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Curtain Rises on Royal Shakespeare Company Residency at Montclair State University

The College of the Arts hosts world-renowned British theater for master classes on performing Shakespeare

Posted in: Arts, Uncategorized, University

A group of actors in black clothing stretch in a variety of ways.
Montclair theater students perform a scene from Richard III during a "takeover" of classes by The Royal Shakespeare Company.

The Royal Shakespeare Company held court in September at Montclair State University, presenting a series of master classes for theater students in the College of the Arts.

The residency – by one of the best known theater companies in the world – was led by three Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) practitioners, actor Emma Manton and directors Ewa Dina and Aaron Parsons, who guided students as they explored Shakespeare’s language and plays through practical exploration and staging.

“It’s been a real honor for the RSC to spend an intensive two weeks with the faculty and students of Montclair. We have been privileged to work with students, many of whom had reservations about Shakespeare and who have grasped his words with such insight and enthusiasm,” said the company’s Head of Learning Fi Ingram.

That was evident at the script-in-hand performance of Richard III, performed on the stage of Memorial Auditorium. In a nod to the thrust-style stage layout of the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, the audience was seated on three sides of the stage, creating an intimacy between the play, actors and audience.

Five actors carry an actor wrapped in cloth as the audience seated on the stage looks on.
Seating for the script-in-hand performance increased intimacy between the play, the actors and the audience. In feedback afterward, one student said, “This has been literally life changing. It’s changed the way I view the campus, what’s available to me in my training and the sort of actor I want to be.”

“Many of us were not connected to Shakespeare before this residency,” said AJ Love, a senior Musical Theatre major who performed. “It felt outdated. But we discovered how to connect the text to today. It was full of surprises.”

The three-year pilot program with Royal Shakespeare Company Learning will pave the way to establishing a long-term partnership, aligning Montclair’s and RSC’s mutual dedication to unlocking the transformative power of Shakespeare and theater practice.

“This is just the beginning of our collaboration, and we are so excited to see what will come next. It’s been a transformative experience for RSC practitioners and students alike,” Ingram said.

College of the Arts Dean Daniel Gurskis said, “Working with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the environment of an intensive, extended residency is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our theater students. I am confident that five or 10 or even 15 years from now, not only will these students vividly remember this residency, but they will also continue to find new ways to apply what they have learned.”

An actor yells in front of and toward an audience.
Alex Fontes, a junior BFA Acting major playing Richard III in the final scene, acts out the famous line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
An smiling acting teacher gestures to students.
Royal Shakespeare Company guest artist and actor Emma Manton leads a workshop on performing the classical text.
A group of 10 actors form a semi-circle on a black stage while two actors read from scripts in the middle of the stage.
The residency was called a “takeover,” as it put on hold regularly scheduled classes in the Theatre programs, substituting them with a series of “Shakespeare Gym” master classes for Acting and Musical Theatre students.
An acting teacher smiles while seated with two students.
Above, RSC guest artist and director Ewa Dina, right, leads a master class. After the takeover, one student wrote “It’s been a transformative experience being taught by a black woman.”
The play’s director stands in the center of five students, all dressed in black.
RSC guest artist and director Aaron Parsons, center, talks with students before the script-in-hand performance of Richard III.
A hand with a pencil, follow along on a page from a Shakespeare play script.
 Above, the script for Richard III. In feedback, students said the classes made them rethink Shakespeare. “Before this, I could never see myself in Shakespeare – I just didn’t think it was for me. But now – that Julius Caesar that you showed us – I’ve never seen anything like that in my life! It made me feel seen and that, plus the classes, makes me feel like I can do this now,” one wrote.
A student actor hugs the director while other student actors gather in the background.
Students were inspired by the takeover. From one of the Montclair students involved: “I have completely changed my mind about Shakespeare, and that means I can change my mind about anything in acting. And life!” 

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters.

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