Mistaken identity, love triangles, Sixteenth Century theatre, and students from local schools…

For many years the Arts Alliance of St. Mary’s College has assisted the College in its community outreach to local school children. Ongoing programs include several in the music department, such as individual mentoring. This year their outreach is expanded through a special production of Twelfth Night that will bring middle and high school students to the College to experience Shakespearean theatre and drama workshops.


Megan Lehr is a senior at St. Mary’s and is producing the play as a St. Mary’s Project (a senior thesis). One of the things that will make it different from other dramatic performances is that it will be an interactive event, with audience participation, and a style of production that strives to be faithful to the performances of Shakespeare’s time.


Megan says her project was born at the University of Kent, in England, where she took a course about Shakespeare’s theatre. After learning of class structures that affected the audience composition in Elizabethan England, and the anti-theatrical movements that abounded,  Megan began to wonder what it would be like to be an actor in that period, or to be an audience member witnessing a very different spectacle than we have today.


“I appreciate the way that the media has made Shakespeare available to the masses more than most,” says Megan, “but I want whatever small masses I can reach here at St. Mary's to see it the way it was meant to be seen.”


Susan McNeill, Arts Alliance Outreach Coordinator, has been working with Megan and her advisor, Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, to involve local school children in the project. The students have been invited to view a shortened production of Twelfth Night, in a manner reflective of the experiences of Shakespeare’s contemporary audiences. Following the play the children will then have the opportunity to discuss with the actors and actresses (all St. Mary’s students) the differences in modern and Elizabethan theatre-going experiences.


In addition, Megan and Professor Ellis-Tolaydo will hold a workshop with the middle and high school students, which will incorporate the language and acting techniques of Shakespeare’s time.


In education today,” says Megan, “students study historical literature by trying make sense of it through our own modern culture and understanding.  Most students vaguely know Shakespeare as that guy who wrote Romeo and Juliet, which automatically ties him to Leonardo DiCaprio, so he must be a pretty cool guy! Why not teach students that there once was a world without mass media, where actors were considered criminals rather than stars and language was a prized possession?”


“The only way to understand Shakespeare is to understand his world.  Hopefully, the students of St. Mary's County will be able to take just a little bit of that away from this experience.”


One of the sets of students who will be attending is a drama group from Spring Ridge Middle School. Megan is currently assistant director of their production of Phantom of the Opera.


“I think it is wonderful to get students involved in the arts as early as possible, so I’m thrilled they will get to see what they could continue to do in college if they are willing to stay committed to something they love,” enthuses Megan.


The local students will be coming to experience the Olde English

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