by Theodora Hannan, USA
When I was little, we used to go to Summer Shakespeare every year as a family; I remember thinking how gorgeously grown-up and palatial Washington Hall seemed, where all productions took place before DeBartolo Performing Arts Center was built. Entering the building was like a precursor to the suspension of disbelief that the imaginary world requires, and my childlike self was all too willing to be scooped up and flown away for an adventure.
The second to last Saturday night this August I did not have this attitude when I entered the theatre in DPAC. It was a long month of hosting orientations for school, I had just gotten sick, and classes were right around the corner, but there I was about to see Richard III with my sister. We had both been keen to see the play in the spring after the excavation of Richard III’s bones in Leicester, but it was now with a sigh that I settled in my chair.
As the house lights dimmed and the tinny prerecorded announcement to silence cell phones ended, however, the anticipation of the theatre began to buzz. I am a self-professed lover of Shakespeare: I have taken multiple classes on his plays, I own his collected works, I recite sonnets every year on Valentine’s Day in O’Shaughnessy Hall. The familiarity of and affection for his work is always able to claim my attention, and this night was no different.
We are greeted, of course, with Richard himself, opening with one of the infamous soliloquies: “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York;/ And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house/ In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” This particular Richard was eerie not for his grotesque characterization, but rather for his more charming nature and dashing countenance, as we see in his manipulative courtship of the widow of a man he has killed. The act closes with another soliloquy from Richard, this time much more intimate with the audience, as the actor sat on the very edge of the stage twirling a rose he had taken from the lady’s mourned husband. Enraptured, I was caught entirely off guard when Richard gazed in my direction and tossed me his rose before exiting the stage.
I was enchanted. I was charmed. I was smitten. Here I was at the theatre, always full to brimming with magic and wonder and joy, and a pretty boy saying sweet nothings had just broken the fourth wall and given me a flower. I fell in love with the theatre all over again that night, as I do in some small way every time I go. This, it occurs to me, is what “culture” in all its multivarious dimensions is all about. Culture is being spellbound by actors on a stage for two hours and going to see a German band in Chicago next month and walking aimlessly through Central Park for hours on a Sunday afternoon. Culture is the light in the eyes of a child exploring a world of possibility and promise and the renewed hope of the jaded twenty-something. Culture is how we engage the world, by seeing all the most beautiful things it has to offer, no matter from where or with whom.