We were intrigued to learn that Zaporizhzhia, the sixth-largest city in Ukraine, is home to the exciting academic and cultural venture that is the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

Assistant Professor Darya Lazarenko writes:

When this idea first came up, everybody laughed at us – what would Shakespeare have to do with a totally unknown-to-the-world industrial city in the south of Ukraine? We agreed, and jokingly spoke about establishing a Shakespeare Museum. Why not, after all? To paraphrase the words of Ben Jonson, “he was not of an age, but for all time” – and all countries (and cities, at that)! We kept calm and carried on. And so, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine in 2009 the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre was established by Professor Nataliya Torkut, a Ukrainian Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar, and a team of devoted ‘Ariels’.

Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

Today the USC is one of the leading Ukrainian academic institutions in the domain of Shakespeare studies, and though we are still sometimes looked at as ‘upstart crows’, we do not mind – we feel proud, in fact. Our aim is to help Ukrainian scholars, teachers, students, readers and theatre-goers believe they all can be upstart crows too.

The Centre organized and successfully carried out five International Shakespeare conferences (in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016). In cooperation with the Union of Ukrainian Women in the USA, we established an Annual competition of Shakespeare research papers for young Ukrainian scholars, named after Vitaliy Keis. We all very much enjoy reading those ambitious, daring and sometimes even touchingly iconoclastic works that are sent to us for review. We believe this initiative will help us fight the “copy and paste” syndrome that has befallen the young generation.

Professor Nataliya Torkut

Professor Nataliya Torkut

In 2009 the Centre launched the website The Ukrainian Shakespeare Portal, which is the first attempt of multimedia representation of Ukrainian Shakespeareana. The portal is regularly updated – it contains a large selection of articles on Shakespeare-related issues (written in Ukrainian, Russian and English), Ukrainian translations of the Bard’s drama and poetry, and an extensive database concerning the Ukrainian reception of Shakespeare’s legacy. Going online for us is one of the ways to prove Shakespeare is not just modern and relevant, but is at the very edge cutting edge today.

To foster Shakespeare scholarship in Ukraine, the Centre has established the annual scholarly journal Shakespeare Discourse (three issues have been published so far). This journal has gained recognition not only in Ukraine but also abroad. Its regular contributors are Shakespeare researchers from the USA, Canada, the UK, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Germany and the Netherlands.

Shakespeare Tragedies Kyiv
We have already started a process of collecting a special Shakespeare library which is unique for Ukraine. Thanks to donations made by Helmut Bonheim, Sophie Pashe, Stanley Wells, Balz Engler, Paul Franssen, Daniel Doerksen, Mary Elisabeth Smith, Michael Dobson and others, this library will allow us to provide critical works on Shakespeare to our colleagues all over Ukraine.

Another aim of the Centre – probably, the most significant one in the long-term perspective – is spreading Shakespeare’s word among young people in our country and making the Bard’s heritage a core element of the Ukrainian school literary curriculum. The members of the Centre conducted several seminars on teaching Shakespeare at school, established the annual competition for school teachers ‘The Best Shakespeare Lesson’ (since 2013), and offer scholarly and methodological support of Shakespeare-related projects at school. In 2014 we launched the email subscription Shakescribe.ua which contains curious facts about the Bard, his writings, life and times.

Professor Kateryna Vasylyna

Professor Kateryna Vasylyna

Youngsters are the most challenging and at the same time the most gratifying audience. They often come to us with a conviction that Shakespeare is just a monument on a high pedestal – celebrated, even worshipped, but – alas! – boring. Our aim here is to let the kids see the truth about Shakespeare – his plays are anything but boring! We do it by encouraging them to play along – become Shakespeare scholars themselves and discover, for example, why Malvolio’s stockings were actually yellow and why he so much favoured the notorious cross garters.

They become philosophers when dwelling on the mysterious words of Ben Jonson: “Thou are a monument without a tomb” and work on their eloquence while defending Shakespeare-the-glover’s-son against the anti-Stratfordian claims. By finding out that Shakespeare married young and that he turned out to be a very successful businessman they establish a close ‘supertemporal’ connection with him – he seems to them younger and less of a monument. We hope that in such a way we will kindle the light of curiosity that will in the future make them devour hundreds and thousands of books – not only Shakespeare, but other writers too. We hope that reading will help them change the world and make it a better place for all of us to live in – without war and hatred.

Shakespeare figures Torkut 2
Even more projects we see in our mind’s eye. And this, probably, is one of the best things about our Centre – it gives hope, it inspires and makes you believe in miracles – with all the slings and arrows still flying around in these turbulent times. If you would like to join our company of dreamers, “lunatics, lovers and poets”, you are very welcome! We are looking forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions, words of encouragement or criticism, anything from love letters to translations and lesson plans – at lrs_info@meta.ua

For more information, visit the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre website.

Pennsylvania’s Gamut Theatre Group christens its new theatre with performance of Twelfth Night

Normally, standing ovations come at the end of a performance, but the opening performance of Gamut Theatre Group’s Twelfth Night was bookended by them.

As co-founders Clark and Melissa Nicholson took the stage to welcome the audience to the new theatre, the crowd erupted into applause, and as the actors returned to bow at the close, the same sound filled the new “cathedral to the arts”.

Full Cast
It has been a long journey to renovate and reinvent the historic church building into a top notch performance and education space, but one worth the work. Before the move, Gamut had to perform in a rented space in a city shopping mall. Admittedly, they put on great performances there, but the new space holds much more potential – and gives them a permanent home.

Harrisburg, most well known for being the bankrupt capital of the state of Pennsylvania, lacks a strong reputation for the arts. However, many people committed to both the city and to the arts have been working to change that.

Feste and Toby
For the past 21 years, Gamut has been working to rejuvenate the city through the power of theatre. Even before the new space, Gamut mounted several shows a year, including educational shows that went on tour to schools around the northeast US, as well as offering classes on Shakespeare performance and education.

This new space will allow them continue and expand upon all their realms of work, with several classroom spaces, along with performance and rehearsal spaces.

drunk surgeon
The design of the mainstage pays homage to Early Modern theatre with a wooden thrust stage and facade featuring three entrances as well as a balcony – very reminiscent of the shape of The Globe or Blackfriars. But, looking up doesn’t reveal starlight or candelabras, but a lattice of lighting and sound equipment. It’s a marriage between the past and the present.

Of course, what use is a beautiful theatre without performances to complement it? The opening performance of Twelfth Night matched the space perfectly. The actors brought the scenes to life with the Bard’s lines rather than elaborate sets pieces or props. When modern technology appeared, it subtly heightened the action of the scene without interrupting it.

Ceasario and Olivia Arch Pity Me
The same care that defines the new space was given to the performance of the text. Each character contained nuance and variety, creating a multi-faceted production full of laughs and drama. Tom Weaver’s performance as Malvolio contrasted in every way Francesca Amendolia’s performance as Feste, adding an undercurrent of humor and intrigue to the convoluted romance unfolding.

For their first season, the Gamut Theatre Group is bringing their usual array of children’s shows (such as A Christmas Carol currently running for the holiday season), Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti (opening after the new year), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in February. Interspersed amongst those main shows, there are also a number of performances from their improvisational team as well as community projects with their Stage Door Series.

Go here for more information on Gamut Theatre Group.