Monday, July 18, 2011

Arts Reporting: The Bard of Winedale by Kurt Wilson, Roundtop Register

Background on Shakespeare in Winedale with an interview of program director Dr. James Loehlin and program coordinator Liz Fisher, republished by permission from

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As You Like It at Winedale: Kelsi Tyler as Rosalind, Susan Bennett as Celia

The Bard of Winedale

by Kurt Wilson

Four decades ago, two events added immeasurably to the cultural riches of Fayette County. James Dick held a classical music concert in Round Top (please see our previous issue) that was the genesis of Festival Hill, and Dr. James Ayres founded Shakespeare at Winedale. Both of these projects were encouraged and supported by Miss Ima Hogg. The similarity does not end there. Like Festival Hill, Shakespeare at Winedale has flourished and expanded its mission well beyond its beginnings. In addition to furnishing University of Texas students a chance to learn about Shakespeare through performing some of his plays before an audience, the program now runs Camp Shakespeare, a two week program wherein ten to sixteen year olds get to perform scenes from the plays for their fellows and, finally, for an audience. The emphasis for the children, as with the college-aged students, is on the learning process, not the polishing of a performance. The program, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts, also provides classroom visits and workshops for schoolchildren from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Under the direction of its founder, Shakespeare at Winedale also provides classroom teachers with professional development to enhance their language arts instruction. There is an emphasis on reaching students from lower-income communities.

Recently the Round Top Register met with Dr. James Loehlin, Director, and Liz Fisher, Program Coordinator, for Shakespeare at Winedale to ask them some of the questions that might occur to readers of this magazine.

RTR: Dr. Loehlin, when did you take over from Dr. Ayres as the director of the summer program at Winedale?

JL: My first summer was 2001, so this past summer was my tenth anniversary. Dr. Ayres ran it for the first thirty years, and I have run it for the last ten, but he is still very involved in Camp Shakespeare. He is teaching at UT this semester. Even though he is retired from UT, he comes back from time to time to teach a course.

RTR: Liz, did you start as a student in the program?

LF: I was a student in Dr. Loehlin’s first class in 2001and then came back to do another summer in 2003. I worked with our outreach program for a bit after I graduated and then became the program’s coordinator in the fall of 2008.

RTR: You perform in a barn. Was the barn already on site when you began?

JL: The barn was already there. It was part of the original property purchased by Miss Ima Hogg, renovated, and donated to the university in the 1960s. I believe the original interior structure of the barn goes back to the late Nineteenth Century. It has had significant additions and renovations since then, including many things that happened since Shakespeare at Winedale started forty years ago when Professor James Ayres began taking his students out there to perform. When he started, it was certainly a spare structure with just the hayloft, a dirt floor, and no stage. He made a number of changes to the barn over the years to make it somewhat more of a theatrical space and more along the lines of an Elizabethan theatre, but I think the original structure of the barn gives the suggestion of an Elizabethan playhouse. That was one of the reasons Doc and Miss Ima had the idea of doing Shakespeare in that space.

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