Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Some of the most intimate moments of Shakespearean characters were brought to campus in the vast, open space of Upper Tarble, where students performed the annual Night of Scenes, presented by the Yellow Stockings Players this past Friday and Saturday evenings.
This year, directors Preston Cooper ‘15, Jamie Burke ‘15, and Michelle Johnson ‘16 chose to perform scenes from Shakespeare’s Richard II, The Tempest, and monologues from a variety of his other works, in a production that ran for about an hour.
Cooper’s directing of a scene from Richard III emphasized the syntax and diction of the dialogue. The distinctly muted clothing and minimalist prop usage kept the audience focused solely on the words themselves and their intonations. Cooper attributes his choice of the scene to “always really lik[ing] the wooing scene because of the power tensions,” said Cooper. “I’m also a poli sci major so I thought it would be interesting to see the power shifts.”
A scene from The Tempest, which involved a lot of actor physicality, was directed by Johnson. “When thinking of [the] Night of Scenes, all my experience with Yellow Stockings was focused on the subtle […]. So, I wanted to challenge that convention and give something different. I didn’t want to do whatever everyone else was doing even though it was very valuable,” said Johnson. “That scene is the most ridiculous, physically active one I could think of.”
A series of monologues directed by Burke were selected from Henry V, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest.
“I picked two monologues from Henry V since it was a great inspirational piece to contrast with Richard III,” Burke explained.
This year’s show was distinct in many ways from how past Yellow Stockings productions have typically run.
“This year’s Night of Scenes was unique because we had a smaller cast, less directors, and a shorter show,” Cooper said. “That made the production a lot more intimate and so everyone was really invested in the process.” This is Cooper’s second time directing a scene in A Night of Scenes, and he has participated as an actor in past productions, as well.
“This was the first year we hadn’t had a founding member of Yellow Stockings […] since they all graduated,” said Burke, “It’s great to see the production grow and it was great seeing how proud Ashley [Banks ‘13, a founding member] was of the company.”
The smaller cast and shorter length of the production turned out better than expected. It facilitated an easy interaction between audience and actors without breaking the fourth wall – a term referring to the boundary between audience and the contained stage in a theater.
“I am really happy with how it turned out. I think, since it was a shorter show, it was accessible to those who were not Shakespeare fanatics. Length was perfect even though there was a fair amount of tragedy,” said Cooper.
Johnson added, “I think what’s great about the night is [that] it makes [Shakespeare] accessible to people without that much experience in theater.”
Neither Johnson nor Burke had directed a scene for A Night of Scenes before this year. “I always see directors so excited to see the show go up, and I finally got to experience that. I took away that directing is hard but very worth it […] Preston and Michelle were wonderful people and it was a whole lot of fun working with them,” Burke said.
“For me it was a new experience, first time directing. It was really just about loving the text and wanting to perform it, being surrounded by people who want to share Shakespeare as much as you do. There was no pressure about being perfect. It was really about the sharing,” Johnson said. “The actors made it really easy.”
Cooper emphasized the collaborative nature of the process as a whole. It was his first time directing Alessandra Occhiolini ‘17 and Samuel Mori ‘16, and he admired the actors’ individual contributions to the rehearsal, especially Mori’s addition of personal details and nuances to his beginning and ending monologues. “Generally we don’t double-cast but this year we did because of a limited number of actors. This time around everyone was involved in different and multiple scenes. There was a camaraderie,” he said.
This year’s Night of Scenes was not only a testament to the talents of all those involved, but an homage to Shakespeare and his work.
Of the two nights, Cooper concluded, “We put a lot of work and it was gratifying having it all come to a close.”