University Musical Society
Five years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company kicked off its first residency at the University of Michigan by performing some of the Bard's history places. The company's 2003 residency brought performances by "Coriolanus," the "Merry Wives of Windsor," and the U.S. stage premier of Salman Rusdhie's "Midnight's Children." This time round, the company is performing "Antony and Cleopatra," "Julius Caesar," and "The Tempest." But when they strike the set on November 12th and the actors head back to the UK, U of M Professor Ralph Williams says Shakespeare's spirit will live on in Ann Arbor:
"For a little bit at least there is a major afterglow. And then the issues ripple out in the community. I can't tell you the delight I have when I go into a shop and say - you know that point you were making about that play, I'm not sure I agree with that. I just had an idea about the way in which Shakespeare's representation of politics in his time represents our own time. I think I see this. And so the discussion goes on and on. The so the conversation goes on."
At an auditorium on U of M's campus, last minute rehearsals are underway for the Shakespearean Sonnet Slam. It's just one of the over 140 events planned around the RSC's residency. The Sonnet Slam competition has students from across the university reinterpreting the Bard's sonnets through original song, dance and rap.
And who better to judge the Shakespearean contestants them than members of the Royal Shakespeare company themselves? RSC performer Rob Carrol:
"It's difficult to judge a sonnet. You can't say: that's the best sonnet! Sonnets are great. If people can come up with individual, newly coined sonnets...terrific."
For Carroll, it's about what happens after the competition that's really important.
"Hopefully the ripple effect is that we create a new audience of younger people who are interested in Shakespeare. I think that's of central importance."
Which is exactly what happened to Jazz Major, Theo Katzman:
"It's completely changed it for me. And I feel like now the door into really enjoying Shakespeare has been opened to me."
For Ken Fischer, the RSC's residency also opened up the door to improving Michigan's economy. Fischer is President of the University Musical Society ? or UMS - the non profit organization that was instrumental in bringing the RSC to Michigan:
"This was an important statement for the state to make. We know that it's been a touch time in the manufacturing economy here. And we need to be thinking of ways to be attracting business."
Fischer believes the more arts and cultural events a city has, the more attractive it is to companies looking to relocate or recruit new employees. He says high profile cultural events like the RSC could lead to more investments across the state. And he says there'll be even more opportunities for attracting out of state businesses because the chance of another RSC residency in Ann Arbor is more than possible...
"Well the chances are really excellent in fact," says Fischer.
He and Michael Boyd, the head of the RSC, recently shooked hands and agreed that because the initial residency was such a success for both parties...
"There was just no hesitation on the part of either of us that UMS and the Royal Shakespeare Company would want to continue this into the future."
Just when the RSC might come back and with what plays, Fischer couldn't say for sure. But he does assure us that there's another act yet to come in the RSC's Michigan residency.
I'm Jennifer Guerra, Michigan Radio News.