By: Jenn Tyborski
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The candid collection of essays “Chicago Shakespeare Theatre: Suiting the Action to the Word,” co-edited by Roosevelt University’s own associate professor of English Regina Buccola, marks the occasion.
The collection contains works from Terry Teachout of the Washington Post, Jonathan Abarbanel of Northwestern University, Michael Billington of the Guardian and Simon Callow. Buccola’s co-editor, Peter Kanelos, was a professor at Loyola University-Chicago at the start of the project.
“This was a Herculean undertaking,” Buccola said. “So, we decided rather eleventh hour to put this book out to mark the 25th anniversary. The reason we did it was because the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre celebrated their 25th anniversary season last year.”
The process for a book like this may take years to fully complete. However, for Buccola and her team, this wasn’t the case.
“We pulled together a whole lot of people and a whole lot of content, and got it edited and put together very quickly,” she said. “We worked on it in under two years.”
This is Buccola’s first non-academic book. She and Kanelos collaborated with the press and the theatre to collect various historical images and information.
Buccola said that because this work is a collection of essays from various sources, the book does not have a single storyline.
Buccola also contributed her own writing to the book.
“I collaborated with my co-editor on writing the introduction,” Buccola said. “I also wrote the chapter that deals with the artistic director, Barbara Gaines. I interviewed her and talked with her about the fact that my experience of her productions at the theatre is that she tends to do some interesting things with the women characters in the plays. I think that sometimes she can emerge as sort of a feminist director.”
Buccola said one of the reasons she was drawn to Gaines is the way Gaines depicts women characters in the various roles encountered in Shakespeare’s works.
“She does not hesitate to politicize her work,” Buccola said. “If you are a thinking audience member, and you are thoughtful and engaged in your world, you can see the connection between what’s happening on stage and in our real world.”
Buccola said she wanted to create the book because of the prominence she feels the theatre should have and the increasing interest in performance studies.
“In the last 25 years or so, performance studies has become really prominent in the wider field of Shakespeare studies, meaning that people like me have really started to focus on how the meanings of the plays can be conveyed, shift and change in performance, as opposed to just sitting down and reading them in a book,” she explained.
Buccola said she also wants the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre to gain more recognition through the book.
“Scholarly work has started to pay attention to work-specific theatre companies, and [the] Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has not been as fully integrated into that as it should be,” she said. “If this book exists, and people elsewhere start reading it and get an inkling of the kind of work this theatre company is doing, it’s more likely to be included in performance overviews in the beginning of Shakespeare publications.”
Many of the works in the collection used sources such as official video performances and programs from the theatre’s archives.
For the collection, Buccola and Kanelos contacted many writers, critics and other industry giants. Not every contact was able to participate, but Buccola noted the reward from the situation was that word and excitement spread about the book.
One of the contributors to the collection was the same person who introduced Buccola to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
“I did move to Chicago in 1994 to do graduate work at UIC, and it’s important because my dissertation advisor, Clark Hulse is the one who originally introduced me to people at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre,” Buccola explained. “He introduced me to that world, and fast-forward 18 years or so, and then I’m standing at reception with him asking if he’d want to write for it.”
Going back to her initial reason for starting the project, Buccola said she hopes the book has an impact on the theatre world.
“I really do want the theatre to be put more on the radar nationally and internationally, because I think that it deserves to be entertained in those discussions,” she said. “I think it is important to know about another theatre that is engaged in those different ways of performing.”
Buccola also pointed out the importance of the book potentially shedding more light onto the American theatre scene.
“It’s been sort of a rising tide, and I hope that this will be another big push,” she said. “I think that part of it is that there is a tendency to privilege British theaters, understandably, and a lot of major publications that are sort of the basis of Shakespeare studies are produced in the UK.”
According to Buccola, most students know her as a “big ol’ Shakespeare geek.”
Buccola will discuss the essay collection and the dialogic nature of academic discourse on Nov. 7 from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. Location TBD.