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Summer Shakespeare puts fun twist on classic tale

May 21, 2013 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

"Hamlet" show times

May 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29 - 8 p.m.

Location: Hancock Welcome Center

Summer Shakespeare, presented by the Liberty University Department of Theatre Arts, gives audiences a fresh, exciting look at the works of one of the greatest playwrights of all time, all-the-while showcasing the stunning architecture of Liberty’s campus.

This summer’s production of “Hamlet,” takes place at the Hancock Welcome Center May 23-29.

Though Summer Shakespeare officially debuted in 2009 with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” this year’s reboot of Liberty’s “off-Broadway-style” program is intended to become an annual tradition. Neal Brasher, assistant professor of theater arts, developed the program to show how fun and relatable Shakespeare can be and hopes it will bring Liberty and the community closer together. Brasher is the show’s director and plays Polonius and the gravedigger.

“One of the main things I want the audience to take away from this is that Shakespeare is a lot more fun than they thought it was,” he said.

Audiences will find the performance rather avant garde as it incorporates guests into the show, treating them as if they were characters in the play, and moves both from room to room and outside, instead of being presented on a single stage.

Brasher said this format is more true to how Shakespeare intended his plays to be experienced.

“It’s probably the best way to do Shakespeare, where the actors are very immediate to the audience,” he said. “The audience at times feels like they are characters in the play. It engages them and it makes them feel like even more a part of the production than they normally do, which to me is a wonderful thing.”

Brasher said having the show at the Welcome Center is a great way to display the architecture of the new building for the community in an “artistic, cultural, and creative way.”

The Hancock Welcome Center opened in the fall of 2012 and gives prospective students and their families a comfortable place to meet with Admissions and Financial Aid representatives and learn about other campus services. It features an impressive atrium, a large boardroom, a theater, lounges, a banquet hall, several smaller counseling rooms, and a back patio offering a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Hamlet” also provides an opportunity similar to Alluvion Stage Company performances in that theater students get to work and perform alongside alumni and professors. The show features 15 cast and crew members, many of which tackle multiple roles.

“We get to see how their minds work in putting a scene together and observe their individual approaches (to production),” said Whitney Tatum, a rising senior who plays Queen Gertrude.

One of the biggest learning experiences for the students is engaging the audience and utilizing a space outside Tower Theater.

“To come into a space where an audience member can stand pretty much wherever they want to … you are kind of aware that you are in the center of it and can be viewed from any side,” Tatum said. “You have to be so specific because the audience can see any side of you.”

“You get to grab their attention and bring them along with you,” added senior Joel Ledbetter, who plays Marcellus and a few other roles. “You don’t necessarily get that opportunity in a theater where the lights are on you. Here the lights are on everybody.”

Tatum said the Hancock Welcome Center is more complex to work in than a traditional stage but brings life to the show because it “almost feels like an actual castle.”

“Hamlet” was written with relatable characters for the common person.  The challenge Brasher emphasized to the actors was presenting the language in such a way that the audience can understand it, Tatum said.

“A lot of people put Shakespeare on a pedestal,” she said. “‘Hamlet’ is a really a very simple story about broken relationships, lies, and running away from the truth and how the truth catches up with you and comes out.”

  • To purchase tickets, visit the Tower Theater website or call the Liberty University Box Office at (434) 582-SEAT (7328) during weekday business hours. On the night of a performance, call the Tower Box Office at (434) 582-2085.