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Shakespeare Company at UCLA to bring the Bard’s tales to life in Sunday production

A member of Shakespeare Company at UCLA rehearses for the theater organization’s annual “Evening of Shakespeare” production. The collection of classic scenes will be performed on Sunday, featuring presentations from six different directors with distinct styles. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

“Evening of Shakespeare”

Nov. 19

Sculpture Garden

By Yuna Choi

Nov. 18, 2023 6:44 p.m.

Shakespeare Company at UCLA is honoring tradition with a modern flair.

Shakespeare Company at UCLA is a student-run theater organization that provides a space for lovers of classic literature and performance on campus. On Sunday, they will host their annual “Evening of Shakespeare” production, a cabaret of scenes derived from classic tales of the Bard. Runic Smith, a third-year theater student and the club’s executive director, said the company’s mission is to bring Shakespearean theater to UCLA and make it accessible to everyone, regardless of a student’s affiliation with the art form.

“We are an all-inclusive collective of a bunch of dedicated artists,” Smith said. “We wish to reinvigorate the works of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries with thoughtful and well-constructed, daring productions. (We also) use the canon of the Bard to discuss elements of the world that we live in today.”

[Related: Emma Fiske-Dobell wins college comedy award for script ‘Shakespeare’s Sister‘]

Connected by a mutual, deep admiration of the Bard, Smith said the performers and creative directors work seamlessly to breathe life into timeless works. Emily Fritz, a fourth-year English student and artistic director of Shakespeare Company at UCLA, described her moment of realization of her love for Shakespeare as visceral and emotional. She said the cognizance of how words from someone who lived hundreds of years prior can still remain relevant was riveting.

Moreover, Fritz said Shakespeare had a distinct impact on Western society.

From language laws to retellings that stood the test of time, Smith said Shakespeare’s impact on society as a whole is prevalent in many aspects of students’ current lives. He said it is especially intriguing to trace stories that have been influenced by culture and time back to their roots and examine what might have caused them to be written. Fritz added that the club aims to show modern audiences why these historical matters are still significant.

“It’s pinpointing the ways in which the topics discussed in these plays exist in our own society, in our own lives,” Fritz said. “That can feel very raw and real to this current world. It’s not something that is disconnected from what we’re experiencing – It is speaking directly to the present.”

Ben Cole, a second-year theater student and director of the company’s upcoming winter production, said while Shakespeare may appear daunting to some due to the challenging vernacular, Shakespeare Company at UCLA encourages individuals to reexamine the texts in a more active setting. Cole said while reading Shakespeare was not his cup of tea in high school, the complexities of Shakespeare could be more thoroughly examined once they were represented by bodies on a stage.

“The turning point is when I gained an understanding that what we are reading is, in fact, a play script,” Cole said. “Plays aren’t solely meant to be read. Shakespeare is done better once it is performed. … What makes Shakespeare fascinating is hearing the words out loud and seeing a body on stage embrace and live in the world of the text.”

Despite the love of Shakespeare running deep in the club, Fritz said everyone has discovered their love for Shakespeare at various points in life. Inclusivity is an important factor within the troupe, Smith added, and all majors from cognitive science to theater are invited to participate in the art form. The group’s commitment to inclusivity enriches the performances and infuses them with multifaceted perspectives, Smith said.

While they appreciate classic texts, Shakespeare Company at UCLA also experiments with adding modern touches and showcasing how the works can stay relevant in an ever-changing era, Cole said. For example, the organization’s winter production of “Macbeth” is going to be produced through a Western lens, Cole said, featuring the themes of the classic wild west. The company revels in the freedom of layering in these modern elements to classic texts, Cole added.

Furthermore, Fritz said Shakespeare Company at UCLA often interacts with and revitalizes the classic pieces they work with. They seek to subvert all the traditional rules that surround their scenes, Fritz added. By blending classic themes with modern contexts, the company hopes to highlight the universality of human emotions and invite diverse audiences to connect to the performance, Fritz said.

[Related: Act III Theatre Ensemble discusses representing the queer experience on stage]

Whether a student is a Shakespeare novice or a seasoned enthusiast, the company encourages all to attend the “Evening of Shakespeare,” Smith said. The mashup of both Shakespearean scenes and innovative creative directors births a night of laid-back and prolific fun, Smith added. It sets a precedent for what’s to come while also reaffirming the message that everyone is welcome, Smith said. Consisting of a wide variety of plays, the showcase combines the styles of six different directors, Fritz said, with the goal of presenting the Bard’s work in a more accessible way.

“It is an incredible opportunity to see a lot of different creative minds at work,” Fritz said, “and to see these pieces of these plays come to life in a myriad of different ways, and to experience the potential of Shakespeare’s work through… something that is alive and exciting and very creative.”

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Yuna Choi
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