Recently, NYU Abu Dhabi welcomed student performers from NYU New York, the American University of Sharjah, Bryn Mawr, Cairo University, Haverford, and Swarthmore for the Global Shakespeare Student Festival. Organized by NYUAD's Associate Dean of Humanities Cyrus R.K. Patell and Associate Professor of Theater Rubén Polendo, NYUNY's Dean of the Gallatin School Susanne Wofford, and Katherine Rowe, Chair and Professor of English at Bryn Mawr, the festival included performer-led workshops and master classes focused on "making" theater and "thinking" theater, as well as two evenings of performances during which each group showcased their adaptations of Shakespeare's works.
Performances explored Shakespeare's texts in a variety of contexts, uncovering the playwright's global legacy. In their performance, Macbeth Arabia Deconstructed, the students from the American University of Sharjah reinterpreted the play Macbeth by presenting multiple scenes simultaneously, just as it was happening in the reality of the play. In one scene, Macbeth plots with his soldiers while the witches cackle, watching Lady Macbeth drive herself insane.
NYUAD freshman literature major Joanne Bui said, "This Global Shakespeare event really impressed upon me what theater can do that literature can't: using physicality. Though I've been to theater events before, this one really got me thinking because it was a learning experience, or workshop, for the actors. NYUAD's performance especially used their bodies to express. Their performance summed up the relationships between Shakespearean couples through one repeated movement. Once it got faster and more violent, you saw the real exhaustion of the actors and all the physicality of theater really came out."
The Global Shakespeare Student Festival was the first event of the NYUAD Global Shakespeare project, co-directed by Patell and Polendo. Started in the fall of 2009, the project uses a global approach to study Shakespeare's legacy throughout the world, investigating his "worldy approach" in playwriting, looking at past publications, performances, and criticisms of his plays, and studying global media forms such as plays, novels, films, and visual art.
We want to take a critical look at the processes that made Shakespeare into "Shakespeare."
"We want to take a critical look at the processes that made Shakespeare into 'Shakespeare,'" said Patell. "Is 'Shakespeare' too 'Western' to be a good focal point for future shared heritage? Or has the sharing of Shakespeare now begun, for good and for ill, with no turning back? Ultimately, though, we think that working of Shakespeare and his legacies is a laudable end in itself, we do see 'Global Shakespeare' as one manifestation of what might be called 'shared global cultural heritage.'"
As part of the project, Patell also taught Global Shakespeare during the fall semester. With the help of Ginny Danielson, director of the NYUAD Library, the project is also collecting a library of Shakespeare materials. Patell and Danielson look forward to gathering translations of Shakespeare's works in various languages, starting with Bulgarian. On the performance side of the project, Polendo's Theater Mitu plans to produce Hamlet/ur-Hamlet.
Designed to be multidisciplinary, the project aims to bridge together the University's Arts and Humanities disciplines — Arab Crossroads, Film and New Media, History, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Theater, and Visual Arts — as well as encourage collaboration between students and faculty on creative work and original scholarship. Working in a region where the art of theater has only started to settle in, the project also hopes to enrich and expand theater culture in Abu Dhabi. Patell intends to continue collaborating with other institutions of education and culture within and outside the region to further the field of "Global Shakespeare."
"The Facebook phase of this year's student collaboration has now begun, and we've all promised to figure out how to keep the collaboration going. A festival for next year is on the drawing board; we've talked about including teams from China and India in the future," said Patell.