Liberal Arts Honors Program’s theater troupe offers comedic interpretation of Shakespeare


Austin McKinney

Senior civil engineering major Virgil Shelby rehearses his role as Pericles before the Liberal Arts Honors theater troupe, Foot in the Door, performs Shakespeare’s “Pericles: Prince of Tyre” Friday evening at the Art Building and Museum. Foot in the Door is completely student run and has put on other plays such as Alice and Wonderland and The Taming of the Shrew.

Juhie Modi

Much like the play it portrays, the Liberal Arts Honors Program’s production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” appears to be a shipwreck at first glance. 

The free performance may be the victim of the unpredictable Texas weather, an unfamiliar story for audiences and the two freshman co-directors who weren’t initially familiar with the play. The performance is a comedic twist on an otherwise tragic Shakespearean play that chronicles the life of Pericles, an overdramatic prince who searches for love and encounters shipwrecks along the way. 

Although it isn’t Shakespeare’s best-known play, director Imogen Sealy doesn’t believe that students’ lack of familiarity negatively affected the play’s viewership. 

“Maybe just having absolutely no experience and coming in and having to sit there for weeks and being like, ‘What does this word mean? Are people going to understand it? Do we have to change it?’” Sealy said. “That was time consuming, but worth it. I don’t think it’s hindered us at all.” 

The Liberal Arts Honors Program’s Foot in the Door theater troupe will host a free outdoor preview of “Pericles” on the South Mall on Friday afternoon and an indoor performance on Saturday. Foot in the Door Theatre, which is completely student-run, performs two-to-three plays each semester and sometimes in the summer. 

Sealy, an ancient history and classical civilization and Plan I Honors freshman from England, said that from the start, she had a vision in her head of producing a play to be performed outside. 

“In ancient Greece, they would stage all of their plays outside and start when the sun comes up,” Sealy said. “Being outside kind of gives the stage a different feel instead of just having random props trying to set the scene. You can understand what’s going on and you don’t need all the fancy curtains or set pieces that other plays might have. It feels much more about the stories and actors and interacting.”

When Foot in the Door first approached Sealy with the idea of directing a play, she accepted with the condition that her friend Kenneth Williams could co-direct, but she said she didn’t know what she was getting into.

Sealy said it can be difficult to give the actors direction at times because she is a freshman, but she believes that Foot in the Door has an advantage by doing a lesser-known Shakespeare play. 

“If we were putting on ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ everyone would know what’s coming, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s not like that one time I saw these other people doing it,’” Sealy said. “So I think we have the benefit of not being compared to other performances that other people have seen.”

Virgil Shelby, an engineering senior who has the lead role of Pericles in the play, said that in the beginning, it was clear that the theater troupe had no idea what it was doing. 

“It was interesting to see these guys fresh out of high school just take the entire organization and just run with it,” Shelby said. “It seems inexperienced, but it seems very fresh and youthful. The thing about Foot in the Door is that it’s associated with the Liberal Arts Honors [Program], so everyone is very driven with the liberal arts and the humanities and that does come out in everyone’s personalities. They’re very artistic people.”

Because “Pericles” is not as verbose as Shakespeare’s other plays and has funny undertones and quirky characters, Shelby said a lot of people could use the show as a stepping-stone to get interested in Shakespeare.

Linda Mayhew, advising coordinator for the Liberal Arts Honors and Humanities programs, said that because of the editing of the directors, the play is accessible, so someone unfamiliar with the work can follow along easily and catch all of the jokes. 

“‘Pericles’ is fantastic — it’s funny, quick-paced and filled with Shakespearean angst of lovers lost and reunited,” Mayhew said. 

Shelby said he likes his role because Pericles is a “total imbecile” and an “absolute dork” who has no idea what he’s doing, apart from being melodramatic.

“The way my directors wanted me to take the character is if I’m being too unrealistic, I’m not being unrealistic enough,” Shelby said. “It’s very over-the-top, so I guess that’s why I like it. I get to experience these very heightened emotions, whereas deep down I’m trying to play the character in a realistic manner, but you can’t at all. You have to take everything 100 miles an hour.”

For better understanding, Shelby recommends that viewers concentrate on the actors’ actions rather than their words because some characters will be developed more with their attitudes than with their dialogue.

“The words are the skeleton but the imagery is how we make it real,” Shelby said. “It’s how we build this world — with imagery.”

At the very least, Shelby believes the play is a good excuse to take someone on a date, but he hopes that viewers will leave the performance “amused but confused.” To those who don’t understand Shakespeare’s language, Shelby has a confession.

“Don’t worry,” he joked. “We don’t either.”