Visiting Shakespeareans to teach, perform ‘Richard III’ on campus in October

by | Sep 21, 2016

Actors From The London Stage will spend six days on campus showing Shakespeare to classes and audiences “like they’ve never seen it before.”
AFTLS troupe

British actors (from left) Hannah Barrie, Evelyn Miller, Liz Crowther, Paul O’Mahony and Alice Haig will lend their talents to the campus community Oct. 24 to 29 as part of the UMSL College of Arts and Sciences Visiting Scholars Grant Program. (Photos courtesy of the Actors From The London Stage)

Actors From The London Stage are soon headed to the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The five-member British troupe will spend six full days at UMSL next month showing Shakespeare to classes and audiences “like they’ve never seen it before.”

That’s according to Associate Professor of English Kurt Schreyer, and he would know. A scholar of Shakespeare and early English drama, Schreyer first experienced the AFTLS program as a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame years ago.

Now he’s able to share that with colleagues and students at UMSL through a College of Arts and Sciences grant-funded visiting scholars program.

“I had seen various professional and amateur productions of Shakespeare, but nothing quite like an AFTLS production,” Schreyer says. “Five actors play all of the roles in the play. A play like ‘Richard III,’ which they’ll be performing at the Touhill, has more than two dozen parts, so some may play three, four or even six parts. It’s extraordinary.

AFTLS rehearsal

In addition to staging “Richard III” at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on Oct. 28 and 29, the visiting Actors From The London Stage will make appearances in a wide variety of UMSL classes during the week leading up to the performances. They’ll work with students to bring texts to life, building critical thinking, public speaking and team-building skills.

“With just the slightest costume change or use of a prop, they will change character right before your eyes, and perhaps have a dialogue with themselves. I once watched an AFTLS actor perform the roles of Orlando and Charles the Wrestler in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It.’ This meant that in one scene he had to wrestle himself – and he did so brilliantly.”

But it’s not just the troupe’s formal performances at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on UMSL’s North Campus Oct. 28 and 29 that have Schreyer excited about the thespians’ upcoming visit.

In the days leading up to those “Richard III” shows, the actors will, in keeping with the spirit of the visiting scholars program and AFTLS’s vision, conduct workshops across campus and the broader community.

“Hundreds of UMSL students will have the opportunity to meet – and work with – these professional actors who will be visiting our campus,” Schreyer says. “They will be guest instructors not only in theater and English courses, but also classes in the honors college, history, gender studies and foreign languages.”

AFTLS will visit area high schools as well, helping UMSL further its mission of serving the St. Louis metropolitan community. Students at the Grand Center Academy and the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School are among those who will benefit during the week.

On top of that, Schreyer is anticipating the impact of the five actors’ full-length production of “Richard III,” widely considered one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, during the final two days of the UMSL residency. For Schreyer, the way in which the villainous Richard shares his “cruel and ambitious schemes” with the audience has always been both appalling and entertaining.

“We’re asked to laugh at his jokes, to admire his cunning and to congratulate him on his murderous successes – even as we desperately want to cry ‘Watch out!’ to this monster’s unsuspecting victims,” Schreyer says.

AFTLS’s version casts Liz Crowther as Richard, and that decision is likely to resonate on a variety of levels.

“It’s a history play that seems all too timely and illuminating in the present political season,” he says. “A tragedy that makes us laugh, a villain that we admire as much as we despise ­­– and all of this performed by artists bearing some of Britain’s greatest acting laurels.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill