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"Lost" play launches state-of-art IUPUI theater

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Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor, the respective director and adaptor of The History of Cardenio - SUBMITTED PHOTO
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  • Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor, the respective director and adaptor of The History of Cardenio

The Bard of Avon is creating a stir on the IUPUI campus with a trifecta of research and performance. While each part of IUPUI's Shakespeare initiative is significant as a stand-alone, together they are garnering international attention as a sterling example of "town-gown" collaborations.

IUPUI's newest campus-community arts and humanities buzz began in December 2009 with the public announcement that IUPUI would house the Oxford University Press project: "The New Oxford Shakespeare [NOS] combines the history of text technologies with the history of performance and will create an entirely new print and digital edition of Shakespeare's complete works in multiple media formats for the twenty-first century."

This original research project will be published April 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, and is led by three general editors, Gary Taylor, the George Matthew Edgar Professor of English and director of the History of Text Technologies program at Florida State University, John Jowett, professor of Shakespeare Studies and deputy director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham and of the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon, and Terri Bourus, equity actor and IUPUI associate professor of English Drama.

Bourus says she seized "the opportunity to be a central force in the new wave of Shakespeare studies bcause The New Oxford Shakespeare edition examines the plays of Shakespeare through the lens of performance." This dynamic allows her to move between page (research) and stage (performance).

Bourus oversees a staff of two assistants who are combing every reference to performances and entering them into a data bank.

"The New Oxford Shakespeare will make careful use of all the surviving original documents, offering readers more choices than any previous edition," explains Taylor. "With the click of a computer key, readers can choose text featuring Shakespearean spelling or modern spelling; print or digital presentation; and alternative early versions of some works, among other options."

Hoosier Bard Productions

Segue to February 2011 and IUPUI's announcement of the formation of Hoosier Bard Productions, the theatrical arm of the New Oxford Shakespeare linking an IUPUI student theatre group with the NOS project and the Indianapolis performing arts community.

"[Audience members] become collaborators with Hoosier Bard and the NOS by helping us test new ideas about what Shakespeare created, what excited Shakespeare's first audiences, how [scripts] should be edited and performed, and what [they] mean to us today," says Taylor.

Hoosier Bard Productions staged the unfamiliar 1603 quarto text of Young Hamlet as its first production at the IndyFringe Theatre as, according to Bourus, who directed the play, "a perfect venue because its mission is to provide an accessible, affordable outlet that draws diverse elements of the community together and inspires creative experiences through the arts."

Written when Shakespeare was in his 20s, Hamlet in this first version is portrayed as a teenager and the script is only half as long as the more familiar version with an older Hamlet.

"The response to the play was phenomenal," recalls Bourus. "Young Hamlet tested in the laboratory of performance an unfamiliar and 'suspect' text, using many of the original performance practices of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: minimal technology, frequent stage-audience interaction, no scenery, a mix of historical and "modern dress" costuming, cross-gender casting, live music, no breaks between scenes or acts."

The staging of Young Hamlet thus brings forward recent scholarship including a neglected understanding of the place held by young people in the social order of a community and of audience involvement in the development of Shakespeare's scripts.

"Hoosier Bard Productions brings a different perspective to live theater," observes Taylor. Bourus adds, "Janet Allen, Bryan Fonseca and Pauline Moffat helped us formulate the best niche for an IUPUI troupe to fulfill."

Storage to stage

Young Hamlet's success propelled part three of the trifecta into high gear: re-inventing the abandoned movie theater in the IUPUI Campus Center into a performance space that could showcase the world premiere of The History of Cardenio, This"lost" play by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher based on Cervantes' Don Quixote, now recreated by Gary Taylor and directed by Terri Bourus with a cast of community actors and IUPUI students.

Over the past year, Taylor and Bourus have worked with IUPUI staff and outside contractors to design and build a 250-seat multiple-use performance hall and an adjoining rehearsal room from what morphed into storage space in the Campus Center. One has to see the transformation first hand to appreciate the innovative use of space - on and off stage. Audience comfort is a priority with oversized seating and ample legroom, excellent acoustics and amenities linked to the surrounding ambience of the Campus Center.

Originally intended to be a movie theater, work was never completed. "It was a factor of budget surrounding the January 2008 opening of the Campus Center," observes Andrea Eickhoff Anderson, director of Communications and Development at IUPUI Division of Student Life. "Looking forward, it was fortuitous because the dynamics of a state-of-the-art live theater will provide so much more for our students and for IUPUI's mission as an urban center."

Living history

Equally fortuitous is Gary Taylor's re-creation of a play with an intriguing history of performance, disappearance and reappearance. Written by the aging Shakespeare in collaboration with the young playwright John Fletcher, and performed to acclaim in London by The King's Men in 1613, The History of Cardenio exemplifies the cross-cultural cauldron from which our rich heritage of literature bubbled up.

Cervantes' Don Quixote, published in 1605 is considered to be the world's first novel. Almost immediately, episodes from the richly textured adventures of the Fighter of Windmills inspired several spin-offs into plays for the English stage. Cardenio'sstory, found in Chapters 33, 34 and 35 in Cervantes' original Spanish version, is full of the stuff we love in Shakespeare's other plays.

Somehow, the original script was lost. In 1727 English playwright Lewis Theopold claimed to have found fragments, which he used to write his own play. Since then scholars have been trying to sort Theopold from the original. Taylor spent twenty years "sorting and sifting" and what premieres April 19-28 is an intriguing story "pretty close to Shakespeare and Fletcher."

Twenty years in the making, Taylor's reconstruction has been refined through a worldwide series of workshops, detailed by Bourus in a book to be published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

"Inspired by a literary masterpiece, conceived by Renaissance masters, reassembled and directed by modern scholars, and addressing timeless themes, the premier performances of The History of Cardenio help us mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI," comments William Blomquist, Dean of IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

Blomquist adds, "More than that, though, this resurrection event demonstrates to our community that theatre, as performance, as literature, and as history, as political and social commentary, has a place in the modern urban university in service to the campus and the community."

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