In the spring of 1990, director Louis Scheeder headed a semester long Shakespeare Ensemble which culminated in the Mainstage production of All’s Well That Ends Well. The success of that production, which involved a rotating cast playing different parts at different performances, and the positive response of students to the demands of actor training based on classical texts, led to the creation of a permanent Studio which would provide a year long program. This program would emphasize actor preparation in Studio classes along with production experience. As an advanced Studio, the program is open to all students who have completed two years of primary training. The Classical Studio began in the fall of 1991. Its first production conceived as a ‘rehearsal project’, (a complete Shakespeare text) was The Merchant of Venice. The ‘rehearsal project’ format places the focus squarely on the acting ensemble, as they must bring the text to life in a bare room without benefit of scenery or lighting, and with only the suggestion of costuming, and minimal props. Included among the plays presented since 1991 are King John, Pericles, both parts of King Henry IV, Henry V, The Winter’s Tale, Troilus and Cressida, and Macbeth. In the spring semester, the Studio will often present a play by a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, such as The Revenger’s Tragedy, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, and The Witch of Edmonton. Since its inception, the Studio has cast without regard to race or gender.
In addition to rehearsals for these productions, which take place in the evening and on weekends, students attend a full range of classes five afternoons a week, encompassing scene work, intense speech and voice work, stage combat, and movement. The Studio seeks to create "Thought in Action", the presentation of classical texts in an immediate, forceful and physical ‘present’. Work in both the classroom and the rehearsal hall focuses on specificity of physical action, the embrace of contradiction inherent in the texts, and a belief that the concept of character is rooted in the text itself, rather than external models or pre-existing concepts. In the first semester, students choose their own material from the Shakespearean canon. In the second semester, the scope of material broadens to include Jacobean and other Elizabethan writers. Acting principles derived from work on these texts is then applied to contemporary material. At the end of the second semester, students present an evening of poetry, devised and presented by Voice and Speech teacher Donna Germain.
In spite of all the talk of the predominance of spectacle in the commercial theatre in the last decade, the future of the art will rely on language and an ability to communicate precisely and cogently through that medium. While images and irony have grown in importance as means of communication, words will remain at the center of the theatrical experience. The Classical Studio trains actors for the future by wielding the strengths of the past.