The Last Word
By Ken Butler

(continued from page 11...)

Scholarly pursuits often spring from the creation of new work or the reinterpretation of existing works in the repertoire. Assistant Professor Beth Schachter served as a dramaturg (researcher) for noted director Mark Wing-Davey on his 2003 production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” with Liev Schreiber, a production that was slashed by the critics for being ‘full of ideas.’ “Imagine that,” Schachter wryly observed. However, a 2004 Broadway production of “Henry IV, Parts I & II” (which was, in Schachter’s opinion, the two plays stripped down to their basic plot elements to fit into a three-hour time slot, “and who goes to see Shakespeare for the plot?” she asked) was the critics’ darling and won the 2004 Tony® Award for Best Revival of a Play. When she saw the play, Schachter was horrified to see war portrayed as a romantic fantasy when American troops were dying almost daily in Iraq. From her research for “Henry V” and her strong negative reaction to “Henry IV,” she is writing an article, tentatively titled, “No More Shakesp-heroes: Why the Critics Loathed “Henry V” and loved “’McHenry IV.’”

Associate Professor Devon Allen just returned from a semester’s sabbatical, during which she directed a production of English playwright Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away.” Part of her research of the play involved reading the playwright’s entire body of work so that she could ascertain where the play exists within the author’s body of work and how the play relates to the history of the world in which the author lives. She also investigates items and ideas which may not have direct relationships to the play, but that inform the themes of the play. Those investigations, in turn, can occasionally lead her to research in a completely different area. She read Antonio Damasio’s book, “Descartes’ Error,” while doing research for a presentation at the Institute for Authentic Leadership in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was profoundly affected by its contents. Damasio argues that Descartes’ statement, “I think, therefore I am,” has been used to champion reason over emotion, but his research indicates that emotion and reason cannot be separated because the two work in tandem at the neurological level in the brain. She is now applying her own research in this area to work in her classes.

When asked why they pursue these individual areas of research, the answers were surprisingly consistent. Roussel said, “I can’t conceive of teaching acting without doing it myself. I need to be challenged in the same ways I challenge my students in the classroom.” Dearborn agreed. “Teaching without research is boring and static; what makes teachers great is their enthusiasm and passion about a subject, and the way I continue to be passionate is to play and to build upon what I know.” And Anderson noted that teaching gives him the opportunity to articulate his personal vision of the effect of dance on culture and, at the same time, urge students to keep their minds open and not accept any one person’s view of what art ‘is’ or ‘isn’t.’ They and their colleagues continue to use their research to better educate – and to challenge – Muhlenberg theatre and dance students in and out of the classroom.

Ken Butler spent 10 years in the department of theatre and dance before becoming executive assistant to President Randy Helm in 2003.

Author’s note: Associate Professor of Theatre Timothy Averill was not interviewed for this article because he is on sabbatical…doing research in the Czech Republic on puppetry theory and techniques.

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