A British theatre legend brings his expertise to Staunton and MBU.
Home to the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) and Mary Baldwin’s own Shakespeare and Performance Program, Staunton is no stranger to the titans of Shakespeare.
Dame Judi Dench has visited the Blackfriars Playhouse and serves on the American Shakespeare Advisory Board, acclaimed actors Lisa Harrow and Ted van Griethuysen joined Shakespeare and Performance students in 2019 for workshops and master classes, and Staunton’s own Dr. Ralph Cohen has been recognized internationally for his contributions to Shakespeare performance and studies.
But now, Staunton and the Mary Baldwin community have had another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a chance to meet and learn from British theatre legend Sir Trevor Nunn. Nunn’s credits range from directing Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Dench at the Royal Shakespeare Company to helming the original stagings of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and the first English production of Les Misérables.
Nunn came to Staunton as a keynote speaker for the ASC’s Blackfriars Conference, co-hosted by MBU. The event is three-day whirlwind of presentations by scholars, performers, and experts on Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
MBU Shakespeare and Performance (S&P) students take part in the action by lending themselves as actors for on-stage demonstrations, aiding ASC staff to run the event, and joining the audience themselves to learn from the best.
But the very best came on Nov. 6, when Nunn worked with S&P students on Shakespeare monologues and scenes in a masterclass event open to the Mary Baldwin community. Students were afforded the rare opportunity to to perform for Nunn and receive his expert direction in the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse, the Blackfriars.
S&P Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student Petra Shearer was in attendance for the masterclass.
“The fact that he is a world-famous, award-winning director that would take the time to work with us makes this a really exciting new engagement with Shakespeare’s works,” Shearer said.
Of course, every student wanted a chance to be coached by Nunn, but time and availability meant that not everyone would have the opportunity. The solution was a lottery, with the names of all willing participants dropped into a hat and picked one-by-one by co-director of the S&P Program, Associate Professor Doreen Bechtol.
“What is interesting about this lottery system is that, while it is a lottery for all of you, it’s also a lottery for me,” Nunn joked as he took the stage. “I have no idea which speeches you’ll bring and from which plays – I hope I know them all!”
For a too-brief 90 minutes, students from across the Shakespeare program took the stage and showed their work to Nunn. He guided them through the text and offered his perspective as a master of the craft.
“It’s a rare opportunity to get to learn from someone who has directed every play,” said Cait Redman, another MFA student, “and even rarer to get to work with them on the text one-on-one.”
For more information about Shakespeare and Performance (and maybe a chance to get yourself into the next masterclass’s lottery-hat), visit the Shakespeare and Performance homepage or check out what’s happening on the program’s social media.