Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

They Do It With the Lights On


Joanne Georges

On Sunday September 28, the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) returned to Hartwick College on their Method in Madness tour. After last’s years Othello, Slade Theater was once again full of patrons of the arts, community members, and students enjoying Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. The American Shakespeare Center is renowned for keeping much of Shakespeare’s original text and performance elements intact in modern theatre. Like the famous Globe Theater, Hartwick’s home stage was thus transformed into a thrust stage, which incorporates seated audience members on three sides of the stage. Additionally, ASC performs with universal lighting, meaning the theatre’s lights stay on at all times. With the lights on, the audience is able to see every detail of the play, but most importantly, the actors are able to engage with an audience they can see.

Despite the name of the company, Sunday’s performance of Doctor Faustus is not a Shakespearean play, but was written by Christopher Marlowe, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. As an influencer of Shakespeare’s, Doctor Faustus contains elements of an overreaching protagonist and his unavoidable tragic demise. ASC was able to capture the epic journey of Dr. John Faustus selling his soul to Lucifer to attain true knowledge in black magic. With a play of nearly 30 different characters, the American Shakespeare Center held a cast of only 15 members. Even through double/triple casting, each new character was personally introduced, resulting in new dynamics and the drawing of audience attention.

Since the American Shakespeare Center performs on a thrust stage, audience engagement becomes a theatre must. Within Marlowe’s play, and many other Elizabethan scripts, characters don’t have many stage cues, but plenty of asides, either to the audience at large or to other characters on stage. From these asides, many of the actors take to using individual crowd members as added characters to the story, objects of interest, or even prop pieces. For example, as the seven deadly sins paraded on stage, Pride introduced himself and veered toward stage right. He spoke of his origin story, and how he stands on the brow of men and the lips of fair women, while gesturing toward the ladies in the crowd. With a deliberate lean forward, Pride took a whiff of the audience and exclaimed how much we positively reeked! Next, Gluttony wobbled down to the front row, big belly jiggling and Hostess Twinkie in hand; he introduced an unsuspecting audience member as his godmother from long ago and boldly embraced her. As far as physical audience engagement goes, the company has got it down pat. In addition, the company added a few reference pieces for the audience. As two street rats attempted to dodge an angry tavern owner, one mimicked a two finger salute, swept his hand in the face of the owner, and said, “These are not the men you are looking for.” His other friend tried to recite an incantation, but instead of the Latin words used to call on a demon he said, “Expecto Patronum,” with all the confidence one could possibly have when spell casting.

With immense laughs, epic performances, detailed choreography, special effects, and audience engagement, the American Shakespeare Center again provided Hartwick College with an unforgettable performance. In only two hours, Doctor Faustus came to life on the Slade Theater stage.