Bard to Go brings Shakespeare to life in DeVos Center
While many students may be introduced to the works of William Shakespeare in an English class, Grand Valley State University's student organization Bard to Go is aiming to share Shakespeare the way they think it should be: on the stage. The group performed "The Wonder of Will: This Is Your Afterlife!" at the DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium Saturday, Nov. 4, as part of GVSU’s Shakespeare Festival.
"The Wonder of Will" is considered a Shakespeare sampler, according to director Karen Libman. While featuring scenes from seven different Shakespeare plays, the show explores a wide variety of scenes all tied together by a modern conceit: a reality TV show in which Shakespeare is brought back to life.
“We start with one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays and end with one of the latest ones, so we go in chronological order,” Martineau said. “We try to bring back Shakespeare’s memory about it. At first, the only thing he can say are lines from his plays because that’s all that’s retained in his memory, so sometimes that brings up a scene.”
Bard to Go mainly performs for other students with the goal of exposing them to Shakespeare’s plays in person instead of on paper. With students as the primary audience, the show was built to fit into a 50-minute period, which also allows the actors to grasp the show more quickly.
“We’re all really comfortable with the show at this point,” Martineau said. “Because it’s such a short show, if we had a five-hour rehearsal, we could get through it a couple of times, so we’re all very familiar with it—even with each other’s lines because we’ve done it so much.”
The comfort allows the actors to customize each show, making no two performances alike, according to junior actress Christa Wright. With the high level of memorization and closeness of the cast, Wright credits a lot of the spontaneous humor to the obligation to keep scenes moving smoothly as a team.
“We’re a very creative group, so we just try new things almost every time we do the show,” Wright said. “We do this scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and Parker and Jacob (who also take part in the organization) change that scene up constantly. I’m backstage a lot of the time, and I’m dying laughing because hearing it, I can tell that it’s different."
While Bard to Go had also performed as an entry at ArtPrize Nine, the group's performance at the Loosemore Auditorium was particularly different due to the change to an adult audience. According to Libman, because the language in Shakespeare’s scenes is not altered at all, making it pure Shakespeare, the group’s job is to help the audience digest the complexities of his plays.
“For many adults, Shakespeare is really a foreign language,” Libman said. “It’s really hard to understand sometimes, so what we try to do is make it super physical and super understandable. We include a lot of audience participation and a lot of comedy so that the audience gets really into it.”
A key aspect in helping the audience grasp the content, Wright said, is utilizing audience participation. The show included opportunities for audience members to get up on stage and interact with the cast in a scene, a method that spectators and cast members alike always enjoy.
“In 'The Merchant of Venice' scene, we’re talking about the suitors who are coming to woo Portia, and she’s not having any of it because she doesn’t want to get married,” Wright said. “But we have to pick people from the audience to be the suitors, so we make them stand up and kind of make fun of them in a really good-natured way.”
Despite the type of audience that sees Bard to Go’s shows, Libman thinks the goal is the same: to expose adults and students alike to Shakespeare in an engaging manner.
“We hope (the audience) has a good time,” Libman said. “What we really love is when people say, ‘I never really enjoyed Shakespeare; I never really understood Shakespeare, and I got it. I understood it, and it makes me want to read more.’”