Students and faculty members from theatre, dance and English classes travelled to Staunton on Oct. 3 to view the Blackfriars Playhouse’s production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.”
The playhouse is equipped with a large stage that protrudes from the back of the theatre, which is accurate to the stages that the production would have originally been performed on in Shakespeare’s day. Additionally, the Blackfriars’ stage remained bare for the entirety of the performance. The only props were handheld, since during the Shakespearean period, plays lacked sets and audience members had to listen to dialogue or observe handheld props to gain a sense of time and place. Students who have been studying Shakespeare’s plays in class gained a better understanding of the characters and how the plays were intended to be understood. The characters felt more real and the lines had greater and new meaning based on the way the performers delivered them.
The play opened with three performers dancing with large bamboo sticks. The most important choreography was the movement that the actress who played Cleopatra used to convey her character’s emotions and image. The play “Antony and Cleopatra” is only successful if Cleopatra not only manages to charm Antony, but also seduce the audience. Through the choreography of the opening love scene, Cleopatra enchants the audience with her witty, teasing remarks and her excessive lifestyle. Later in the play, Cleopatra’s extreme mood swings were captured in her erratic movements across the stage that are both genuine and part of her act. The choreography of Cleopatra throughout the play conveyed her inner character, but also commented on the extravagant lifestyle of Egypt in comparison to Rome. The connections between emotion, choreography and plot prompted discussion and thought for those in the audience studying either theatre or dance.
I think that going forward, Washington and Lee should consider financing more trips to the Blackfriars Playhouse, as they stimulate discussion both in and out of the classroom. Furthermore, there is much to be learned from the actors for those of all majors and interests. Politics majors may be interested in how the political systems of ancient worlds operated and what comments Shakespeare makes in his plays about the political system in England during the Elizabethan era. History majors can gain a more personal connection to the events of Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires, as well as insight into Shakespeare’s time. Those interested in and studying religion can benefit from observing how Shakespeare imposed the Elizabethan era’s Christian influence onto plays set in pre-Christian times and its impact on plot and characters. All Washington and Lee students can learn from Shakespeare’s plays, and at the very least, can enjoy the entertainment and study break the performances offer.