Broadcasting the Bard
The International Shakespeare Center
Santa Fe loves Shakespeare. His plays — both live and telecast from the National Theatre in London — are regularly well-attended at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, as are smaller productions by local theater groups. Back in the 1990s, Shakespeare in Santa Fe attracted audiences by the thousands to Amelia White Park and then St. John’s College, though financial issues eventually forced that organization to go dark. In recent years, the Bard has graced our summers again with outdoor productions by the Santa Fe Shakespeare Society, an organization that also hosts a monthly Shakespeare reading group, which is just one of several in Santa Fe. Until about 100 years ago, Shakespeare reading groups were a popular activity for people from all walks of life. This was before his poetic language began to be considered too difficult for common folk to grasp on the page — and Shakespeare became the intellectual province of academics and actors.
A new group in town, the International Shakespeare Center, aims to bring dear old William back to the masses through a multipronged approach of education, close-reading, performance, and theater training. The ISC hosts two public reading groups every Sunday at Santa Fe University of Art and Design that draws an average of 50 people — a mix of doctors, lawyers, teachers, homemakers, and homeless men, among others (visitwww.meetup.com/SFSCloseReaders). The organization’s lofty plans include starting an annual Shakespeare festival for middle and high school students from public schools throughout Santa Fe County. The goal of the ISC is to make Santa Fe an international destination for the general reverence of all things Shakespeare. Pasatiempo sat down with several members of the board to discuss the ISC’s mission and identity. The first question: Where, exactly, is this center located?
“Santa Fe is the center,” said Kristin Bundesen, cofounder and vice president of the ISC. She explained that though the organization does have an office and would one day love to have its own building for a theater, library, and reading room, the ISC’s activities take place all over town — in lecture halls, theaters, private homes, and schools — as well as online. “I don’t mean to be glib, but in a world that’s virtual, where it’s easy to talk to someone in Venice or London or California or Agua Fría, and so many of the early modern research materials are accessible online, why would we need to immediately have a brick- andmortar presence?”
Caryl Farkas, the ISC president, clarified that the potentially provocative “international” component of the name refers to its collaborations with the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Faculty from the school are presenting workshops in Santa Fe, and the Ducdame Ensemble, a group of LAMDA-trained performers who live outside of Santa Fe, serves as the ISC repertory company. The ISC advisory board has international members including Rodney Cottier, head of the drama school at LAMDA, and Mark Rylance, former artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London. But the hard work of establishing Santa Fe as an international center for Shakespeare seems to be largely in the hands of Farkas, Bundesen, and the ISC co-founder Robin Williams, a Shakespeare scholar and author of numerous books about computers and design.
As a new organization, Williams said, “We’re not flying out of the gate saying we’re amazing. But we have track records. Each one of us has done a lot. We fully understand that the next few years are our proving ground to show we can do the things we want to do and grow like we want to.”
Farkas moved to Santa Fe from Wisconsin in 2014 with her husband Joe, ISC’s business manager. Their daughter, Anna, a senior at St. John’s College, is a member of the ISC board, as well as associate artistic director, and she is founder of the Upstart Crows of Santa Fe, a youth Shakespeare performance group that has grown its membership from three to 25 since its founding less than two years ago. Farkas worked with a youth Shakespeare group and other theaters in Madison as a director of performances and in nonprofit management. Bundesen brings nonprofit and educational management experience to the table as the former executive director of the Connecticut Conservatory of the Performing Arts, a school for students in the visual and performing arts. She has a doctorate from the University of Nottingham and has written and lectured extensively on Shakespeare.
The ISC is especially busy this February, hosting and participating in many of the events surrounding First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare at the New Mexico Museum of Art, a traveling exhibition of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Williams and Bundesen were involved in generating community support for the enormous undertaking, which was a group effort by numerous staff in the museum system, including Tom Leech, curator of the Palace Print Shop and Bindery; Patricia Hewitt, senior cataloguer at the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Mary Kershaw, director of the New Mexico Museum of Art; Carmen Vendelin, curator of art at the New Mexico Museum of Art; and Rebecca Aubin, head of education and visitor experience at the art museum. After February, the ISC plans to fundraise more earnestly for future endeavors. The board members pooled their personal resources to start the organization and held a successful fundraiser in Nov. 2015. Now private donations are starting to roll in and grant-writing is underway. They are also counting on ticket sales for workshops and performances to generate some revenue. They stressed that they are not a theater company or a festival, but a year-round presence, pointing out that thirst for knowledge about Shakespeare outside of theatrical performance in Santa Fe is considerable. Lectures about Shakespeare for the Renesan Institute for Lifelong Learning always draw a crowd, and the audience for Bundesen’s recent lecture at the New Mexico Museum of Art on the importance of the First Folio attracted 200 people.
“We are anticipating the synergy that will support world-class performance by supporting activities in research, performance, training, education, and adults reading out loud and in community,” Bundesen said. “Reading Shakespeare out loud together hits some buttons that are really important. One is that if you feel you’ve been less than literate, that quickly dissolves. And it increases civic engagement because suddenly you’re debating, in a group, about what ambition is, what power is. Is violence a solution to anything? Is passion worth sacrificing something important for? These are the ideas that are in the Shakespearean canon, and when you start to really think them through, you bring that knowledge into your everyday life.”
Many people who regularly attend t he I SC reading group came in with very little knowledge of Shakespeare and have turned into excellent readers. “Shakespeare isn’t rocket science,” Williams said, and then added, “And so what if there’s a hurdle to understanding it? There’s a hurdle to getting opera. There’s a hurdle to learning to ride a bike. We all spend a lot of time learning to read in the first place. It’s hard to have a romantic relationship. Things are not always easy in life, but the things that give us a little trouble turn out to be really worth it. So Shakespeare takes a bit of trouble — so what?”
A new group in town, the International Shakespeare Center, aims to bring dear old William back to the masses through a multipronged approach of education, close-reading, performance,
and theater training.