40th annual Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference at Wright State

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Actress Carla Bennett in the Gershwin musical Crazy For You at the Stratford Theatre Festival, who also teaches workshops at ‘Encountering Shakespeare’

“To be or not to be?” That is definitely not a question when it comes to the annual Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference, a multi-day event centering on historical, cultural, textual, and virtual examinations on the man known as England’s National Poet, which is now in the 40th year of its existence. For this four-decade long celebration of all things Shakespeare in the Buckeye State, this year’s conference will be taking place at Wright State University right here in Dayton’s backyard, hosting teachers, scholars, and actors from places near and abroad.

“We are hosting a humanities conference featuring the latest scholarship on Shakespeare and his contemporaries, renowned plenaries on literature and culture, teaching workshops for high school and college educators, discussions of 21st century interpretations of Renaissance drama, and an array of artistic expressions engaging Shakespeare in musical and dramatic performances,” explains Carol Mejia LaPerle, Wright State associate professor of English and Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference board member. “We had almost 80 submissions to this year’s conference with scholars coming from across the country and abroad. The Ohio Valley region is well-represented, enabling a rigorous yet friendly atmosphere in which to share scholarship.”

But even with the conference celebrating its 40th anniversary, and now drawing the attention from Shakespeare fans and academics from across the globe, its history goes back even further to a somewhat simple premise.

“Professor David George of Urbana University notes that ‘the catalyst was, of course, English majors being required to take a Shakespeare course, starting in the mid-1960s. That fired up interest in what professors were writing’,” LaPerle explains. “Professors from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and West Virginia have served on the board through the years. Since the first conference in 1976, the organization has sponsored the keynote presentations of significant Shakespearean [scholars] across the globe, such as Ian Smith, Paul Yachnin, Laurie Shannon, David Bevington, Leah Marcus, David Kastan, Katharine Maus, Evelyn Gajowski, Richard Dutton, Lisa Starks, and Lars Engle.”

Each year, the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference has an overarching theme and mission.

“The conference theme, ‘Encountering Shakespeare,’ celebrates Shakespeare’s enduring legacy at the 400th anniversary of his death. We will highlight multidisciplinary approaches to the varied cultural, textual, and virtual encounters with Shakespeare that continue today,” LaPerle elaborates. “Our mission is to strengthen the communication between university faculty, K-12 teachers, students, and community members by encouraging educators to integrate performance pedagogy, digital media resources, and reflective analysis of gender, sexuality, race, and class in Shakespeare’s plays.”

Attendees can “Encounter Shakespeare” via dozens of multimedia events dealing with The Bard beginning on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 20 and concluding the following Saturday night that range from scholarly to recreational, and many of which are free to the general public. These events include interactive teaching workshops prepared by actors from the Stratford Theatre Festival of Canada, over 65 panel-driven projects organized by a specific play or theme led by actors and professors from all over the region, lectures by published Shakespearean scholars and keynote speakers Dr. Ayanna Thompson and Dr. Curtis Perry with their most recent research on The Bard, an exclusive new English translation reading of Umberto Robles’s award-winning one-act play, “The Night That Never Existed,” about what an imaginary night between Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare might have exposed about the knowledge of love by The American Shakespeare Collective of Michigan, and the Shakespeare Gala that will feature musical theater, combat sequences, opera, instrumental music, and interactive Renaissance dance at Wright State’s new Creative Arts Center, which is perhaps the highlight of the Conference’s three-day stand.

“There is no better way to spend a Friday night than at the Shakespeare Gala!” LaPerle says. “It has a catered reception, cash bar, amazing entertainment that gets you off your seats—dancing, interacting, and listening to wonderful music. Additionally, the Gala will feature the Stratford actors and the amazing talents of Wright State faculty and students. It will be an exceptional evening of food, song, and dance. And for those planning a date night, be sure to see one of the dramatic encounters to be presented, entitled ‘Seductive Shakespeare.’”

And, there’s no short-changing the fact that Wright State and Dayton will be playing host to what just might be the biggest Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference so far, and LaPerle recognizes what an honor it will be to have it all go down in the Gem City.

“This is a big deal for local Shakespeare fans because they can learn from the latest scholarship and enjoy the artistic expressions inspired by Shakespeare,” LaPerle says. “Dayton has a vibrant theatrical scene and amazing creative arts culture—and WSU has always been part of that. This event also makes Wright State a destination for scholars from around the country—and as far away as Pakistan and England.”

Encountering Shakespeare: The 40th Annual Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference takes place Thursday–Saturday, Oct. 20–22 at Wright State University,  3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy in Dayton. Days, times, and costs for conference events vary. For more information, please visit Liberal-Arts.Wright.edu/Celia and check ‘Events.’

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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