The Bob Jones University Classic Players acting troupe brought the Shakespearean arts to the Upstate Renaissance Faire in Greer on Sept. 11, performing off campus for the first time in a half-century.
Anna Brown, an actor in the Classic Players and a scriptwriter at BJU Press, said she was enthusiastic about the chance for BJU to participate in the local community arts for the first time.
“We went to Greer and got to see the space, and I got goosebumps because it felt like going back to the roots of Shakespeare,” she said. “It’s true we don’t have to travel very far. But in theatre history, you’d have travelling troupes. To go outside of the BJU campus to perform … it symbolically feels like going back to historical roots.”
This production represented over 90 years of the Classic Players’ work. The troupe has historically invited students, faculty and alumni of BJU to celebrate the Shakespearean arts on campus. This public performance joined the city of Greer and dozens of local businesses to put on the first Upstate Renaissance Faire in town.
John Cox, a faculty member in the Department of Theatre, headed up the project and was charged with pioneering this new direction in performance.
“We named this project Classic Players Off the Boards because when actors are about to act, a lot of times they’ll say, ‘I’m going to go tread the boards’ because they would act on board floors,” he said. “We called it off the boards because we’re not on our typical stage.”
“We put together cast … half undergraduate students, half faculty, staff and alumni,” Cox continued. “They’re knocking things out of the park. It’s really great.”
The performance lasted 30 minutes and included an assortment of scenes from some of Shakespeare’s plays, including As You Like It and The Life and Death of King John. The show featured audience-actor interactions, including actors sitting in the crowd, joking with the crowd and giving the audience pieces of poetry on paper.
Cox said this performance highlighted Shakespearean plays’ interactive nature.
“We can play it closer to [how] Shakespeare’s actors would have played it because they would have had people close up watching them, and they would have interacted with them while they were playing,” he said. “There’s music, there are music jokes and we’re going to have some Shakespearean insults and pick-up lines that people can experiment with up close.”
Brown believes the piece was important for bringing renewed interest in Shakespeare.
“I would love for people to walk away and think, ‘Wow, I could follow what they were saying, and that was way more fun than I thought Shakespeare could ever be,’” she said. “Whether we are introducing Shakespeare for the first time, or we are making Shakespeare look cool, both of those would be a win.”
The Renaissance Faire also featured a wide variety of other attractions. From replica weapons and fencing arenas to candle-making and handmade leather crafts, the event offered many rare opportunities.
The Logos Theatre, a Christian venue that performs family-oriented plays teaching biblical values, also brought a large dragon puppet manned by several puppeteers that threaded through the crowds.
Hannah Allen, a Classic Players actor, thinks this community performance is important to show BJU’s desire to contribute to the community.