English professor starts reader's theater with students

2/21/2007 8:00:00 AM

The sound of laughter and archaic English phrases floated out into the Valentine's Day night air from the dim and cozy room of Se7en Teahouse. The "Blood, Love and Rhetoric School" reader's theater group, made up of about 17 University students and faculty, gathered to read "The Shoemaker's Holiday" by Thomas Dekker on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

James Mardock, an assistant English professor, established and organizes the reader's theater—typically a group of people who read or act out assigned parts from a literary work to gain a better understanding of the work.

Mardock says he named the group the Blood, Love and Rhetoric School because it was a fitting description of the kinds of plays that are read.

"I took the name from a quote from a modern play about Elizabethan drama called ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' by Tom Stoppard," Mardock said.

The group gathers every two weeks on Wednesdays to do dramatic readings of plays from Shakespeare's time, ranging from hilarious comedies to dark, bloody tragedies. Mardock chooses the plays from the Elizabethan period to the Restoration period in the late 17th century.

"For that one hundred years of English literature, drama was the dominant art form," Mardock said. "These were the biggest most influential writers of England at that time."

Mardock said reading the plays aloud with other people can offer insight into the context of the plays and meaning into some of the more obscure vernacular within the works.

"The readings can help students and other students of early drama and early literature with vocabulary and common metaphors," he said. "It also gives a wider sense of the literature and cultural context of the plays."

The reading group can also provide a certain degree of entertainment students might not expect from Elizabethan plays.

"We're doing tragedies, comedies, adultery, pickpockets, discontented kings, discontented kings seducing virgins; that kind of stuff," Mardock said.

Suzie Lang, an English literature major and one of Mardock's students, attends the reader's theater to network with others who are interested in the same kind of literary works.

"It's just a load of fun," Lang said. "It's a great way to mingle with other people in the English department."

Mardock was influenced with the idea for starting a reader's theater group on campus from his experiences with a similar group in his graduate school years at the University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. When Mardock came to work at the University in July 2006, he saw the opportunity to establish it.

"I always wanted to do it, but there was never any place with a critical mass of interested people," Mardock said. "But here, there is a focused group of people with very specific interests."

Mardock said the reader's theater will continue to thrive as long as people remain interested. He said he may select plays to be read at the meetings from other literary periods.

"We might expand beyond 16th or 17th century plays," Mardock said. "I would be happy to continue running this as long as I'm here."

For those interested in attending the next Blood, Love and Rhetoric School reading, contact Mardock for location, time and assigned parts.

"You don't have to be good," Mardock said. "Enthusiasm is the only thing I'm requiring."


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