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BH students perform Shakespeare in digital theater format

The Black Hills State University campus is quiet most summer evenings, with local residents playing tennis, walking their dogs, or just strolling in the long cool dusk. Inside the theater in Woodburn Hall it's a different story. Under the hot lights, student volunteers practice roles from famous Shakespearean plays—A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.

All this effort is not for a stage performance, but for the filming of digital scenes that will appear on the Internet. Some movie clips will be stored as DVD video or CD-ROM. All scenes will be made available to college and high school students who will participate in an ongoing project, “Shakespeare: Collaborating Through Technology.”

The project, conceived by Dr. Roger Ochse of the BHSU English Department, was funded by Governor Janklow's Teaching with Technology Award program. Under the terms of the award, Ochse studied ways to bring technology into his Shakespeare classroom. At the same time, the project was designed to encourage collaboration between the university and public schools in South Dakota.

“For many students,” Ochse observes, “Shakespeare is neither real nor accessible. I believe technology can help these students discover a new relationship with Shakespeare. Acting, directing, or helping in other ways to produce scenes from the plays can generate an interactive, lively educational experience.”

BHSU students acting in the scenes were: Ellery Grey, Pierre; Sandi Hogan, Spearfish; and Teresa Addington, Lead. Also performing was Spearfish High School senior Sharon Follette. A special cameo appearance was made by BHSU President Thomas Flickema in the role of Polonius in Hamlet..

Directing the production was BHSU graduate Barbara Russell, who has since begun graduate studies in theater at Virginia Commonwealth University. She recruited, coached, and directed the student actors through some difficult scenes in Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies. Working late into the night, she and her actors moved from memorizing lines to internalizing characters—making each scene real and convincing.

Assisting in the production of the scenes were faculty members Al Sandau and Paul Kopco, providing technical support and special effects. Former BHSU student Kent Story assisted with digital video camera and editing.

The result has been a series of short video clips of Shakespeare, suitable for Internet and CD-ROM. A collection of still photographs has enriched the collection. Copies are being made for the participants and for students interested in making similar digital productions.

As a result of the BHSU experience, other students and faculty have been invited to participate in the Shakespeare Technology project. Plans have already been set in motion for the fall 1999 production season. Donna Fisher, a teacher from Mitchell High School, has invited her class of 13 seniors to collaborate with Ochse's class of 20 Shakespeare students at BHSU. They plan to work over the Internet in the filming of new scenes from Shakespeare's plays. This project will involve learning the plays through technology, something the bard himself might have enjoyed.

Future plans include working with a high school class from California and other classes in South Dakota. In time, the goal may be reached of bringing students closer to Shakespeare through technology.

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