Although the Shakespeare Ensemble is in its 26th season, the current production of "As You Like It" (Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 8-10 at 8 p.m. in Kresge Little Theater) marks a milestone for the group. Newly reorganized as an extracurricular activity, the Ensemble is moving out from under the wing of the MIT theater arts section--with help from several alumni.
Former Ensemble member Tom Garvey (S.B. 1982 in architecture) returns after an absence of 20 years to direct "As You Like It." Last spring, he reconnected with the group at a reunion of the founding members where they were introduced to the current Ensemble. "I was pleased to be offered the chance to direct one of my favorite plays," he said.
Demonstrating the troupe's new focus as a community ensemble, the "As You Like It" cast features students, staff members and alumni. Sophomore Rydia Q. Vielehr plays the central role of Rosalind and freshman Catherine Miller is Celia; Senior Library Assistant John C. Hume portrays Orlando; and alumnis Geoff Pingree (SB 1981, political science), Carl Kraenzel (S.B. 1989, physics) and Dave Segal-Brackman (S.B. 1983, computer science and engineering) have the roles of Touchstone, Jaques and old Adam, respectively.
The Shakespeare Ensemble was founded as a student activity in 1975 by Professor of Literature Murray Biggs, who thought the Institute needed something of an antidote to the academic experience of Shakespeare. Biggs noted that students' knowledge of the Bard of Avon tended to come first from the classroom, next from the occasional visit to the theater, and only last from actually being on stage, speaking Shakespeare's verse--experiences which he thought should be reordered.
Biggs' experiment proved so successful that the Ensemble was soon touring the Northeast and even Great Britain. They attracted praise from local critics and a number of its alumni went on to careers as professional actors. In the late 1980s the troupe came into a curricular alignment with the theater arts section and it has since worked with professionals such as artists-in-residence Tina Packer and her Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company.
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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 7, 2001.