Theatre Company Visits Stonehill

November 5, 2015

Putting on a theatrical production in which five actors are each responsible for playing several roles seems like it would be a disaster, but the Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS) prove otherwise.

The well-known Shakespearean acting company, which currently includes a cast of five classically-trained theater actors, offered three performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Oct. 28, 29 and 30 in the Hemingway Theater.

Throughout the show, the actors had to take on multiple parts, as the production features two dozen characters.

The AFTLS, one of the oldest established touring Shakespeare theater companies in the world, regularly visits 16 to 20 schools each year as part of a residency program developed by Professor Homer Swander at the University of California Santa Barbara and co-founded by well-known British actor Patrick Stewart.

Professor Helga Duncan of the English department, who helmed the effort to bring the AFTLS to campus, said she received positive feedback about the residency program.

“I have had plenty of verbal expressions of gratitude and delight and joy from faculty members, from staff, from students…They enjoyed the performances tremendously. They enjoyed talking with the actors,” she said.

Dressed in simple costumes, light-colored dress shirts and dark pants, the actors used props to signify when they were changing parts. For instance, when playing Egeus, Hermia’s father, actor Chris Donnelly used a cane. When he stepped into the role of Demetrius, however, he was not seen with the walking stick.

Watching the actors switch between different roles during the production proved quite humorous for the audience, as the switch often seemed jarring because of the characters’ different natures and actions.

In addition to putting on three shows, the actors participated in a number of workshops across a variety of disciplines. They visited classes ranging from Professor Jegoo Lee’s “Business Ethics” to Professor Nicholas Block’s course on the study of birds called “Ornithology.”

The actors met with professors Oct. 26 to figure out how to make their theatrical craft mesh with the courses. Duncan said the actors immediately felt at home when they got to work with the Stonehill faculty.

“The energy in the room was palpable…Everybody was so excited and so happy. That’s something [the actors] commented on, that they felt so welcome here and were so warmly received, that we just got off on the right foot from the very first moment.”

Actress Ffion Jolly, visited Duncan’s class called “Shakespeare” Tuesday, Oct. 27. During the workshop, Jolly taught a lesson on the famous fight scene between the characters Helena and Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Jolly plays Helena and Hippolyta, among other roles, in the production.

“I was interested in having Ffion bring her perspective as an actor to these female figures,” Duncan said. Jolly coached students and tried to teach them about developing an original interpretation of the characters and translating it for an audience.

“I think that was very, very useful. I think students got a better understanding of these characters and the process of bringing Shakespeare to life, that it’s not just words on a page, that is goes far beyond that,” Duncan said.

Jolly also attended Professor Maureen Boyle’s “Narrative Writing” class Thursday, Oct. 29, in the MacPhaidan Library’s DisCo room. During the workshop, the actress led students in a number of activities meant to teach them about the art of storytelling.

During the first activity, Jolly had the students perform three actions simultaneously: playing the name game, passing a ball and walking around the room in a sequential pattern.

The task was meant to demonstrate to students how difficult it is to juggle multiple tasks at once, a lesson that can be translated to their writing. Although the class had a difficult time at first trying to complete the activity, they eventually got the hang of it.

Jolly’s second activity found the students partnering up with another classmate. The students had to tell their partner a story about themselves. Later, partners had to tell each other’s stories to the rest of the class. Jolly assigned the activity to show students how important it is to pay attention to detail when relaying a story told by someone else.

Just before the class ended, Jolly told the students to sit in a circle to complete their final activity. The students had to compose an improvised story, one word at a time. Each person in the circle added one word to the tale being told, building off what the other people in the circle had already said.

This activity produced a humorous outcome. The story the class worked together to tell was about a flock of birds all named Carl who have a funny encounter with a dog named Rex.

Duncan said the effort to bring the AFTLS to campus would not have gone as smoothly as it did without the help of Cushing-Martin administrative assistant Elizabeth Pearson. “She was just instrumental in taking care of so many details of the residency,” she said.

Technical Director James Petty also played an important role in the AFTLS production.

“He was absolutely wonderful. He was so gracious allowing the actors to use the Hemingway Theater. He was really instrumental in facilitating the actors’ use of that space,” Duncan said.

Duncan also has nothing but praise for Professor Peter Ubertaccio of the Political Science department.

“He was very generous in terms of supporting the residency financially, taking care of food and rental cars and those incidental expenses that, inevitably, someone has to cut a check for,” she said.

Duncan said she is pleased overall with the outcome of the residency and hopes to see the actors return to campus someday.

“All in all, I think the actors’ visit touched the lives of hundreds of people across the campus…I think that we managed to reach out into different parts of the College. I think that’s really nice,” she said.