Shakespeare Troupe Teaches and Entertains at Wellesley

Students work with professional actors in a black box theatre
October 7, 2019

During an October 2 workshop on campus with Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS), Paige Calvert ’20 learned a valuable lesson about what to do when things don’t go as anticipated: “In order to grow, we must lean into failure,” she said.

The five-person group of classically trained actors came to Wellesley the first week in October to lead workshops for students and faculty in English, theatre studies, and art, and to perform Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

The workshops included activities designed to get students to laugh at themselves and find humor in the moment, such as a lively variation of the game red light, green light, which requires listening skills, coordination, and controlled movement. The game proved to be a good way for students to “learn to laugh at their foibles, their failures,” said Marta Rainer ’98, artistic director of Wellesley Repertory Theatre and interim director of Wellesley College Theatre. “You can laugh at yourself and embrace it, even celebrate it.”

The centerpiece of the AFTLS visit was three free performances of Twelfth Night, October 3–5 in Alumnae Hall, featuring a rotating cast of the troupe’s actors.

The group is an outreach program of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, whose mission is to serve as a pre-eminent venue for the study and performance of the works of Shakespeare.

Faculty said the actors reinforce what the students study in class. Vernon Shetley, professor of English, said the actors talked about reading text and then imagining it coming to life on the stage, helping them understand “how important it is when reading Shakespeare to imagine the emotions an actor is meant to bring to the language.”

Alison Hickey, associate professor of English, said the actors discussed poetry in a seminar format in which she and her students read poetry aloud to appreciate it on a “visceral level.” “As we practice reading aloud, we revel in the sounds and texture of the language,” she said.

The actors’ visits also “help students to interpret the text and to conjure up the emotions that a character or speaker might be feeling,” said Hickey. “For the brief time they are there, they inspire us to become an ensemble, which I’ve found to have a lasting positive effect on the classroom dynamic.”

Photo: Twelfth Night actors Kaffe Keating (right) and Katherine Newman (left) guide Wellesley students in a theatre warm-up in Alumnae Hall. The warm-up is one of several workshop segments conducted by the actors for students and faculty.