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Honoring Shakespeare’s Legacy with the UCI Shakespeare Center

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By Nicholas Oritz

The classics of English, poetry, and theater were all cultivated by the legacy of William Shakespeare’s pen. His writings were the height of the English Renaissance. Even today, his tales are accessible; his stories circulate in various ways, including  poetry reading and reenactment.

The UCI Shakespeare Center was created and designed to shine a spotlight on the poet, especially his influence which still has such a strong hold. Julia Lupton, faculty director of Humanities Commons and Illuminations, and Eli Simon, artistic director of the New Swan Shakespeare Festival at UCI, collaborated and co-founded the Shakespeare Center in 2015.

With this partnership, the Humanities and Arts would be able to collaborate more with a hybrid of ideas co-existing and relating to one another.

“There’s a lot of universities where the English and arts professors don’t know each other’s names, let alone collaborate or befriend,” said Lupton. “A turning point [for me] was the founding of the New Swan Shakespeare Festival.”

Hosted and produced in collaboration with UCI, The New Swan Shakespeare Festival is a program that mimics the Globe Theater and stages two different Shakespeare plays each summer. The founder, Eli Simon, created the program and has been overseeing it since 2011.

“To be able to learn from the drama faculty, students and theatre-makers of all sorts, since I had been [working at UCI] for a long time I know a lot of people on campus,” said Lupton. “[I] tried to put things together, to bring people together.”

Starting winter quarter, the Shakespeare Center began programs that involved tales of actors and their stories of personal impact because of Shakespeare.

Three events have occurred already during the center’s season: a one woman show by Lisa Wolpe titled Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, a presentation by Jay Pather called Global Shakespeare: Afternoon Symposium, and a reading of Hamlet with Ketu Katrak.

On Jan. 16, in Winifred Smith Hall, Lisa Wolpe performed her one-woman show about her family history which she discovered after her father’s suicide.

Wolpe is an artistic director of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, a company that encourages women to take on male roles and roles woman do not typically portray. As a producer, director, and actor, Wolpe’s passion is to empower women in the theater.

In Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, Wolpe used monologues from previous roles she had played such as Henry V, Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. After telling stories about her father to relate the concept on how universal Shakespeare is, to her story and everyone.

“I like these one-person productions because they are very transportable. We [the Shakespeare Center] don’t have to charge admission and can tie it to a class or two and help build the audience,” said Lupton.

The Afternoon Symposium was hosted by  multicultural choreography coordinator Jay Pather who stages mainly Shakespeare. Pather, originally from South Africa but of Indian descent,  mainly represents his multi-racial origins in his work. In his role as a choreographer and director, Pather works mainly in sight-specific productions.

“As an English professor,” said Lupton, “we think of Shakespeare as, ‘How does Shakespeare represent the world?’ Shakespeare deals with archetypes [in his stories]; therefore these cultures all have their own stories that are often very resonant.”

Shakespeare’s stories can be easily understood and used throughout different cultures and countries to relate it to the issues relevant to real-world events.

The most recent event of the center’s season was a series of   readings of Hamlet in Langston Library on Jan. 25, Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 all at 5:30-7 p.m.

The readings of Hamlet are preparation for the biggest event of the season: On Wednesday, April 11, the Irvine Barclay Theatre will stage a  prosecution against Hamlet. Arguments and counterarguments are made of evidence from the play itself and the audience is allowed to determine the outcome of Hamlet’s innocence or guilt.

The lecture will have Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of  Berkeley Law, and Song Richardson, UCI dean of Law, respectively prosecuting and defending Hamlet’s case. This is all overseen by the Honorable District Judge, Andrew Guilford.