Shakespeare meets Wisconsin in accessible UW-Madison programs

photo_shakespearience 2016
Participants in Shakespearience Weekend pose on the stage of American Players Theatre.

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago but is alive and well in Wisconsin. An article in Wisconsin People & Ideas tours homegrown venues that produce his plays, from American Players Theatre in Spring Green to Young Shakespeare Players in Madison to Door Shakespeare in Door County.

The article also describes recent initiatives from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that make Shakespeare more accessible to state residents.

Last year, a massive open online course (MOOC) called Shakespeare in Community brought Puck, Prospero, and Romeo and Juliet into the digital age. Anyone with a computer connection could sign up for the free noncredit course, which offered discussion forums, articles, lectures, and videos that brought the plays to life. More than 22,000 people joined the online conversation.

Sarah Marty, arts programming area director at UW-Madison Continuing Studies, helped design the MOOC for community members who might find Shakespeare intimidating. She told Wisconsin People & Ideas that the course emphasized his “ability to show us humanity. Whether it’s goodness or it’s evil or just messy complexity, his talent as a writer is that he’s showing a range of ages, a range of experiences, a range of characters.”

Shakespearience Weekend featured a workshop on 'King Lear' outdoors in Spring Green.
Shakespearience Weekend featured a workshop on ‘King Lear’ outdoors in Spring Green.

For those desiring a face-to-face encounter with Shakespeare’s work, Marty organized a UW-Madison program called Shakespearience Weekend. Participants spent the weekend in Spring Green, watching and discussing productions at American Players Theatre. It was an immersive experience featuring lectures by Marty and UW-Madison English professor Joshua Calhoun, along with a behind-the-scenes tour of APT.

‘This amazing, incredible object’

Shakespearience Weekend ties into Shakespeare in Wisconsin, sponsored by UW-Madison Libraries to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The yearlong celebration includes a national traveling exhibition of a First Folio, the collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays from 1623. This precious document—one of only 235 First Folios in existence—will stop at the Chazen Museum of Art from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

Marty hopes that, like Shakespeare in Community and Shakespearience Weekend, the First Folio exhibit will spark meaningful conversations in Wisconsin.

“This book is hundreds of years old and it’s beautiful,” she told Wisconsin People & Ideas. “It’s this amazing, incredible object that someone held in their hands in the 1600s.”

View more information on Humanities programs at Continuing Studies or contact Sarah Marty at sarah.marty@wisc.edu, 608-263-2790.