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Linny Fowler Willpower Tour Brings Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival Production to Campus

Erin Guydish Buchholz, PhD
“To sleep -- perchance to dream.” Although it was morning, few in the audience found themselves dreaming during Willpower’s performance of Hamlet at Grier School. 
In addition to the visual elements, audience members recognized the value of viewing a performance of Shakespeare. Alexis explained, “The acting and the storyline are very dramatic, which made me feel as if I was watching the actual period piece.” Seeing the play brought Shakespeare’s Hamlet to life in a way that makes his work more accessible. Chujun commented on “The moment where Ophelia sat with her father and sang the valentine tune. This moment is very heartwarming and has a distinct contrast with the latter section.”  Her point alludes to the various ways this production of Hamlet draws many different audience members' interest. Practitioners of music have a variety of moments where songs, tunes, or music is a part of Willpower’s Hamlet. Spectators who aren’t often entertained by the theatre even recognized the hard work the actors invested in the piece. Lucy emphasized “Initially, I didn't expect too much from it, because I've always heard this story is complicated and language is difficult to understand, but actually watching it as a play was so helpful. Love, Love, Loved the actors, they were incredible, and they gave me a lot of great advice as well!”
Lucy’s point about advice highlights ways that our Hamlet experience sought to bring students into the theatre, rather than just to the brink of it. After performances, the actors led participants through workshops exploring voice, emotion, acting strategies, and movement. Grayson reflected, “I was very impressed and surprised by the way the actors said they broke down each line of Shakespeare to understand what it meant when they took on the role. The actors in the workshops told us that they had to research all the lines to understand the plot better. I think that's impressive because there are so many confusing parts to Shakespeare's writing.” Having actors explain that it takes time for them to learn Shakespeare and that they ‘teach’ it to themselves as well as each other helps make his many texts more accessible, or at least the process of experiencing them relatable.
In addition, the play, workshops, and talkback with the actors connected this performance with experiences students had or may have in the future. Gabija pointed out a useful notion from the drama: “how neglecting mental health and not checking up on your friends can result in big tragedies.” A variety of real-life implications arose from Hamlet day activities. Sophia drew attention to the actor’s talkback section where she “learned a little bit about the audition process for those types of actors. They will often search for companies, submit their information, and have a follow-up monologue if requested.”
In a play where there is a lesson or connection for each viewer, students also found a way to connect with some part of the Hamlet experience. Some found connections through themes, production details, acting practices, the actors, or the activities in the workshops.

A well-deserved thanks goes out to the many faculty and staff who helped coordinate and bring this experience to campus, especially the Dancers for the use of their spaces as well as the Drama and Musical Performers who shared their spaces and instructors as chaperones for many of the events.
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