Four days, six plays. That was last weekend’s itinerary for the 15 Hillsdale students who attended the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, the largest Shakespeare festival in North America.
“It was a good chance for students to see top-notch professional theatre,” professor of theatre James Brandon said. This was at least his 10th time attending the internationally renowned Stratford Festival, which he said is the most high-quality theatre in driving distance of Hillsdale.
The six plays were Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” “John Gabriel Borkman” by Henrik Ibsen, “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller, the musical “A Chorus Line,” and “Breath of Kings,” a two-part play that combines Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” “Henry IV part I,” “Henry IV part II,” and “Henry V.”
Senior theatre major Dani Morey said “Breath of Kings” was “seamlessly bound together,” and offered an interesting comparison of each king: The first half was performed one evening, and the second half the following morning. Not only did this offer a glimpse into the reign of each king in quick succession, Morey said, but it gave audience members a chance to ponder the first half over the night before diving into the second.
“It wasn’t like saying, ‘Oh yeah, I saw ‘Richard II’ a couple of years ago,’” Morey said. “You could clearly see the juxtaposition of leader roles and the difference in language.”
Morey also said the performance of “As You Like It,” which was set in the 1980s and featured extensive audience participation, was “close to how Shakespeare would have wanted it performed. It was a party atmosphere.”
Junior Rachel Watson said she enjoyed “A Chorus Line.” The show follows actors and actresses through an audition process, which hits home for those involved with theatre and dance on campus.
“It was interesting to see the progression from drama to classic Shakespeare to comedy and to ‘A Chorus Line,’’ Watson said. “It kind of moved from the simplest to the most choreographed.”
Overall, Watson, a dancer, said the festival was fantastic, although the intense weekend included a lot of theatre.
Hillsdale attends the festival every fall, a tradition started before Brandon began teaching at Hillsdale. Brandon said the beautiful community and small town feel of Stratford was particularly enjoyable. “The shows are very similar to the way we program shows here,” Brandon said.