Students bond with the bard

This past weekend, over thirty students, staff and faculty traveled to Stratford, ON, for a weekend of theater. The trip is a English and theater department tradition, occurring every other year.

At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, thirty-seven people piled into a bus bound for Stratford, eager for an afternoon matinee of “Shakespeare in Love.”  Unfortunately, unexpected customs delays prevented the group from reaching their destination on time, and they pulled up to the theatre almost an hour after the show began.

The latecomers could still watch from a screen in the lobby — and, at intermission, they climbed up to the seats their tickets had reserved. Since “Shakespeare in Love” twists the established storylines of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Twelfth Night,” many found they could still follow the play’s narrative.

After dinner at the hotel, participants assumed the role of audience members once more. Some students chose a meandering path to the show, browsing and nibbling through Stratford’s downtown shops. Others, wary of rapidly-dropping temperatures, preferred to ride the bus.

No matter their method, both groups found their way to the tent-shaped Festival Theatre for an 8 p.m. performance of “Macbeth.” “The Scottish play,”’ as it is often dubbed in theatre circles, is one of Shakespeare’s most-staged tragedies. Dozens of acclaimed actors, including Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, have portrayed the ambitious Scottish couple. The Stratford Festival’s production featured two new additions to the list: Ian Lake and Krystin Pellerin.

“‘Macbeth’ was easily the best show I’ve seen [at the Festival].” said senior Aaron Potter, who has participated in the last three Calvin-sponsored Stratford trips. “It totally blew my mind at several parts.”

The Stratford Festival takes its name from the Shakespeare’s hometown — and, accordingly, many of its plays revolve around the Bard. But the Festival extends far beyond that limited scope, and so the Calvin group attended “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” on Sunday afternoon. Before settling into their balcony seats at the Avon Theatre, however, the travelers had a few hours to explore the town’s downtown. Some wandered into shops in search of books, antiques or a “Cafe Canadien” (an espresso drink with maple syrup). Others chose to take pictures in Stratford’s riverside gardens.

Their last theatre experience was less enthusiastically received than the previous ones. Both students and faculty praised “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for its scenic design and prop construction. They loved the little book quotations that mixed with the screen productions, and they adored the graceful lion-puppet used to portray Aslan. Yet reactions to its directing, writing and acting were far more mixed. Students especially objected to its humorous, silly tone and its insertion of seemingly-unnecessary songs.  

Even despite their criticisms, many attendees appreciated their weekend away from Grand Rapids.

“It was a weekend full of amazing theatre productions, great company and coffee that came in a cup the size of a soup bowl,” said senior Ericka Buitenhuis. “What more could a college student want?”