I was already a verified Shakespeare addict by the time I first encountered the ASC, then still the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. By the time I was fourteen, I had already seen quite a bit of Shakespeare, thanks to a tolerant mother willing to drive me all over the Commonwealth on our summer theatrical tours, but my first SSE show was a revelation. It was Much Ado about Nothing, staged in a thoroughly uninteresting lecture hall on the UVA campus. The relentlessly academic setting didn’t matter. The actors had me completely engaged within moments, and the show got me thinking about Shakespeare in completely new ways. I loved the lights-on aspect and the audience contact, but those were still similar to what I’d seen in various outdoor productions. I had never before seen doubling in practice, though, and I stared at the actress playing Beatrice as she transformed, sitting on a little black box, into Dogberry. It was just so *different*, and as I watched her move into that character, piece by piece, I started getting really excited to see how she would play him when the scene came around. The voyeurism of seeing the working parts of the play take shape right in front of me, with no curtain to hide them, got me thinking about all the nuts and bolts that go into playmaking which are usually hidden from the audience. The SSE offered such an enhancement to my conception of what Shakespeare was and what it could be.
A few years later, my parents brought me to the Blackfriars Playhouse for my 19th birthday, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Playhouse was a slightly different place then — the frons scenae hadn’t been painted yet, you still had to rent cushions and seat backs — and that was the only production where actors actually descended from the heavens. I got to sit onstage, and I was in raptures. The show at UVA had been good, but seeing Midsummer in a re-creation of an early modern playhouse opened up such new worlds of delight. There was so much incredible energy in that room, emanating from the actors, then bouncing back at them from the audience. It felt like Shakespeare was back home, and I was exhilarated at getting to be part of it.
Throughout college, I hauled friends from Richmond and Williamsburg up into the mountains to show the Playhouse off to them. Every one of those journeys ended up having great stories attached to it — the time we got to see Q1 Hamlet, the time we got called out by the actor giving the preshow for being the only group in the audience to laugh at a certain joke, the time one of us got squirted with Gloucester’s eye-juice during King Lear. And with each journey, I got to know Staunton a little better: the restaurants, the vintage clothing stores, the slightly alarming antique shops, the charming Victorian houses. The decisions to come back here for grad school, then to stay here to work, sealed my fate: Staunton has claimed me for its own. I’m so thrilled that I now get to spend my days helping other people to have those brilliant, world-expanding moments that I had years ago — and that I get to do it all in a town I love.
– Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager