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Shakespeare in Performance

Full Name

Deborah C. Payne

Course Name

Shakespeare in Performance (UCC)

Course Number


Describe your course. What will the students be studying and learning?

The French have an expression: Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose (“the more things change, the more they stay the same”). How true is this of theatre, though? How much change do directors, actors, and designers bring to Shakespeare’s plays? To what extent does performance alter the meaning of the script—or does it? What is the difference between an interpretation and an adaptation? How free a hand can directors take with a script? What makes for a successful performance? In addition to thinking about the changes wrought by performance, we will examine artistic and theatrical practices closely. Accordingly, we will review stagecraft, theatre architecture, and acting styles, as well as directorial choices. Selected plays will be scrutinized for performative cues ranging from the gestural to the elocutionary. By the end of the semester, students will have been introduced to Shakespeare’s major dramatic forms (history play, romantic comedy, and tragedy), in addition to learning about the various elements that go into the creation of a successful Shakespeare performance.

Why would a first-year student want to take this course? Discuss its uniqueness as part of the University College, your teaching style, and any special opportunities the students may have.

Students will have the opportunity to see Shakespeare performed by two of the best classical companies in the United States today, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Folger Theatre; additionally, we will see performances by small experimental companies. Washington, D.C. has an unusually rich theatre scene, and this is especially true for classical drama. I have a very "hands on" approach to teaching: taking students to the theatre, arranging talk-backs after the performances, and helping with scene work after hours. I even have students over for Sunday night dinner at my home near the university! That sociability typifies the learning environment in the UCC, and I try hard to ensure that students feel like they are part of a closely-knit cohort.

What do you like best about teaching first-year students?

Oh, without a doubt their fresh-faced enthusiasm and energy! First-year students, in my experience, are hungry for knowledge and new experiences. They come to American University to experience the political landscape of Washington, D.C., but I like to show them the artistic realm outside of the think tanks and government offices.