Annual faculty reading features a 'cast of stars'
by Eric McHenry
While a preview performance of The Capeman, a Broadway musical for which he cowrote the book and lyrics, is under way at the Marquis Theatre in New York City, Derek Walcott will be taking the stage in a somewhat smaller venue.
The Nobel laureate will join six other distinguished writers for the BU Creative Writing Program's Annual Faculty Reading on December 8 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.
"I think it's obviously the most impressive continuous reading in Boston. It's been going on now for about eight or nine years," says Leslie Epstein, who directs the program at GRS. "It's a cast of stars."
Epstein, a novelist, says he plans to read the preface for a new edition of one of his books. While members of the creative writing faculty often choose excerpts from their most recent published work, many read from brand-new manuscripts. As a result, the series has consistently been an opportunity not only for BU writers to try out fresh poetry or fiction on audiences, but also for BU audiences to get a sneak preview of forthcoming writing from eminent authors.
U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, for example, plans to read both selections from his acclaimed book The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996, and newer, uncollected work.
"I think Susanna Kaysen is not going to read from her best-selling memoir, Girl Interrupted," says Epstein. "She's actually going to use the audience to try out new material, to see how it goes."
Along with Epstein, Kaysen, Pinsky, and Walcott, the reading will feature fiction writers George V. Higgins and Ralph Lombreglia and poet Rosanna Warren. Because visiting faculty are always invited to contribute, Epstein says, the annual reading is a who's who of American writers and is different every year. Kaysen and Lombreglia are this year's guests. Past participants include Aharon Appelfeld, David Ferry, Margot Livesey, and Jayne Anne Phillips.
Epstein, who will emcee the event, says that in addition to introducing each reader, he plans to call attention to other resources the Creative Writing Program offers that are not represented at the annual reading.
"I'm going to talk this time about the people who contribute to our program but aren't going to be on the stage," he says, "people who are so valuable to us -- our other Nobel prizewinners, Elie Wiesel and Saul Bellow. They're not in the program, so they're not invited. But the great thing about BU is that they do teach, and a lot of our students take their courses.
"It's not just the people reading who reflect our program," he says. "There are these great unseen presences, and they're part of what makes our program as fine as it is."
The faculty reading will take place at 8 p.m. on Monday, December 8, in the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. For more information, call 617-353-2510.
A brush with Shakespeare
By Judith Sandler
"Shakespeare appeals to all the senses," says Caroline Eves, associate professor at SFA and director of the Shakespeare Project. "His plays are filled with robust action, songs, and verse." Presented each December by the junior class acting program of the Theatre Arts Division of SFA, the project is an evening consisting of selected scenes from different Shakespearean plays, linked through music and dance. "I think people who enjoy Shakespeare will enjoy seeing selections from various plays," Eves says, "and for those who don't know him, this is a swift introduction."
To create this year's project, Eves has taken portions from A Midsummer Night's Dream, which she has set in contemporary New York, along with selections from Richard II and Richard III, Cleopatra, and Macbeth, and connected them through songs, sonnets, dances, fights, and instrumental interludes. She has been aided by Judith Chaffee, associate professor of theater movement, who choreographed the dances, and Robert Walsh, teaching associate in movement, who coordinated the fight scenes.
Eves is taking a break from lecturing and directing at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to spend the current academic year at BU. This is not her first visit; she has directed two previous Shakespeare Projects in addition to The House of Bernarda Alba last May. She plans to stage her own adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities in February and to codirect Brecht's Happy End with Roger Croucher, director of the Theatre Arts Division, in the spring.
The Shakespeare Project was created because "in order to grow, actors need to get to know Shakespeare and to test themselves out in his very challenging work," explains Croucher, "and these productions are particularly challenging because they cover much of Shakespeare's range of writing." As well, Eves believes Shakespeare's works have a universal appeal. "Look at the current run of plays and films," she says.
In addition to preparing them for a professional life that will quite possibly include the bard's works, students find working on the project enlightening for more subtle reasons. "We're learning to love the language and learning that words are very important," says acting major Magdalena Stanescu (SFA'99). "We're also learning to know what we're saying and why."
Faculty also appreciate working on the Shakespeare Project. "I love collaborating with Caroline," says Chaffee. "She makes Shakespeare's characters impulsive, physically alive, and immediate to an audience, which is critical to the work since these plays were written to entertain the masses. The students learn that Shakespeare's text is not precious, it's vital -- it's about human beings."
The Shakespeare Project will be presented in Studio 210 at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., December 10 through 13 at 8 p.m. Admission is $6 for the general public and $4 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office, 617-266-0800.