Keeping up with classwork while rehearsing Shakespearean roles could be a daunting task, but Eastern Mennonite University students are up for the challenge.
First-year nursing major Andrew Stoltzfus, for example, has never performed Shakespeare before and says it’s difficult to memorize lines, but he’s still “enjoying it immensely.”
The cast of EMU’s fall production, “Measure for Measure,” rehearses with enthusiasm and dedication – a trademark of the university’s actors, says Professor Justin Poole, theater program director.
“[Shakespeare’s] plays pose so many compelling challenges, and they are open to dynamic conceptual adaptations,” Poole said. “’Measure for Measure’ has many rich themes that will resonate, such as abuses of power, the power of forgiveness, and apparently conflicting loyalties to God and family.”
Performances will be in the Lee Eshleman Studio Theater Nov. 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. A school matinee will be on Nov. 7 at 10 a.m. (Note the change from the date listed on the print calendar.)
Due to the subject matter, some material may not be appropriate for children under the age of 12.
“Measure for Measure” is set in Vienna where Duke Vincentio temporarily steps down from rule. As the moral depravity of his subjects reaches a breaking point, the Duke gives the seemingly virtuous Angelo control of the kingdom. Isabella, a woman pledged to the church, finds herself in a morally compromising situation that could have come out of the #MeToo headlines. Shakespeare’s relevant tragicomedy comes to life in a fast-paced and music-filled production.
“Measure for Measure” is a play Poole has wanted to stage for years at EMU, he said. So when Marti Eads, professor of English, suggested it in response to the #MeToo movement, Poole said he needed “no convincing at all … it was a fantastic idea.”
Making the language their own
To learn and understand Shakespeare’s words, the actors’ preparations have included studies with No-Fear Shakespeare, which provides a modern English translation.
The language can be confusing, said Anna Ressler, a junior psychology major. “But once I understand what my lines mean, I can figure out where to put the emphasis and how to make the line flow and make sense. It is also helpful to ignore all the commas and line breaks and only pause where there is other punctuation. Justin frequently reminds us to do this.”
After memorizing his lines, Stoltzfus said, “I tweak how I express them to give off the intended meaning. Shakespeare takes a little growing used to, but after a while it all blends together nicely.”
Poole collaborates with his actors on their character interpretations. Freshman music major Isaac Longacre appreciates that flexibility.
“I love how nothing is set in stone,” he said. “During rehearsals we just go with the flow and try to see what works. If something doesn’t feel right, we can play around until we find what works for the scene. Along with this, my character, Lord Angelo, is very different than any other character I’ve played. I enjoy this, because it pushes me outside of my comfort zone.”
Poole adapted the play, omitting some characters, adding a Greek-like chorus, and blending elements from Greek and Roman tragedy and English morality plays, he said, adding that all were “big influences on Shakespeare as a playwright. This production makes those influences particularly apparent.”
The adaptation also includes setting the play in the late 19th century.
“The tensions between a creeping moral decadence and a decaying sense of Christian spirituality remind me of Vienna in the late 1800s through early 1900s,” said Poole, who has traveled extensively to the city. “For this reason the costumes, lighting, and staging are heavily influenced by Art Nouveau, aestheticism, and symbolism. Klimt and Mucha are the artists who provide the most direct inspiration.”
Composer Jim Clemen‘s original score is influenced by the music from that period and EMU theater graduate Robert Weaver is providing mood-setting lighting, Poole said. “Rachel Herrick‘s costumes do a fantastic job of setting the tone. [Theater Tech Director] Shannon Dove‘s set resembles a bombed-out cathedral, as a metaphor for society’s loss of its connection to the church.”
Performing in the studio theater gives a greater intimacy between actors and audiences, Poole said. His staging allows the actors to weave in and out of the audience.
Poole refers to “Measure for Measure” as Shakespeare’s morality play about the dangers of lust.
“The issues raised in the play will particularly resonate with audiences today, but people have always dealt with these things,” he said. “I hope the audience will come away knowing that there are many ways to do Shakespeare, and that his plays can still surprise us as they connect to us in deep ways. I hope that the actors will have a new appreciation for Shakespeare and will understand the great rewards that come from performing in his plays.”
The performance is sponsored by Everence.
For tickets, visit the box office in the lower level of the University Commons or call 540-432-458, Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Cast and Crew
Isabella: Anna Ressler (a junior from Kidron, Ohio)
Duke Vincentio: Andrew Stoltzfus (a first-year from Harrisonburg, Virginia)
Angelo: Isaac Longacre (a first-year from Quakertown, Pennsylvania)
Claudio/Chorus: Yoel Bobadilla (a junior from Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
Pompey/Chorus: Avery Trinh (a first-year from Columbia, Maryland)
Lucio/MistressOverdone/Chorus: Christian Stutzman (a sophomore from Sugarcreek, Ohio)
Provost/Barnardine/Chorus: Jay Sheppard (a first-year from Maidens, Virginia)
Mariana/Juliet/Chorus: Renata Loberg (a graduate student from Salem, Oregon)
Composer: Jim Clemens
Set Designer: Shannon Dove
Costume Designer: Rachel Herrick
Stage Manager: Gwen Mallow (a junior from Quicksburg, Virginia)
Assistant Director: Joseph Seitz (a first-year from Harrisonburg, Virginia)
Lighting Designer: Robert Weaver
Assistant Stage Manager: Jareya Harder (a first-year from Mountain Lake, Minnesota)
Sound: Chris Runion (a sophomore from Broadway, Virginia)
Stage Crew: Alexa Lahr, Johnny Prioleau, Chris Runion, Jay Sheppard
Theater Promotions Assistant: Liz Marin (a junior from Harrisonburg, Virginia)
Costume Crew: Phil Yoder, Katya Mattichak
Poster Designer: Missy Mutterspruch
Costume Manager: Hailey Holcomb
Props Manager: Ezrionna Prioleau
Lighting Assistants: Jareya Harder and Liz Marin