"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
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
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."