Acclaimed Actors Visit MBU’s Shakespeare and Performance Program

February 11, 2019

Ethan McSweeny is the new artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, and an internationally acclaimed director nominated for more than 75 theatre awards.

Ethan McSweeny, who was named the new artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) last summer, has brought exciting new connections to students in MBU’s graduate program in Shakespeare and Performance (S&P).

Through McSweeny’s influence, acclaimed Shakespeare actors Lisa Harrow and Ted van Griethuysen held masterclasses and conversations with S&P students at the ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse —  also the S&P program’s second home and frequent performance space.

“I’ve really appreciated the new voices Ethan has invited to share with us students — they’re an important complement to professors’ viewpoints,” said Jack DesBois MLITT ’20. “It’s especially exciting to hear from such inspirational and talented — not to mention well-connected — artists.”

Ethan McSweeny is the new artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, and an internationally acclaimed director nominated for more than 75 theatre awards.

Part of the “golden generation” of Royal Shakespeare Company actors, Harrow had a conversation with McSweeny and students last October at the Blackfriars. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and her first job out of school was as Olivia in Trevor Nunn’s 1969  production of Twelfth Night for the Royal Shakespeare Company. She played opposite Judi Dench as Viola.

“The best way to learn acting,” she told the audience, “is to work with a troupe of actors who have done it all their lives.”

Harrow also worked on the “Playing Shakespeare” educational series for the BBC and took part in small-ensemble tours to American universities as part of Actors In Residence (now Actors from the London Stage).

Acclaimed Shakespeare actors Lisa Harrow and Ted van Griethuysen held masterclasses and conversations with S&P students at the Blackfriars Playhouse.

In a November conversation, McSweeny introduced actor Ted van Griethuysen to students as “legendary,” but he was quick to define the term differently: “It means you’re very old.” (Van Griethuysen and McSweeny collaborated several years ago as actor and director on a one-man tour-de-force production of Hamlet, celebrating the actor’s 80th birthday.)

Van Griethuysen’s talk to the S&P community distilled a lifetime of world-class theatre work, including 30 years at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., and studies at the University of Texas, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Yale, and the stages of New York City. He is known as one of Washington, D.C.’s most beloved performers.

“This,” he said, with a gesture that referenced the Blackfriars, the audience, and the university, “is the theatre. Right here. It is a place you come to learn, to find out, to try new things. Show business is a commercial enterprise that uses the theatre to make money. You will have to dabble in both.”

Both Van Griethuysen and Harrow led masterclass sessions with S&P students as part of their visits.

“To work with them, to have the opportunity for one-on-one feedback on my own work, that’s priceless,” said DesBois.

Harrow gave students text-based guidance for their early-stage scenework in the small-scale MFA productions of Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night. Van Griethuysen shared insight into his favorite play, Hamlet, especially on the interplay of opposites.

“All beauty, whether natural or created, is in the making of opposites,” he said. “The nature of reality is essentially beautiful. That’s what art shows us.”

Jack DesBois MLITT ’20 contributed reporting for this story.