Shakespeare: Theater at Mudd

Hi everybody! Today I’m going to talk to you about one of the classes that I’m taking this semester at Mudd, Shakespeare! Shakespeare is a bit of an anomaly here at Mudd, because half of the class is readings chosen based on some theme, and the latter half is students putting on a play, chosen from their readings. It’s the only class at Mudd with a theater component!

This semester, Shakespeare is putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m in the play as Bottom, the weaver and amateur actor who is given the head of a donkey by a fairy, Puck. Although I certainly have my own experiences, to get an idea about the structure and thought behind the class, I talked to the co-teachers of the course, Professors Ambereen Dadabhoy (HSA) and Ben Wiedermann (CS) :

Literature professor Ambereen Dadabhoy

Ambereen Dadabhoy

Computer Science professor Ben Wiedermann

Ben Wiedermann

Q: “How long has the Shakespeare class gone on at Mudd?”

Dadabhoy: “This version of the class? 24 years.”

Q: “How long have you been teaching the class?”

Dadabhoy: “5 years.”

Q: “What do you like about the structure of the class?”

Dadabhoy: “It exposes students to different genres, so we’re not just always doing tragedies and comedies (though I’ve done that before). I like to have the mixed one that’s sort of around the topic, and I think getting students through different plays helps them understand what they personally like about a play, which might be a reason that they want to vote for it, but might not be the best thing for the class. For instance, one year a student might really like Hamlet, and want to do it, but we may not have enough people, we may not have someone who could be Hamlet, all of those reasons.”

Ben: “I like the challenge of the dual nature of it. We’re reading and then we’re performing, and how do we not make that dual, but sort of blend it more, so they’re complimentary, and in some ways completely orthogonal means of discourse, that a performer or someone producing a show has vs someone who’s interested in the literature. So how do they work together, how are they different? Something we’ve talked about a lot is how we both make them distinct and also try to blur the line and combine them, which is fun. Very different processes.”

Hermia and Helena speak to each other while Lysander stands off to the side

Rehearsal Photos: Hermia, Helena, and Lysander

Q: “Prof Ben, I know you’re primarily a CS professor. How did you become involved in this class?”

Ben: “I just basically, over many semesters, sidled my way in until Prof Dadabhoy finally said ‘Okay, you’re in’. But what was it, the Hive had a grant to develop pieces of a course, and we applied for that grant. Explicitly to think about ways to bring up the production aspect, but also bring it forward in the semester, and bring the literary aspect later in the semester. And then once we had that money, and we were working on the class, it kind of made sense to make it more official, so I was accountable to the class for the things I was trying to do.”

Dadabhoy: “But it also came from conversations we had about how is the work that you do in Computer Science similar to and different from- well, obviously we’re not programming here, but there are methods of inquiry that might cross over disciplines, so really seeing what the whole point of this college is, and thinking through that in this class. People are always surprised, like ‘Oh, engineers can do Shakespeare’. But, yeah, of course, they can. Anyone can do Shakespeare if they understand how to read it, and think about it as a text that’s not just static and you read it and just see it that way. The project part of this course, I think, translates over to other project courses you guys have.”

An actor lies on the ground while another stands over him.

Rehearsal Photo: Pyramus and Thisbe

Q: “What are the challenges and advantages of having a class like this at Mudd, a liberal arts STEM college?”

Dadabhoy: “So challenges are obvious. I don’t have students who are theater majors, I don’t have students who are lit. majors, so I can’t expect a certain kind of background knowledge that students will bring to the class. But, the advantage to even that is we don’t have to deal with the kinds of things that students think that they already know, so that they’re resistant to learning things from us. They don’t know things, so we’re trying to get them to read in a certain way. Sometimes they’ll challenge us, but they’re usually willing to go along. Harvey Mudd students are always game.”

Actors standing around the outdoor stage during rehearsal

Rehearsal Photo: Demetrius and Lysander before the Duke

Q: “Anything else you have to might have the opportunity to come see this semester’s performance?”

Dadabhoy: “Please come and see our play.”

Ben: “Have fun. Laugh. Clap. Cheer.”

For those on or near campus, the play will be opening this Friday, and performances will be Friday and Saturday 1:30-3:00 at the big tree in front of Atwood.