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UWRF performs Shakespeare play for first time in four years

May 7, 2009

The UW-River Falls theatre department performed William Shakespeare’s “As You Like it” on April 30, May 1, May 2, May 7, May 8 in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building. The show cost $8 for adults, and $5 for students. 

Theatre professor and director of “As You Like It” Margaret Swanson said she chose to direct the play this year because it is spring and the show is a comedy about love, which is associated with springtime. 

Swanson said she also chose it for practical purposes since there are more female roles and gender neutral roles, giving female theatre majors a chance to perform in a Shakespeare play, and also making sure there are enough men for the cast. 

There are four principle woman roles, which is twice as many as others, Swanson said. 

“It is not my favorite, but it was the right show for our purposes,” Swanson said. Swanson also directed the two previous Shakespeare performances at UWRF.

“I love taking something that is almost 500 years old and making it come alive to a present audience,” Swanson said. “It’s great to be able to bring the work of someone who has been dead for almost 500 years to life,”  Swanson said another reason why she likes performing Shakespeare is that “Shakespeare texts leave so much to the imagination which means you and the casts have a lot to play with.” 

“There are so many ways you have to dig in and change things,” Swanson said. Senior theatre major David Frank, who plays the role of Touchstone, said he also likes this about performing Shakespeare. “We have created subtext to compliment Shakespeare’s genius,” Frank said. 

The UWRF theatre department has not performed Shakespeare in four years. Their previous Shakespeare performance was “Twelfth Night” in October 2004.  Before that, they performed “Romeo and Juliet” in 1999.  Swanson said the reason they do not perform Shakespeare more often is because of the difficulty. 

Swanson said the most challenging thing about directing a Shakespeare play is getting the students to understand the language.  The first two weeks of rehearsal was working on the language, Swanson said. 

“The biggest challenge in performing Shakespeare is to convey the meaning behind Shakespeare’s archaic language,” Frank said. “Once you finally discover the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words you get the feeling as if you’ve just uncovered a treasure.” 

Freshman theatre major and second Lord in “As You Like It,” James Zappa, agreed that the language is a challenge when working with Shakespeare. “The lines really matter,” Zappa said. When working on a Shakespeare performance, the language is a challenge that stage managers do not normally deal with in non-classical shows. 

“Along with the regular stage manager duties, the other big aspect is understanding the language and making sure the actors understand the language,” Stage Manager Greg Lund said. 

Though the duties for an assistant stage manager are different than a stage manager, when dealing with a Shakespeare performance, an assistant stage manager also has to deal with the language of the piece. 

First time Assistant Stage Manager Karen Biederman said it is a challenge but that she enjoys it. This year’s Shakespeare’s performance offered something different to theatre students. For the first time, there was a Shakespeare performance class offered that is taught by Swanson. 

Every student in the class is participating in the performance of “As You Like It” in some way, Swanson said. 

The class has helped the students with the performance a lot, Swanson said. 

Even though not everyone in the cast of “As You Like It” is in the class as Swanson said she had originally planned, Swanson said the cast is terrific and it has been a great process. 

Swanson said she feels it is important to perform Shakespeare once every four years so that each student may experience Shakespeare in some way.