Students’ Shakespeare Research to Shine at BritGrad

Five Mary Baldwin University Shakespeare and Performance graduate students will present their research at the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference (BritGrad) in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, from June 13–15.

Five of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance graduate students will present their research at the prestigious 2024 British Graduate Shakespeare Conference (BritGrad) in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, from June 13–15. 

This conference offers a unique platform for  MBU scholars Margaret Levin, Julia Sommer, Cecelia “Cece” Richardson, Christopher Johnston, and Jess Snellings to showcase their innovative work and engage with peers from around the globe.

Read on to meet some of these exceptional students, and be sure to tune in to Mary Baldwin’s Instagram page on Friday, June 14 to see the conference unfold from featured presenter Margaret Levin’s perspective!

Margaret Levin ‘24 MLitt, ‘25 MFA

Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, Levin earned a BFA in musical theatre from Long Island University Post. She will be presenting her thesis work, a project titled Analyzing Male Characters with Paternal-Derived Trauma Using the Prism Approach.

Q: Can you describe your research methodology?

A: “My thesis introduces the ‘prism approach,’ a method to analyze male characters with paternal-derived trauma without relying on psychoanalytic theory. Instead, I use textual analysis to understand these characters based on the plays themselves, aiming to provide a step-by-step reading approach that scholars and actors can apply in their work.”

Q: What do you hope listeners take away from your presentation?

A: “Of course, I don’t expect everyone to take up my ‘prism approach’ as the end-all, be-all, but I hope attendees will adopt the approach in their analyses and appreciate the depth it brings to understanding Shakespeare’s male characters. This methodology offers a fresh perspective on character development grounded in textual evidence.”

Julia Sommer MLitt ’24, MFA ’25

Originally from Northwood, New Hampshire, Sommer is pursuing her MLitt at Mary Baldwin University and will continue to the MFA program. Her project is called Direct Address in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Plays and Richard III.

Q: What is your project about?

A: “My research focuses on how characters in the Henry VI tetralogy and Richard III use direct address to reflect their relationships to hierarchical power. I propose the concept of ‘theatrical privilege,’ where characters create their own authority through direct address, often compensating for their lack of hierarchical power. This project has potential intersections with feminist, disability, and critical race theories.”

Q: What excites you most about this experience?

A: “Although I’m presenting virtually, I’m excited to connect with scholars and peers who share my passion for Shakespeare. The opportunity to engage with others in the field and share my research is incredibly thrilling. I came from a program in undergrad that is an acting program, so it’s not really meant for scholarship. But I found that, as someone interested in Shakespearean scholarship, there weren’t many opportunities for me. So coming into Shakespeare and Performance at MBU, I was terrified! I thought, ‘I’m never going to write a thesis, and if I do it’ll be terrible and I’ll barely scrape by.’ Now looking at my work I’m really proud of it and it’s something that I didn’t really think I’d be able to do, those 94 pages of thesis.”

CeCe Richardson, ‘24 MLitt, ‘25 MFA

Originally from Northern Michigan, Richardson studied computer science at the University of Michigan before discovering her love for literature and transferring to Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, where she earned a degree in English. The project she is presenting is called Undead Temporality in Shakespeare’s History Plays.

Q: What is your project about?

A: “My presentation is about something that I’m calling undead temporality … In this presentation I’m focusing on moments of undead temporality through haunting and prophecy in Richard III. There’s been a lot of research done on how the past can haunt the present in a Shakespearean play, but not much talk about how the future can haunt the present and the past. I think it’s common to view haunting as a unidirectional force, pastness moving into the present, but my project argues that hauntings can work in multiple temporal directions. Under this framework, prophets can become ghosts.”

Q: What excites you most about this experience?

A: “I’m so excited to tune into the other BritGrad presentations, especially the other presentations in my panel, which is called “‘The time is out of joint’: Temporality in Shakespearean Drama.” I love learning about time, how people think about it, and how theatre-makers can communicate time to an audience, so I can’t wait to hear the research that’s going on in that field.”

Chris Johnston, ’23 MFA

Johnston, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, has an extensive background in classical theatre, including a long tenure at the American Shakespeare Center. Now an adjunct professor at Mary Baldwin University, Johnston’s project investigates the role of musicianship within early modern acting troupes and is (aptly) called Classical Actors and Musicianship.

Q: Can you tell us about your research project?

A: “My project investigates the role of musicianship within classical acting troupes in the early modern period. I explore how actors, not just musicians, played instruments on stage, supported by textual examples and backstage plots. Additionally, I examine contemporary classical theater training and advocate for integrating musicianship into these programs. This approach could enhance actors’ versatility and employability, reflecting the practices of historical acting troupes.”

Q: What is your dream takeaway for the audience?

A: “I hope audience members will encourage universities to develop actor-musicianship training programs. By teaching actors to appreciate and perform music, we can better prepare them for diverse roles and opportunities in the classical theater landscape.”

This year’s BritGrad promises to be an enriching experience for all involved. We are immensely proud of our MBU students and look forward to their continued success and scholarly contributions. Their dedication to Shakespearean studies exemplifies the spirit of MBU’s Shakespeare and Performance program, blending rigorous academic research with the vibrancy of live performance.

Interesting in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin? Visit the Shakespeare and Performance program page to learn more!