The lights dimmed, and the rustling theater-goers quieted in anticipation. That moment — between reality and the story — prepared the audience for a journey, either of laughter or tears, of entertainment or catharsis.
Fourteen Hillsdale students had the opportunity to witness the lights rising on six professionally produced plays this past week at the internationally renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada.
Theater department chairman James Brandon described the festival as “the nest classical theater in North America” and a “gem” worth seeing.
The students, five alumni, and seven faculty members traveled to Stratford for four days for the annual trip to the festival. Of the faculty members, only three were theater professors; members of the philosophy, Spanish, and English departments joined as well.They saw six plays: some Shakespeare, a Greek tragedy, a musical, and an absurdist work, among others.
As well as learning from the shows they saw, students were able to experience the quaint small-town feel of the city of Stratford, walk in the Shakespeare Gardens, and enjoy the city’s theater culture.
Hillsdale students have the opportunity to see these shows at a discounted student rate.
On this trip, they saw “Timon of Athens” and “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, a dark English Renaissance play by Thomas Middleton, a twentieth century French absurdist comedy, and “Tartuffe” by Moliere, the renowned seventeenth century French playwright. For the sixth show, students could choose between “The Bakkhai” by Euripides and “Guys and Dolls” by Frank Loesser.
Senior Nikolai Dignoti described “The Bakkhai” as the “most technically excellent play” he saw in Stratford.
Set in Thebes, the play centers around Dionysos, god of wine and fertility, and the women he entraps into frenzied worship in his mystic cult. When mortals like King Pentheus challenge Dio- nysos’s godship, a terrible fate befalls him.
Dignoti, Catherine Coffey ’16, and junior Jessica MacFarlane said they were enchanted by actor Mac Fyfe’s performance as Dionysos.
“He was the most well-trained actor I have ever seen,” MacFarlane said. “Not a finger was ever out of place.”
Those who chose the musical “Guys and Dolls” over the Greek tragedy also experienced a masterpiece. Students witnessed show-stopping choreography, phenomenal costumes, magnificent sets, and, of course, top-notch acting.
Senior Glynis Gilio, who also attended the festival last year, said the Stratford musicals were “better than Broadway.”
The trip, as a whole, complemented the theater classes she had taken at the college, she said.
“We understand that theater was meant to be seen, not read,” Gilio said, “so we get to experience the shows we read as they should be experienced.”