Annual Shakespeare Festival to entertain, give back

By Ty Konell | 9/27/17 10:06pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Valerie Wojo Atis Kleinbergs as Prosporo (left), Haley Jennings as Miranda (right), and Kevin McCasland as Ferdinand (middle) rehearsing "The Tempest."

Grand Valley State University's annual Shakespeare Festival, set to run from Friday, Sept. 29, through Saturday, Nov. 4, will include performances of "The Tempest"; a play from Bard to Go, the touring performance group; a documentary film screening; and more.

With so much to plan, the festival has been in motion in the local community since the summer.

“There’s a lot going on," said Karen Libman, professor of theater at GVSU. "The Shakespeare Festival has multiple pieces to it. It’s not just a play. It actually starts in the summer with our Shakespeare camp for kids, which starts in July.”

Libman will be directing the Grand Rapids-based play from Bard to Go, "The Wonder of Will: This Is Your Afterlife!" Bard to Go will also be heading out of the country to perform the 50-minute show, which consists of pieces from eight Shakespeare plays.

“We’ve been invited to perform in the Shakespeare in Paradise festival in the Bahamas," Libman said excitedly. “The eight students who are part of our crew will be getting on a plane on Oct. 8 and flying to the Bahamas, where they will be performing in area schools, while also being able to see the culture there.” 

There will also be events occurring during the Shakespeare Festival that will offer a deeper social message, including the Wednesday, Oct. 4, screening of the documentary "Shakespeare Behind Bars."

"It is about the work our guest director Curt Tofteland has done taking Shakespeare inside prisons for prisoners to perform and to watch," said James Bell, managing director for the festival. "The play the prisoners are working on in the film is also 'The Tempest,' so it fits in very nicely into our season."

For every theater showing during the Shakespeare Festival, there were endless hours of production preparations.

"There is a lot involved in each of our productions,” Bell said. “Production also involves faculty and staff, costume, lighting, and scenic design and construction. It is simply a lot of work involving a lot of people to pull together a production of this scope and this caliber. ...

“The main stage and Bard to Go productions began two weeks before the start of classes, with a week-long workshop followed by a week of full-time rehearsals. They have continued rehearsing since classes began.”

For GVSU students who do not have a particular affinity for theater, the Shakespeare Festival will have other options for involvement.

“Our other event that we hope students will get involved with is our annual student competition," Bell said. "We award prize money in four categories: undergraduate critical writing, graduate critical writing, visual arts and performing arts. We award first, second and third in each category, with $100 for first, $75 for second and $50 for third.”

GVSU’s Shakespeare Festival, Michigan’s longest consistently running Shakespeare event, is also partaking in charitable action this year. The people in charge of the festival decided to donate five percent of ticket sales to the American Red Cross in order to provide aid to victims of recent hurricanes.

“That was a decision made by the theater department, which I think was very generous,” said Curt Tofteland, guest director of "The Tempest." "It makes sense, with us doing a production about a hurricane. In the play, nobody is hurt; in real life, though, hurricanes not only destroy land, but can injure or kill people.”

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