"We're sort of like performance artists, in a way," says Terri Bourus, standing on the stage of a theater-in-the-making on the campus of IUPUI. Bourus is a member of Actors Equity, but that's not necessarily the performance art she's talking about. She is also a lead editor of Oxford University Press' New Oxford Shakespeare, an undertaking based, in part, at IUPUI. It's that project, and the combination of scholarship and performance it encourages, that has Bourus looking forward and beyond to August, when the new 260-seat IUPUI theater will open.
Bourus is part of an international team of scholars, working under the aegis of England's Oxford University Press. Their task is to bring out a new, complete edition of Shakespeare in 2016, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death.
At IUPUI, Bourus heads a staff of five editors who are working on the modern spelling and digital editions of Shakespeare's works. This will be the latest Oxford University Press edition of Shakespeare since 1986. It also represents the continuing evolution of Shakespearean scholarship.
Bourus says that, from about the 1640s to 1970, Shakespeare was "taken over by academics" and that "the scholars and theater practitioners did not work together, they did not respect each other, they just didn't blend in any meaningful way."
Shakespeare became part of English literature, along with a host of other great writers like Milton, George Eliot, Keats and Charles Dickens. This was fine, as far as it went, but it skewed the emphasis toward reading rather than performing. This was a problem, since so much of Shakespeare's works were written for the stage.
"It's literature," says Bourus, "but not literature in the form of a novel. It's literature in the form of plays. Plays are performances. Play scripts are not novels. And yet they both tell stories. One tells stories when a reader engages with a text; the other tells stories when an audience engages with performers."
A multimedia Shakespeare
In the 1970s, Oxford University Press and editor Stanley Wells began championing the idea of Shakespeare as a dramatic author. "They gathered together a team of scholars interested in performance art," says Bourus. The result was the 1986 Oxford Shakespeare, which, says Bourus, "was the first edition of Shakespeare's plays to be examined and edited through the lens of performance."
Editing through that lens creates a new perspective, says Bourus, one that "shifts between prose and poetry." There are also special challenges: "There are stage directions, needs of performers; with very old texts we have archaic words that need to be footnoted and examined."
For example, there are three extant versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In one version, Prince Hamlet refers to "too, too solid flesh;" in another, to "too, too sallied flesh:" and, finally, to "too, too sullied flesh."
"What," asks Bourus, "did Shakespeare mean? We can't ask him. There's no way to get to it and yet, theatrically, it's going to be performed. So what is the best way to perform this? How do you remain true to the text when you have no manuscripts, you have no notes. [Shakespeare] left us nothing."
The editing challenge doesn't end with rendering what constitutes a complete text. It also involves offering a text compatible with new ways of reading. Computers, social networking, cell phones and eBooks have all made an impact on how we read and Oxford Press is intent on not creating another edition of Shakespeare aimed mainly at bookshelves. "We want to create a multimedia Shakespeare for the 21st century," says Bourus.
The new Shakespeare edition will come with performance notes, stage directions and copious footnotes. It will consist of a modern spelling edition, a two-volume old spelling edition, a textual companion, and a digital edition, potentially[still in the works]including music and performance clips.
"We've got the very first, multi-platform, multi-formatted edition of Shakespeare, ever," says Bourus.
The goal, according to Bourus, is to "keep the performance of Shakespeare contemporary because, while Shakespeare's a universal artist and, in that way, timeless, every so-called universal work has to be re-proven for each generation."
This is where Bourus' acting background comes into play. The project's senior general editor, Gary Taylor, from Florida State University, wanted a collaborator who was both a scholar (Bourus' PhD work concerned Hamlet as a performance text) and an experienced performer.
Bourus was teaching at Indiana University's Kokomo campus. She agreed to be part of the Shakespeare team when IU's president, Michael McRobbie, agreed to support the project, ultimately locating it in Indianapolis. "IUPUI brought me here with the intent of making meaningful connections between IUPUI and the Indianapolis arts community, with an eye toward building a theater on campus," says Bourus.
For IUPUI, the Shakespeare project represented an opportunity to create an on-campus theater presence similar to the visual arts and design presence brought by the relocation of the Herron School of Art and Design from its previous Old Northside neighborhood on 16th St.
The project has reached out to the city at large through the creation of Hoosier Bard Productions, a partnership with IndyFringe that recently presented its first production, Young Hamlet, at the IndyFringe Theatre. "Our company is IUPUI students and actors. It's the theatrical arm of the New Oxford Shakespeare," says Bourus, who says the group will focus on early modern and classical theater, and is seeking community funding to support a production schedule of two to three shows a year.
Bourus and her team of editors are charged with delivering all their materials to Oxford University Press by April 2015, for publication the following year, in April 2016. The unveiling of the latest edition of Shakespeare's works will serve as the occasion for a summer Shakespeare festival in Indianapolis that Bourus says will bring artists and scholars from around the world to the city for what will amount to a Shakespeare Super Bowl. "We would like to have the biggest Shakespeare festival in North America."
Bourus believes the Shakespeare project will put IUPUI and Indianapolis on the world stage. "An urban campus, a campus that's part of a city that's growing and dynamic, is where Shakespeare ought to happen. It's a great opportunity for us to be global."