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Brave New Worlds

Memorial symposium on Shakespeare in N.L.

By Janet Harron

Although William Shakespeare never set foot on Newfoundland during his lifetime, he was no doubt aware of the existence of the island as a valuable fishing ground, even referencing salt cod in several of his plays.

In turn, there has been a Shakespearean presence in this province since theatrical companies first toured the island in the 19th century.

The Perchance Theatre in Cupids, N.L.

Number of events

A Memorial University-based project exploring the history of Shakespeare in Newfoundland and Labrador will play out during the fall of 2017 and will include Brave New Worlds: Shakespeare in Newfoundland and Labrador, a two-day symposium on the St. John’s campus on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1; an exhibit at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre; an open-access exhibition catalogue to be housed on the Digital Arts Initiative (DAI) website; and a Check It Out! performance at the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Library on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 1 p.m.

“I began the project because of my interest in Shakespearean performance, including that produced by Perchance Theatre in Cupids and by Shakespeare By The Sea in St. John’s,” said Dr. Rob Ormsby, Brave New Worlds project lead and associate professor in the Department of English.

The exhibition, which was made possible by a Public Engagement Accelerator grant, will make public many of the documents and artifacts contained in the QEII’s Archives and Special Collections.

The exhibition catalogue, which will appear on the DAI later this fall, will include catalogue entries and academic and anecdotal essays.

Theatre and heritage

Brave New Worlds: Shakespeare in Newfoundland and Labrador stems partly from Dr. Ormsby’s current SSHRC-funded research project that considers how Shakespeare fits into theatre festivals that are also part of heritage sites in places like Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe theatre and Helsingor (Elsinore) Castle in Denmark.

A chaise lounge that belonged to Richard (Dick) Buehler who was an English professor at MUN and mentor to many young artists. Buehler lent his chaise lounge out to be used by his students in the productions they staged both while in university, and after graduating.
Photo: Jamie Skidmore

It also encompasses his work on the STAGE project with Dr. Denyse Lynde, which Dr. Lynde began in 1994 and to date has interviewed hundreds of people about their stories and experiences of involvement in Newfoundland and Labrador’s performing arts.

“I’m curious about theatre practitioners’ personal narratives of how they understand what it is they do,” said Dr. Ormsby.

Personal stories from Andy Jones, Danielle Irvine, Aidan Flynn, Pamela Morgan and Michael Nolan, among others, will be highlighted during the symposium, which will also include academics, students, archivists and librarians.

‘Broaden how we think’

Dr. Ormsby’s overall goal for the project is to develop a collective understanding of Shakespearean performance in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I hope this project will add to our understanding — both scholarly, research-based knowledge and knowledge based in the personal experience of those who have actually made theatre,” said Dr. Ormsby, who has been collaborating on the project with Michelle King, an undergraduate honours student in the English department.

“It is my intention that the presentations, roundtables and feedback from audience members will enrich what we know and broaden how we think about Shakespeare in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

For more information please visit the Brave New Worlds Facebook page. All events are free and open to the public.

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