Traditional Canon Still Brave New World For Many

Today was the presentation of final projects for the Semester of Shakespeare the literature classes participate in. (It is also the observation of Shakespeare’s birthday!) I have a little bit of a personal investment in the event because I encouraged the literature people to engage in interdisciplinary events with some performances we were presenting a few years back. The literature professors ran with it and have done something on a different Shakespearean play since then. This has included public viewings of films, stage combat classes and interaction with period music. It all ends with an event like tonight’s. The students present projects in the theatre courtyard and then everyone comes inside to watch performances of excerpts from the script and period music. This year’s play was The Tempest. Some of the projects were pretty clever and included trivia games where you advanced on a board laid out on the ground and wore some costume pieces. Others looked like they stole action figurines from younger brothers that morning to glue on poster board. Actually, there was one group that used action figures to make their own movie version of the play. Another group used the old vortex in a soda bottle science experiment in order to create a sort of literal representation of a tempest. Shakespeare may seem like a poor choice as a recurring theme since his works are essentially the default people envision when they think of plays. The NEA’s Shakespeare Initiative was seen by many as an attempt to appease critics because his works were seen as generally non-offensive. (There is plenty fodder for controversy, but it is a known quantity.) While the language is perceived as challenging, the ubiquitous presence of the plays and their influence on culture means they aren’t really seen as pushing any boundaries. The number of times I have seen The Tempest alone…. Hard as it is to believe, there are quite a few people for whom the plays are completely new and represent virgin horizons. What has been analyzed, interpreted and reimagined to death for some of us, comprises the pinnacle of cultural mastery to many with little experience with the works. No small number observed that tonight was their first time in a theatre as I helped hand out playbills. For that alone, the literature department’s efforts tastes a little of victory to me. (Also, a lot of the students baked cookies for their displays. I had been tied up with work into the evening so it also tasted like dinner.) The hope I think we all share is that the students find the experience of this past semester an enriching one that cultivates an appreciation for Shakespeare and theatre. They certainly had to delve into the themes and language to produce their projects. One student rendered a scene into the local creole which meant he had to understand the original text fairly well. Now if the professors really want to get their students’ interested, they will choose Titus Andronicus. It has ludicrous amounts of blood and gore to hold everyone’s attention and except for Julie Taymor’s film version, I have never seen it.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to Butts In The Seats and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Thank you for subscribing.

Please enter a valid email address

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend