UT students spend the summer performing at Shakespeare at Winedale

Sara Neaves

Out in the Texas countryside, in a quiet 19th century barn, birds chirp and trees rustle as a group of UT students perform Shakespearean plays into the midsummer night. 

UT’s year-long Shakespeare at Winedale program, housed in the College of Liberal Arts, offers students the opportunity to explore William Shakespeare’s works. During the summer, the program offers an intensive course in which students study and perform Shakespeare’s texts. On Aug. 14, the program will perform the summer’s final play — a rendition of Shakespeare’s “Pericles” — at the SAC Black Box Theatre. 

The program, established in 1970 as an undergraduate English course, is open to students of all disciplines. The program aims to push students to take risks and commit themselves to understanding a demanding style of performance. Throughout the summer, the program features three Shakespeare plays and one play by John Webster.

UT alumnus James Loehlin, Shakespeare at Winedale regents professor and program director, said Winedale’s barn, which has been transformed into an Elizabethan theater, helps the students use the outdoor atmosphere to their advantage. During their rendition of MacBeth, he said they were able to point to the west at twilight proceeding a significant murder.

“Shakespeare lived in a time when people were closer to nature than we are now,” Loehlin said. “The elements in the plays are more likely to be encountered [in Winedale]. There are moments where we use the time of day and sounds of nature which are relevant to the play.”

English and Plan II senior Nelson McKeown said the performers make many of the costumes seen on the Winedale stage themselves.

“Like most of the class, I had no idea how to sew going into Winedale,” McKeown said. “It was really intimidating seeing the beautiful costumes made by past classes, but we all learned together.”

After several tries, McKeown said the students were able to create costumes they feel proud to wear on stage. She said the students also make their own props and set pieces.

“At this point, we’re making dresses to wear in our daily lives and whipping out hats and doublets just for fun. It’s an excellent and surprisingly fun life skill,” McKeown said. “Contributing so much to every part of [each] play gives a wonderful sense of ownership and pride.”

English Honors senior Rachel Abbott said the program aims to help spread Shakespeare’s stories through play. Instead of reading Shakespeare in a classroom setting, she said audience members can experience his stories in a more captivating way.

“We’re big on community outreach,” Abbott said. “It’s very rewarding to help teach others about Shakespeare.”

Abbott said the program’s success depends on a high level of dedication and teamwork from the students.

“I was expecting how hard it would be, but I was still surprised at the intensity,” Abbott said. “The first week was especially hard since we had five days to put on one play. We were constantly rehearsing, but we pushed through. It’s wonderful and very rewarding.”

McKeown said her experience at Winedale has helped her to understand how to help others appreciate Shakespeare’s words and to better understand herself.

“We are first and foremost a team,” McKeown said. “The paradox is that out here, the group comes first, but, at the same time, you can truly be yourself and discover who you are. It’s a wonderful place for self-discovery — all you need to do is be you.”