Summer means many things to many people but for theatre folk, it’s Shakespeare season.
On the Avalon Peninsula alone there’s the venerable Shakespeare by the Sea summer festival (now in it’s 19th year) and the New World Theatre Project (which grew out of a collaboration between the town of Cupids and Rabbittown Theatre in St. John’s).
On the mainland, there’s the famous Stratford festival in southwestern Ontario and Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach.
Dr. Robert Ormsby of the Faculty of Arts is interested in how theatrical productions use William Shakespeare’s work to reinforce their own unique local identity. He has recently received his first SSHRC standard research grant for a project examining how nine recent Shakespeare productions have negotiated international cultural relationships.
“Within national culture, there are distinct identities. In this recent project, I’m looking at how Shakespeare helps to create those identities based on how people use his work,” says Ormsby. “I’m focusing on how ‘the local’ is something that is created in relation to a sense of an internationalizing force, such as Shakespeare, often in combination with some form of ostensibly threatening ‘globalization.’ I’m specifically interested in how the performance of this long-dead playwright’s work continues to be used by different local communities to help define themselves.”
As an example, Ormsby offers the Stratford Festival in Ontario.
“One of the pretexts of creating the festival in the first place was to blunt the cultural influence of the United States,” comments Ormsby.
As part of the SSHRC project, the associate professor of English will look at the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows (2003-2006), which, says Ormsby, “imagines ‘Canadian’ Shakespeare at a fictionalized Stratford Festival imperiled by American corporatism and commercialization.”
Ormsby also plans to examine MacHomer, a hugely popular one-man adaptation that blends The Simpsons with Shakespeare, several French-language productions designed by Robert LePage, and the New World Theatre’s productions in Cupids.
“I wanted productions that had a strong local identity but also an international quality. In the case of Cupids, which recently celebrated 400 years of settlement, I will be looking at how they are using Shakespeare to commemorate a permanent English presence in Newfoundland and, by extension, early transnational travel,” says Dr. Ormsby, who attributes the global phenomenon of Shakespeare to, among many other factors, the international spread of British power from the 17th to the 19th century.
“Shakespeare’s themes have certainly been construed as ‘universal’ but you can undoubtedly trace certain reasons why and how he has become as globally significant as he now is.”
Dr. Ormsby is quick to acknowledge the support of his colleagues when making his application and he is particularly grateful for the generous feedback and encouragement he received from the English department’s Dr. Denyse Lynde and Ms. Theresa Heath, grants facilitator for the Faculty of Arts.