Shakespeare, society and the city

By LeeAnn Brown

They’re at it again.

OU American Studies is packing culture, history and entertainment all into one day so that undergrads can get their fill.

“This is our third student undergraduate conference, and this year’s theme is ‘American Innovations,’” Andrea Knutson, associate professor and advisor for the student-run group, said. “It gets bigger every year. We have panels on cinema studies, literature, history, and music.”

This year’s keynote speaker is Samantha White, founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Detroit (SID). White said she got the idea for SID while in the middle of the desert.

“The inspiration came from a trip to the Utah Shakespeare Fest,” she said. “I thought if they could produce Shakespeare in the middle of the desert, we could do it in Detroit where we have a ton of historical sites, venues and parks that are perfect for Shakespeare.”

This summer, the site-specific theatre company, which performs only where they live, work and play, will be celebrating two years since their first production.

For White, theatre in the city brings more than just entertainment.

“People may come to a city for a job, but the quality of life in a city will keep them here. The arts are 90 percent of that quality of life,” White said. “Also, arts entice people to visit a city. Tourism is key to a healthy city. Having arts that inspire people to visit Detroit is crucial. People don’t go to New York, for example, because it has a cool Wall Street. They go because of the arts.”

White said that SID brings people from all backgrounds together, no matter race, background or economic status. They also employ local actors and tradesmen/women.

As for her love of Shakespeare, White began reading his work when she was eight years old, and fell in love with it by the time she was a teenager. For White, Shakespeare’s works are still prevalent to today’s society.

“The only thing that has changed since then is the wardrobe and technology,” White said. “Everything else about the human experience is still relevant. As in Shakespeare’s day, we all still want to be loved, we all feel pain, we all have experienced some sort of disappointment. Humanity is and will forever be the same.”

When asked what students can expect from attending Monday’s event, White said, “They can expect the truth — the beauty and the struggle of building a Shakespeare company in Detroit.”

If students would like to check out Shakespeare in Detroit, there’s one more opportunity this season. They will be closing with “King Lear.” Spring productions running April 9-19. For ticket information, check out the website.

OU American Studies 3rd annual undergraduate conference will run from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with the keynote address at 7:00 next Monday, Apr. 6. They will occupy Oakland rooms 128-30 in the OC.

If students want to get more involved, they can join the American Studies group by finding them on Facebook at “The Pioneers: American Studies.”