A little bit of Shakespeare

In with the new and out with the old. Last year it was Comedy of Errors, this year it is Gertrude and Seven Lears, both plays with a twist of William Shakespeare in them.

Every spring, a group of actors and actresses come rom England to help USF students stage a theatrical event. This will be the 12th year this program, known as The British International Theatre (BRIT) Program has been in effect.

About 17 to 20 students are chosen each year for the BRIT Program. There are 28 to 30 students involved in the production of the plays. The students who are not acting are getting experience in stage work, lighting crew, costume makers, setting crew, ushers, and stage managers. Auditions are held during the end of the fall semester. Once the students are picked for the parts, they rehearse are every day.

“The students must have excellent performance skills, an adventurous spirit, be very flexible and open to new ideas,” said theater professor Denis Calandra.

Howard Barker is the writer of these plays that the USF students act out on stage. Barker, a native of South London, majored in history at Sussex University. Barker became interested in writing while attending college and writing more than 30 plays. He published several volumes of poetry and is widely recognized as one of the major European dramatists. His plays are regularly produced in Europe.

“Barker is very well-respected in many countries all over the world. He is not known so well in this country, so I feel other people, as well as the students here, should witness one of his plays,” Calandra said.

Melanie Jessop and Jane Bertish are two well-known actresses who work for Barker and came to the BRIT program to direct the students.

“He is Britain’s greatest living dramatist, and his poetic voice is an inspiration to every actor who works on his text,” Jessop said. “I was 17 when I first saw one of Barker’s plays. It was The Love of a Good Man at the Royal Court Theatre in London. I went in expecting a normal ‘played-out play’ and came out of that theater a different person. I was blown away by what I heard and knew right then I wanted to work with Barker on his plays.”

This year the workshop is called Inferences. The workshop contains scenes from two plays, Seven Lears and Gertrude.

“Essentially, Seven Lears is Barker’s speculation on the history of King Lear prior to the events in Shakespeare’s play,” Jessop said. “This represents the seven stages or inventions of King Lear’s life.”

This story has sexual content, is highly poetic and very dramatic,” Jessop said.

Gertrude, on the other hand, is about the detailed relationship between Prince Hamlet’s mother and King Claudius. This story investigates the real reason for their relationship and why Claudius and Gertrude chose to kill Hamlet’s father.

“This is a very serious tragedy with dark humor,” Jessop said.

Every year, the team that puts on the BRIT program strives to make the experience for anyone attending better than in previous years.

“One big improvement is that this year’s (workshop) is organized in a more coherent fashion. Also, the artists are a combination of well-seasoned actors and directors,” Calandra said.

Calandra is the artistic director for the Theatre of Arts. He is in charge of arranging the BRIT program every year. He also chooses the students from the auditions who are involved in the BRIT program plays.

“The students this year are a very brave and talented group of advanced-acting individuals,” Calandra said. “The work is extremely demanding, and material is very intense and sometimes upsetting. I’m pleased [the students] are working so hard. The benefits will be known in their professional career.”

Jessop and Bertish have a common goal for the students.

“(We want the students to) investigate a modern classical text and explore the language of Barker and particular demands and rewards of working on his text,” Jessop said.

Calandra said Barker’s plays inspire his teaching style, specifically when studying Shakespeare.

“I have been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years,” Calandra said. “Barker’s meditation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear is personally fascinating. The extremes of emotion in Barker’s plays shed a kind of blinding light on Shakespeare’s classics.”

The play will be held in the theatre center on the Tampa campus in TAR 120. Show times are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. These plays contain adult language and themes.

Contact Brandi O’Learyat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com