Theatre department brings Shakespeare to the Bethel stage for the first time in five years

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For the first time in five years, Shakespeare is returning to the Bethel stage. “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” will open on February 8, and everyone involved is working hard to make sure everything goes according to plan.

"With ‘Pericles,’ it's a very ensemble show,” said Donald Hunter, theatre department chair. “You have Pericles, but then…everyone else is... four characters at least in the show. So, it's giving them a lot of experience with a lot of different characters." "It's a different beast to undertake in terms of mounting in theatrical production," said Scott Jackson, the Mary Irene Ryan Family executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame. Jackson has come over especially to guest direct the production. Hunter explained a bit about how Jackson came to direct at Bethel: "I've seen his Shakespeare work before, so I thought...it'd be a good opportunity to bring in someone who was really knowledgeable with the Shakespeare text," said Hunter. "Out of the whole cast, only one has ever performed Shakespeare before, so he's got to work teaching the very basics." Jackson has been doing theatre for 30 years. Originally from Elkhart, Jackson left the area shortly after graduating from Jimtown High School to pursue a career in theater—only the second student from that school to do so. "I ended up in London for a few years, in Seattle for a few years, in Alaska for a few years, and then I ended up getting this job at Notre Dame as the first executive director of the Shakespeare program there in 2007," said Jackson. When asked about the goal for bringing Shakespeare back to Bethel, Hunter mentioned another link between Bethel and Notre Dame. "Our students have the opportunity to audition at the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, and so to continue having Shakespeare here, my goal is to...help expose them and prep them to be able to hopefully get involved in that company," said Hunter. "(‘Pericles’ gives) the students a chance to experience Shakespeare in performance, which is vital," said Jackson. "To lift the words of Shakespeare off the page, there's something about the direct engagement with Shakespeare on the stage that... unlocks the meaning of Shakespeare's words in that moment much more than just reading him on the page does." Jackson added that his "one claim to fame" is having starred as Pericles in the first Alaskan production of the show. "It took them 400 years for that production to be staged in Alaska, but finally, it was,” said Jackson. “So, there's a special place in my heart for this play, and I feel like for a younger ensemble as well... it's a great play to undertake, because everyone has a chance to shine.” In closing, Jackson encouraged audiences to take a "leap of faith" and come see Pericles for themselves. "It’s a story like no other in Shakespeare's canon,” he said. “It's a beautiful story that doesn't get the attention that it deserves. I'm really proud of this cast and how willing they've been to take this journey—coming from having no experience with Shakespeare at all to where they are today is nothing short of astounding. It's a fantastic show and we only have three days of performances, so I encourage everyone to come see it." Performances are this weekend, February 8, 9 and 10. (Photo Credit: Bethel College Department of Theatre on Facebook.)  
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