Local Scholars & Performers


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William Bastian - Music Instructor at College of St. Scholastica

As a singer, I have sung music written to poetry by William Shakespeare and came to enjoy the beauty of the sound of the English language.  It encouraged me to realize that there are some works that need to be heard...plays, of course, by their very nature, and all poetry revels in the sound of the language.  The beauty of the King James Version of the Bible literally leaps from the page when read  aloud.  And writers like Edgar Allan Poe take on a totally different feel when actually heard.  All my life I was forced to drive through all sorts of Shakespeare plays (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, just to name a few).  Curiously, they were all "heavies" and we were supposed to be powerfully impressed by the serious intensity of the language and the drama...the "every word is profound" concept that very often leads us into the "great art is hoidy-toidy" concept, requiring a reverential approach like "I am unworthy to even think the title, let alone read it". 

What Shakespeare did for me was that he totally disproved that whole concept.  After having been expected to worship him as a god in every English class I took, I accidentally stumbled on "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "As You Like It", "The Merry Wives...", and other historical plays.  Shakespeare himself told me he was NOT a stuffed shirt.  He was funny, clever, refreshingly scatological, and significantly irreverent.  In short, he was human.  He knew and loved the wide panorama of the human experience and depicted it unflinchingly.  Without the baggage of "godliness" Shakespeare became a real joy, at which point, I could revisit the "turgid dramas" of my youth with new eyes and discover the joy in his brilliant mixture of art and craft.  And he was not alone.  I reveled in plays by Christopher Marlowe (Dr Faustus, Dido the Carthage Queen, Edward II) as well as "Volpone" by Ben Johnson.  Shakespeare's humanness encouraged me to enjoy my humanness.  There is greater joy in being human than there is in being a god.

Sam Quakenbush - Assistant Marketing Director KUMD 103.3FM

103.3 KUMD is dedicated to cultural programming, music, and the arts. Shakespeare is a cultural icon, and as Duluth celebrates his legacy, we wish to further enrich and spotlight the vibrant arts community we have in the Twin Ports. Being involved in Duluth's celebration of Shakespeare and the First Folio means we have an opportunity to share rich stories and events such as Low performing the soundtracks to two Shakespeare films at Karpeles Manuscript Library on October 22nd. Catch First Folio spotlight information on Radio Gallery and Radio Theatre at 103.3fm and live on KUMD.org.

Dr. Kristen Hylenski - Associate Professor of German Studies and Head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at UMD

When we think of Shakespeare, we think of good old England, but Shakespeare’s plays have now been translated into over 90 languages, the first of which was German.  His influence is truly global, and it is impossible to talk about Shakespeare without also turning our eyes towards the rest of the world.  From Calderón de la Barca to Gabriel Gárcia-Márquez, Victor Hugo to Aimé Césaire, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing to Heiner Müller, Alexander Pushkin to Osip Mandelstam, Lin Shu to Zhu Shenghao, Shakespeare has captured the imagination of readers, writers, translators, and filmmakers abroad.  Duluth’s celebration of Shakespeare and the First Folio is important to us because of the ways it enables us to broaden our discussion of Shakespeare to span nations, languages, and epochs.

Leslie Williamson White - Duluth Superior Shape Note Singers

The Duluth Sacred Harp group had its start seven years ago this October, when a weekend-long singing school was held in the Duluth Friends Meetinghouse.  Now this group joins Duluth’s celebration of Shakespeare with a musical tradition originating in the Protestant Dissenting Churches of the 17th Century.  Experience the primal sound of the earliest non-indigenous American sacred music, with its roots in British Isles musical traditions of Shakespeare's time. This is not a performance tradition, but group singing at its most powerful.  Books will be available for use at the event - all are welcome to join in or to sit and be swept into the sound experience. '"Fiercely Beautiful" • "Otherworldly" •  "A New Kind of Fire Arose in Me" In Colonial New England, itinerant Singing Masters traveled from town to town, starting Sacred Harp groups in much the same way as we did in Duluth.  Most of the settlers in the New World were from the British Isles, and the majority of these tunes have their roots in the music of the low church of England, which in turn were inspired by fireside and fiddle tunes of the common folk.  Shakespeare, in his day, would have been familiar with these tunes and the religious sentiments expressed in the archaic poetry of these compositions.  We’re excited to be able to show a different side of the musical culture that Shakespeare would have seen arise in the religious conflicts of his time -- conflicts that resulted in the pilgrim fathers bringing this music to the Americas.  It took the hardy colonials in earliest America to create the unique and potent mix of the tunes and religious poetry from their homelands, which is often overlaid with the primal and drumming rhythms of the Native Americans and Africans whose music they were exposed to.  Shakespeare would have recognized the form we now use, and even though he wasn’t a dissenter, he probably could not have helped responding to the sheer energy and power of this unique musical form!

Kate Horvath - Playhouse

William Shakespeare was my first love and I fell hard -  at age 7. I have spent the past 30 years or so living that love. One way it is socially acceptable to express this natural enthusiasm is by sharing my passion for theatre - especially Shakespeare - with the community and our students at the Duluth Playhouse. So much gratitude is owed to family and later a few teachers - because had my voracious reading not been encouraged as a very young child – I may have missed out on many adventures. Someone gifted me paperback copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet when I was in the second grade. I think it was a challenge. So, I dug into his plays and changed my life. I still have those scripts with the elementary markings of a left handed child - my name inside the front cover – in case they were ever lost. 

They were never lost.

Shakespeare gave me a love and respect for poetry, literature, and a damn fine yarn. He inspired a curiosity that led to a heavy dictionary, a thesaurus, musty encyclopedias, and the library. His words connected my childhood present in Superior, WI to the past – a world of history and theatre and the people who made both. I am no expert in any of it, but a lover of all of it and still hungry to learn. This drive coupled with a romantic belief that integrity and character matter plus a healthyish stubborn streak equaled a conviction that anything is possible. Even that I could grow up to be an actor and simply say these beautiful words on stage and mean them.

I would be in my early 20’s before I saw a professional production of a Shakespeare play live, but I imagined every detail growing up. I read out-loud, misspeaking words I’d never heard pronounced, did school plays, and crowed when reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World while scanning my teenaged classmates to see:

1.) If they were awake and

2.) If they were aware that John needed only the Complete Works to be a complete human.

Shakespeare emboldened me to tell my parents I would be an English major at UMD who was considering Law - and then sign up to be a Theatre Major at freshman orientation instead. In pursuit of him I moved to New York City just a few weeks after 9/11. 

This Shakespeare thing turns out to be the real deal.

Today - after that early aughts stint in NYC as a professional actor and almost a decade in Duluth at the Playhouse - theatre is still my living, a verb. Students shine and theatre is made fresh, daily in this town. I enthuse often and act occasionally. When I get to simply say Shakespeare’s beautiful words I mean them. It is an honor and privilege to help Playhouse students find their voices and sometimes their way – more often than not clutching one of William Shakespeare’s scripts in their hands while they chart undiscovered country.  And who knows where this love will take me - I am not done living Shakespeare yet.

Chani Ninneman - Wise Fool Shakespeare

When I was sixteen, I received my first copy of the collected works of William Shakespeare for Christmas. It was a pretentiously large book, with pages so thin you could almost see through them. It smelled like literature. Emblazoned on the pristine white cover were the words:

The Yale Shakespeare

The Complete Works

Edited and annotated under the direction of the Department of English, Yale University

Edited by? My parents hadn’t noticed that when they were in the bookstore. Why did these plays need editing? Was there dirty stuff in there? (Yes.) Was Shakespeare inappropriate for their sixteen year old daughter. (So terribly, terribly wicked.) Had they set her on the path to total moral corruption? (It is decidedly so!) None of us knew why the works of William Shakespeare needed to be edited, but thankfully the Yale English Department was given the benefit of the doubt and I was allowed to keep the book. Huzzah!

Now, I would love to be able to tell you that this incident sent me on a quest for knowledge that only stopped when I learned all about the First Folio and I became a great Shakespearean scholar. I would love to tell you that, but I can’t. I remained completely ignorant of this glorious text until I started Wise Fool Shakespeare in 2011. I know, I know! It’s nuts, but I’m choosing the path of total honesty – no matter how embarrassing it might be. Because there is nothing worse than watching Shakespeare where the actors don’t understand what they’re saying, I decided to start hiring a text coach to help our actors better understand how to deliver Shakespeare’s lines. Enter Michael – a voice and text coach working in the Twin Cities. He arrived at the first rehearsal with a huge, red, leather-bound book. (My book had not been leather-bound. This was clearly a superior book!) It was Shakespeare’s First Folio, and it was AWESOME.

This was the book we as theater practitioners were meant to be reading, not books like the Yale Shakespeare. Why had that one been edited by the English Department, and not the Theater Department? Because the Folio is perfect for actors just the way it is.

Now, I absolutely think there is a place for modern editions of Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, we use them in rehearsal. They’re cleaner, easier to read, and come with great footnotes. But our actors are encouraged to study the Folio and check differences in punctuation, spelling, etc. for performance clues. Performance clues, you say? Yes! In Shakespeare’s day, the actors were given just three days to put on a show. (It fills me with anxiety just thinking about that. We rehearse for at least five weeks today!) Because of the tight schedule, or maybe he was just a control freak, Shakespeare did everything he could to take all the guesswork out of performing his plays. These clues are preserved forever in the First Folio. As part of Duluth’s First Folio celebration, Wise Fool Shakespeare is thrilled to be presenting one of our favorite plays from the collection – Othello, the Moor of Venice, October 7-16 in the beautiful new Lincoln Park Middle School’s auditorium. Since we’re knee-deep in this text right now, let’s use Othello as an example of how the First Folio is helping us prepare.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a misspelling from 400 years ago, but you’ll likely find the word written more than once. Take the word “ancient”. In the context of this play, an ancient is a low military rank – an ensign. Iago, livid at being passed up for a promotion from ancient to lieutenant, is the first to use the word. It’s spelled Auntient – since the word is both capitalized and misspelled, it’s a pretty good clue that Iago has strong feelings about it. Later, Othello uses the word and it is spelled Aunciant. The actor knows to put special emphasis on this word because of the misspelling, and it’s like an extra twist of the knife to Iago. Othello is not being cruel here, but since he is the one who did not grant the expected promotion, it would be incredibly significant to Iago. A third occurrence of the word comes from Cassio – the man who did get the lieutenant promotion. His line is the only one that spells the word correctly – Ancient. It speaks to Cassio’s nature. He is an innocent, completely without guile, and he is targeted for destruction by Iago as a result – an easy mark. In the modern text, all three lines feature the word written as “ancient”. Not nearly as informative, is it? Yes, you can get all of that subtext by studying the play. But remember – three days! That’s all the actors had, and they didn’t even get complete copies of the script. They only received sheets with their lines and cues written out. There were no copyright laws back then, so this was as much for expediency as it was for safe-keeping.

Over the last six seasons, in comparing modern texts to the Folio text, we’ve found periods turn into question marks, verse passages become prose, and lines that were missing completely. The First Folio is the absolute best source for someone who wants to read the text as Shakespeare intended. And it’s coming to Duluth! We get to breathe the same air as this incredible piece of history! (Right, books don’t breathe and it will be under a glass case – stay with me here!) Only one city in each state was awarded this privilege, and it feels like a minor miracle that Duluth was chosen. Let’s celebrate it together!