Shakespeare in Texas

The performance of Shakespeare in Texas has a long history

The performance of Shakespeare in Texas has a long history

 

Shakespeare in Texas has a long history, as James Loehlin, Shakespeare at Winedale Regents Professor of English and director of the Shakespeare at Winedale program, discusses in this podcast…

 

    The performance of Shakespeare in Texas has a long history, as it does in most of the United States. In his recent collection Shakespeare in America, James Shapiro relates an anecdote about one of the first notable Shakespearean performances in Texas, which occurred in Corpus Christi in 1846. A large contingent of US forces were awaiting deployment to the Mexican War. To entertain the troops, a production of Othello was planned, with soldiers playing supporting roles. The initial choice for Desdemona was the future confederate general James Longstreet, though he was eventually replaced by the young Ulysses S. Grant. Sadly, however, the professional actor engaged to play Othello refused to perform opposite Grant, and an actress was brought in from New Orleans for the role.

There are many similar stories about absurd and incongruous Shakespeare performances on the lawless frontiers of the West, but in fact the history of Shakespeare in Texas has many more distinguished chapters. Shakespeare’s works were performed at the municipal theatres of major Texas cities from the nineteenth century forward, as well as at many colleges and universities. In 1946 the distinguished British Shakespearean Ben Iden Payne, formerly director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, settled permanently at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directed 24 celebrated Shakespeare productions in as many years.

In the 1950s, Marjorie Morris, an English professor at Odessa College, in far west Texas, developed a plan to build a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe using the best historical information available. She did research at Yale, at the Folger and in Stratford, where she worked with Allardyce Nicoll. The Globe of the Great Southwest, as her theatre was called, was completed in the 1960s, long before Sam Wanamaker’s reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe was begun on the South Bank of London. It remains a Shakespeare performance venue today.

In the 1970s and 80s, Shakespeare Festivals arose in most large cities in Texas, along with such regional institutions as the Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore and the program with which I am associated, the Shakespeare at Winedale program near Round Top. Shakespeare at Winedale is part of the University of Texas English Department, and was founded by Professor James B. Ayres in 1970 to enable students to study Shakespeare by actually performing his plays. Students in the program spend their summers at the Winedale Historical Center, a museum of nineteenth century pioneer culture in the countryside of central Texas. The students perform three plays in repertory in an old hay barn converted into the likeness of an Elizabethan playhouse. We are extremely honored that representatives from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will be visiting our barn this summer as a part of their exploration of American Shakespeare on the Road.

 

7.15.14

Paul Prescott.

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