Professor’s Book Takes Another Look at Local Playhouse

March 1, 2017

Mary Baldwin University Professor and Director of the Shakespeare and Performance Graduate program, Paul Menzer just completed his fourth book: Shakespeare in the Theatre: The American Shakespeare Center. 

Centered on the history of the American Shakespeare Center (ASC), Shakespeare in the Theatre discusses the story of the construction of the unique Blackfriars Playhouse, and a larger tale of how a re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse ended up in Staunton.

Menzer was commissioned by Bloomsbury Press to write the history.

“Although I was commissioned, I was quite willing and happy to tackle the topic, since it’s an intriguing story,” Menzer said.

Bloomsbury Press’s mission statement is “to publish the best non-fiction being written today,” mainly publishing history, politics, and economics with regard to science, art, and philosophy.

Taking him less than a year to write, Menzer completed his fourth work in nine months. As someone directly involved in the Shakespeare program at MBU, Menzer says he considers it an honor to work on something so closely related to his field.

“This book meant the opportunity for me to think and learn about the history of Shakespeare and performance in America, in Virginia, and in particular in Staunton, which has a fascinating theatrical history spanning back a couple of hundred years,” Menzer explained.

Although rewarding, Menzer said there were times when writing became tedious.
“The most challenging aspect of this book is that I’m almost “too close” to the subject,” Menzer said. “Sometimes it is easier to write about subjects that are at a distance, since you can maintain a clear eyed, aerial perspective. With the ASC, I know the organization almost too well.”

The Library of Congress’s vast archive of early American newspapers served as a strong research source for Menzer. The author also conducted extensive one-on-one interviews with the chief architects of the American Shakespeare Center’s development.

Along his writing journey Menzer found multiple interesting facts about Staunton’s connection with Shakespeare, citing these revelations as the most rewarding part of writing the book.

“I learned of a performance of Richard III in Staunton in the late 1880s by an all-African-American company of actors, who put on the play to raise money to start a library for the local African-American community,” Menzer said.

While the book is a welcome read for anyone, Menzer’s intended audience for the book is Shakespeare students, editors, critics, scholars, performers, and play-goers who are interested in the history and future of Shakespearean performance.

The book is available now on Amazon for both hard cover and electronic versions.

With nine years of service at MBU, Menzer has authored dozens of articles, essays, and reviews on theater history, textual criticism and performance studies. Other works by Menzer include Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage (2006), author of The Hamlets: Cues, Q’s, and Remembered Texts (2008), Anecdotal Shakespeare: a New Performance History (2015).