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Hofstra Shakespeare Festival Helps Students Hone Their Acting Skills

Now in its 62nd year, the Hofstra Shakespeare Festival is one of the university’s proudest traditions. The 2011 Festival features a unique production – The War of the Roses – a one-evening adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, directed and adapted by Hofstra Professor Royston Coppenger. The Festival also includes a companion play – a new one-hour adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Hofstra Adjunct Professor of English Maureen McFeely – and the Shakespeare Festival Musicale, a concert of early music titled “These Mortals Be,” directed by Professor of Music William Hettrick. The 2011 Shakespeare Festival will take place March 10-20, 2011.

Every year the Shakespeare Festival brings with it a wealth of nostalgia and compelling history. The person responsible for bringing the Bard to Hofstra was noted Shakespeare scholar John Cranford Adams, president of Hofstra from 1944 to 1964. Before the John Cranford Adams Playhouse was built in 1958, the Shakespeare Festival – and all other Hofstra plays – were performed in the Calkins Gymnasium. For many years, Dr. Adams researched the design of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and he created a model of it, scaled by one-half inch to one-foot ratio. With the help of architect Irwin Smith, Dr. Adams refined and improved the model. The public debut of the model coincided with the premiere of the first Shakespeare Festival, featuring Julius Caesar on March 22, 1950. Before it closed, more than 4,500 people had attended the inaugural Festival’s play, symposiums and music recitals. The audience size grew for many consecutive years. By 1969 10 performances of The Comedy of Errors attracted 12,000 people.

It is impossible to discuss the history of the Festival without including Hofstra’s life-scale replica of the Globe, which opened in time for the second annual Festival, based on Dr. Adams’ model. The Hofstra set was a 5/6 reproduction, the first of its kind in the Eastern United States.

Professional actors were used in many of the early Festivals, but the available student talent soon made this an option, rather than a necessity. Casts over the years have included Phil Rosenthal, the creator and executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond; Tony-nominees Tom McGowan and Peter Friedman; film and stage actor Joe Morton; film and television actresses Susan Sullivan, Margaret Colin and the late Madeline Kahn; and Tony-nominated Broadway director Susan Schulman, among many others. Even award-winning actor Brian Dennehy – who is not a Hofstra alumnus but performed in the Shakespeare Festival High School Competition as a teenager – said his brief participation in the Festival was responsible for igniting his love for acting.

Five plays hold records for being the most repeated over the 60 years of the Shakespeare Festival: Romeo and Juliet holds the record with five productions. The runners-up with four seasons each are Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.