and/or the B.S. in 32 majors, the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), the Master of Letters (M.Litt.) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance, and post-graduate teacher licensure (PGTL). The oldest women’s college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Mary Baldwin was founded in 1842 and was the first women’s college to be granted a circle of the national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa. It is one of only 262 colleges and universities to shelter a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society.