Performing Arts
11:04 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Celebrating Shakespeare, 450 Years After His Birth

WVU is performing "Henry IV" as part of its William Shakespeare celebration this month.
WVU is performing "Henry IV" as part of its William Shakespeare celebration this month.
Credit West Virginia University

It was this month, 450 years ago, that the famous playwright William Shakespeare was born in Stratford Upon Avon.

"We have made Shakespeare our literature," said Pat Conner a retired English professor from West Virginia University. He’s studied Shakespeare and his texts, and says there are many reasons people still flock to Shakespeare’s words even nearly 400 years after completing  his last work. Conner says he made one such discovery when studying the play, “The Merchant of Venice.”

"He really does find a way to get inside of and to show a sympathetic view of almost every character," said Conner.

West Virginia University is commemorating the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with a production of Henry IV. This production is a singular adaptation of two Shakespeare plays, Henry IV Part 1, and Part 2. To prepare for the production, some of WVU’s former acting students have returned to talk about special acting techniques used to perform Shakespeare.

One is called the Alexander Technique. Former WVU theater student Brian Edelman now teaches the technique to professional actors in New York City.

It includes using the body to relax and project your voice better when pronouncing Shakespearean dialogue. Edelman explains.

"The classic Alexander technique directions are let the neck be free so that the head can move forward and up, so the back can lengthen and widen," said Edelman.

"Those are the classic, classic ways of approaching the work."

While the students who learn the technique will be using this tool to help in reciting Shakespeare, Edelman says this technique can help in many walks of life.

"People with pain use it a lot, dancers use it, singers use it. It’s really good for anyone. People sit at a desk all day, it’s really big for them," said Edelman.

Edelman says many people, when they hear the name William Shakespeare, get preconceived ideas about what to expect from a production. And he says that isn’t always a positive reaction. But over time, he says his appreciation for Shakespeare has grown.

"I love Shakespeare because the poetry is so good that when you’re saying these lines, the sounds that you’re making is the action that you’re playing, is what you’re trying to get from the other person. So there’s all this great alliteration, and it really becomes the third character in a scene. That’s what I love about it," he said.

Along with the play, The West Virginia University Rare Book Room will hold an exhibition of William Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is a collection of 36 of the Bard’s plays, including Henry IV. That book was published in 1623.

The folio exhibition will be at the Robinson Reading Room, on April 23, at 2:30 pm.

More information about the play performances can be found here.