The upper level English seminar “Performing Shakespeare” has been a sought-after course for Davidson’s English majors and otherwise theatrically inclined students since Dana Professor of English Cynthia Lewis first joined the faculty in 1980.
Though the course has typically culminated in student-led stage productions of Shakespeare’s plays, this year the performance will be delivered to a much larger, listening audience via a live broadcast from the college’s public radio station, 89.9 WDAV FM.
Tune in or visit wdav.org to hear Lewis’ students in “Radio Shakespeare” perform their rendition of The Merchant of Venice at 7:30 p.m., April 26, 2014.
An avid fan of NPR, Lewis conceived the idea for “Radio Shakespeare” partly through an attempt to circumvent the many obstacles posed by teaching the “Performing” version of the course, like casting and rehearsals. “With a strictly listening audience, it’s easier to double roles more covertly and for students to practice their lines on their own,” she explained.
Performing for a radio audience also poses unique challenges, however. “Undergraduate actors typically don’t think about their voices as much as they should in order to pull this off,” Lewis explained. “Unless they have voice training, most support their voices with their throats instead of their diaphragms.”
Lewis is less worried about adapting Shakespeare’s lines for a strictly verbal presentation. “It’s important to remember that in Shakespeare’s time, people went to hear a play,” she said. “It was a much more aural culture in his day.”
The Merchant of Venice also is particularly suited for the airwaves. “Although it’s classified as a comedy, this play is great for the radio because it’s not exactly funny,”
Lewis said. “It’s more concerned with passionate love, hatred, and racial tension, which gives the actors a lot to do with their voices.”
Lewis expressed her excitement to collaborate with WDAV, which she described as “rather uncharted territory,” for faculty. “Frank Dominguez has been a great help, especially considering he’s acted Shakespeare and he’s an expert on Shakespearean music,” Lewis said.
Lewis added, “‘Radio Shakespeare’ is a great joint venture between the academic and cultural, community-outreach arms of the college. This is illustrative of what Davidson can be at its very best.”
Bracketing the live radio broadcast on April 26, Lewis’ radio Shakespeareans will also record performances before studio audiences at WDAV on April 25 and April 27, both at 7:30 p.m. Post-production, WDAV engineers will compile the strongest elements from the three performances in a single podcast available for download.
The “Radio Shakespeare” students also will hold a non-recorded recital of The Merchant of Venice at 2 p.m., April 28, at “Pian del Pino,” the Italian Renaissance-style villa of Margaret and Price Zimmermann, who served as Professor of History and Dean of Faculty at Davidson from 1977-1998.
Though “Radio Shakespeare” marks a venture into uncharted territory for Lewis, she has accepted the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm. “I’m taking the chance of failing, just like my students are,” she said. As if to ward off the threat of failure with a divine blessing, however, Lewis selected the first airdate of April 26 to coincide with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s baptism.