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Actors From the London Stage perform "From Kate to 2008" and Taming of the Shrew, engage students

By Ashton Simmons
On March 14, 2008

The Actors from the London Stage spent this week in residency at DePauw. The theater company aims "to work with [Shakespeare], respectively and creatively ... to make his words exert their magic and their power in performance," said Peter Holland, Academic Director of AFTLS. The highlights of the company's stay included a performance of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew on Tuesday evening, a one-hander called "From Kate to 2008" and visits to theater and English classes throughout the week.The AFTLS is a company of five actors who "have no massive sets to tower over us and no directorial concept to tower over the text ofShakespeare's play," said Holland in the playbill of The Taming of the Shrew. The company consists of Louise Yates, Martin Parr, Nicola Alexis, Andy Greenhalgh and Victor Gardener. They tour the United States every year, performing a tragedy in the fall and a comedy in the spring.

"You can't use a set at all, because it's supposed to be five actors and a suitcase," Yates said.

This is the company's last stop in the United States before returning to the United Kingdom. Yates said the return can be sad, as the eight-week tour can be very intense. This is Yates' second experience with this form of acting.

"It's unique; it's completely unlike any conventional acting job," she said. "I've done it before, and I'd like to do it again."

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's most controversial plays for its portrayal of women. It focuses on Petruccio (Gardener), a nobleman who decides to marry loud-mouthed and bad-tempered Katherine, or Kate (Yates), in order to receive a large dowry. While he attempts to "tame" Katherine by not allowing her to sleep or eat, doing all in the name of love, three different suitors pursue Kate's more conventional sister, Bianca (Alexis). Through various methods of role-playing and deception, Lucentio (Parr), one of the three suitors, eventually wins Bianca's affection. Petruccio and Kate return for their wedding, astonishing everyone with her tamed temper. Kate ends the play with a speech about a wife's duty to her husband.

To represent more than 20 characters with only five actors, the company used simple props such as hats and scarves to represent the change in characters. Professor Ronald Dye, coordinator of the Performing Arts Series, praised the actors with their fluidity in moving from character to character. The actors also took advantage of the raked stage already installed in Moore Theatre for the upcoming production of Our Town. The raked stage was very easy to get used to, said Yates.

"You never rest in such a literal way as on a flat surface," she added.

"From Kate to 2008"

Yates also performed "From Kate to 2008" Thursday afternoon for two Women's Studies classes. She said the one-hander came from her personal experience of the challenge of taking on a role written for a man, as women were forbidden to act during Shakespeare's time. She had difficulty finding her voice, and decided to seek out other women's voices.

"It's one of the hardest roles I have played," she said. "It's something you have to work out together, yet it's a play that is very much about a battle. It's a very difficult play to buy into today."

Yates presented various poems written by female poets, ranging from Queen Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The subjects ranged from younger lovers to women's suffrage to a mother's relationship with her child.

"Listening to poetry written by female authors during the 20th century gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a woman and a poet," said freshman Ellen Snell, who attended the performance.

Classroom Participation

The actors began visiting theater and English classes Wednesday, continuing through today. Gardener visited Professor Martha Rainbolt's Shakespeare class Wednesday morning. Freshman Kate Pickering said Gardener had the class get up and do exercises with space that help acquaint an actor with a stage. He also discussed different textual cues used by Shakespeare to tell the actors how to perform a line. Pickering said she enjoyed discussing Shakespeare from an actor's perspective, instead of the scholarly criticisms and theoretical interpretations usually presented in class.

"I think sometimes we forget that these are plays," she said. "And since we never act them in class, sometimes we forget that they are supposed to be acted."

Professor Andrea Sununu, professor of English, hosted Yates in her British Writers class on Wednesday afternoon, and said she really enjoyed Yates' contribution.

DePauw has a long history with the company, Dye said. It comes to DePauw roughly every other year. Dye said that he polled the faculty and they overwhelmingly wanted to do a comedy this year.

"They are a reliable group," Dye said. "They do a different show every time, but it's in the same style, and they do a good job in the classroom.

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