All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages…
—William Shakespeare (1564–1616), As You Like It
Four hundred years after his death, the words of William Shakespeare continue to live on on the stage, in the classroom and in the hearts of many people around the world. They come together to learn, understand, interpret and perform his works or appreciate seeing them performed.
One such place is the Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford, which is now accepting applications. It’s a program launched three years ago as a project of The Mighty Quinn Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity “dedicated to creating educational and theatrical experiences for the next generation of theater artists.” Its home is the Nicoll-Benjamin House, known as the White House, on Elm Street, part of the 14-acre grounds of the former American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, currently town-owned and shuttered since 1989.
The academy brings together 14 college-age students (ages 19–23) for a six-week repertory program that culminates in the outdoor performance of two plays. This year Love’s Labour’s Lost and Richard III will be presented on alternate nights July 31 through Aug. 7. There will also be a daylong festival on Saturday, Aug. 6, celebrating Shakespeare 400 — anniversary events will be conducted around the world all year — during which both plays and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will performed.
“We invite the public to come and enjoy a picnic on the grounds, dress in costume if they like, and stay for any or all of the performances,” said Susan Wright, president of the foundation.
The Mighty Quinn Foundation was established by Wright and her husband Chris Rooney in honor of their son Quinn Rooney, who died in 2012 from a brain tumor at the age of 19. “Quinn had a passion for learning, loved the theater in general and was fascinated by the history of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, which is visible from our backyard, and hoped to see it revitalized,” said Wright. “In his memory, we wanted to help fill a theater niche for young people and reached out to the town, which has been very receptive. It has recently asked us to take over the summer In the Spotlight musical theater program for seventh through 12th graders, which are honored to do. Quinn loved being a part of the program.
“The foundation provides scholarships, training, artistic programming and creative opportunities within the community, with the goal of providing opportunities for artists to learn, grow and perform,” Wright explained. “The Shakespeare Academy at Stratford is a stand-alone project of the foundation, and is a member of The Shakespeare Theatre Association. We recruit from around the country, and around the world. Last year we had students from the United States, Singapore, the Czech Republic and England.
“Applications for those seeking an ensemble experience are now open through April 1,” she continued. “This this means working together to create the end result. In most cases, a play’s director has a vision of the desired end result and the actors strive to meet it. In ensemble, the participants are very involved in the creative process and end result. I also want to stress that we want a diverse group, the best people who know Shakespeare’s text and love it — Shakespeare geeks seeking the ensemble experience knowing they will be together virtually 24/7 for six weeks — not necessarily the best actors. We seek those who are willing to take a chance, to stretch themselves. While we certainly want a good production, our goal is to give students their best experience, artistically and personally; we want to be part of their journey, a valued experience that lets them grow.
“Applicants are asked why they believe in ensemble; what do you believe in? Quinn had a joyful and generous spirit. We ask for a video — tell us about something you love. We have been amazed by the depth of many of the applicants’ skill sets. One, for example, played the guitar and wrote and performed music for her play; another played the harp, which was worked into a show.”
The selection of students is made by the artistic team, this year led by Artistic Director Brian McManamon, who will direct Love’s Labour’s Lost; and Associate Artistic Director Tia James, who will direct Richard III. They are supported by a half-dozen master class teachers, program coordinator Kelly Letourneau, technical coordinator Jacob Nurick and residential coordinator Brendan Rooney.
McManamon learned about the Shakespeare @ Stratford Academy from a Yale Rep classmate who had been involved in The Mighty Quinn Foundation’s New Works Festival “and had only wonderful things to say about the experience. It was exactly the kind of thing I was interested in. When I met Susan, Chris and some of the others involved in the program, I was even more interested, it’s an exciting proposition. And it will be wonderful to spend the summer in Connecticut; the Shakespeare on the Housatonic site is magical.”
McManamon describes himself as “steeped in Shakespeare; it’s one of my biggest passions. When I had a class on him in high school, it opened up my scope.
“I am looking forward to working with Tia, who is incredible, as well as with what I know will be a dynamic group of people expanding their theater and leadership capabilities. I encourage the public to come see the shows this summer and experience the magic themselves.”
Love’s Labour’s Lost and Richard III will be presented July 31 through Aug. 7, the Shakespeare 400 Festival is Aug. 6, at 1850 Elm Street in Stratford. For additional information, visit mightyquinnfoundation.org or shakespeareacademystratford.org.