‘A Sense of Connection and Community’ from MFA Company Polaris Shakespeare

Polaris Shakespeare Company, the 2021–22 master of fine arts (MFA) company of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance (S&P) graduate program, in association with the American Shakespeare Center, announces their upcoming season of five plays, bringing professional quality theatre and educational workshops to local schools and performance venues throughout the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. 

“We look forward to honoring the 10th anniversary of the MFA program — and the 20th anniversary of the entire S&P program — by showcasing the unique and exciting features of this program for the Mary Baldwin community and prospective students,” company members said in a release. 

Consisting of 11 theatre practitioners, Polaris Shakespeare produces works of Shakespeare and other early modern playwrights, with an interest in expanding the early modern canon, particularly with their centerpiece guest-directed production in the spring. 

“In our season we explore themes of disguise and identity, isolation and community, and revenge and forgiveness,” said company members. “During this period of extreme social isolation and social disconnect, we hope to foster a sense of connection and community through our performances and educational work.” 

The company’s season begins with a one-hour version of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, designed to tour to both schools and colleges. This production will have an initial run at the outdoor Rose Theatre at MBU on October 3 and 4. Audience members can venture down the rabbit hole with this Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired production and escape into the forest of Arden where new friendships form, love is explored, and family is reunited.

Small-scale productions of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Cymbeline will open December 4 and 5 at MBU @ the Wharf in downtown Staunton. These performances — by a cast of only five actors each — allow for inventive doubling and staging opportunities to tell the full story. Coriolanus is a complex tragedy that provides a stark look at the triumphs and failures of a tragic hero to highlight the pitfalls of pride and the danger of arrogance. Cymbeline is a magical, violent, and beguiling comedy that centers on a young woman’s journey to discover her full potential to transform her community through loyalty and compassion. After opening December 4 and 5, community touring performances will be available starting in January 2022.

Polaris Shakespeare Company’s season includes performances of (left to right) As You Like It, Cymbeline, The Revenger’s Tragedy, and Coriolanus.

In the spring, Polaris Shakespeare will take on Ana Caro’s The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs, guest directed by Dawn Monique Williams and performed at the Blackfriars Playhouse. This rarely produced Spanish Golden Age comic masterpiece tells a story of wild intrigue and lively ingenuity as one woman defies social expectations of gender in order to bring her fickle lover to justice and restore her lost honor.

Their final offering is The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton, a mesmerizing thriller and black comedy that serves as a searing examination of humankind’s social need for justice and animal desire for vengeance. Produced in a format based on early modern rehearsal practices, Polaris Shakespeare will have approximately one week to collaboratively put the play on its feet without any director. This style of rehearsal allows the company to use performance as research to understand some of the conditions under which Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have worked.

Finally, the company will hold a festival of the entire season during the first week of April at both the Blackfriars Playhouse and MBU @ the Wharf. In addition to a reprise of the season’s plays, there will be many other events designed to showcase the company’s academic and artistic work throughout the year. 

For performance dates and to learn more, visit polarisshakepeareco.com, Polaris Shakespeare Company on Facebook, and @polarisshakespearecompany on Instagram, or email polarisshakespeareco@gmail.com.

Polaris Shakespeare Company members include Callie Banholzer, Michael Blackwood, Haley Davis, Robert Thomas Gotschall, Micaela Harmon, Amy Elizabeth Ippolito, Amber James, Amy Kimbrough, Thomas K. Prater, Helen Sanders, and Trent Stephens.

MFA faculty members at MBU include Doreen Bechtol, Ralph Cohen, Matthew Davies, Paul Menzer, and Molly Seremet.