Indiana State University Newsroom

Students reinvent Shakespeare in ‘Willy Shakes Pair’

September 25, 2015

One might expect rookie playwrights to be giddy with excitement at the thought of their work being staged. But in the case of Indiana State University's upcoming performance of "Willy Shakes Pair," it's the professor who can barely contain his excitement.

"I have worked through the process from the students' first ideas to reading the early drafts and now continuing to work with the playwrights as they develop their pieces," said Arthur Feinsod, professor of theater at Indiana State.

Two of his advanced playwriting students, Tim Dick and Nancy Jane Thompson, will present their take on William Shakespeare as the first of the department's productions this season, set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7-10 and 4 p.m. Oct. 11 at New Theater.

"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to choose plays that we could (stage) this year. I had no idea that we would have the opportunity for them to be the main stage shows," Feinsod said.

The title provides a comedic link between the three reboots -- of "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and a sonnet -- as Feinsod envisioned Shakespeare literally shaking the two students, saying "‘Come on, do your own thing with me,'" he said.

In Dick's "Wherefore Art Thou," a lovesick Romeo finally gets a date with rebel Rose Allen ... and it's way more than he bargained for. And in his "Funeral for a Sonnet," Henry finds the other mourners at his lover's funeral grieve a little differently.

Dick, a senior theater major from Indianapolis, was left speechless when he saw the first pages of his play come to life during a recent rehearsal.

"I wrote this and to see it happening on the stage -- as close to imagined as it could get -- it was just mind blowing," he said.

Dick was surprised when he started laughing at the jokes he wrote. "The actors have such great chemistry -- better than I could have ever predicted," he said. "It's such a great experience to see other people's interpretations of something you write. The costume designs are amazing, the set is amazing."

"I See Dead People," by Thompson, has Hamlet and Ophelia striving to break up their parents' hasty engagement. Set in a diner, the play is inspired by Thompson's and her husband's frequent pre-dawn trips to IHOP when they can't sleep.

"As a writer, I'm an observer of people. I know that waitresses have come to our table during conversations that may have sounded totally different than what it was. We may have been talking about a book, but she may have thought we were planning a murder," said Thompson of Sanford, Maine. "That popped into my head as I was trying to write this."

Thompson flips around couples and has Hamlet seeing his father and other deceased acquaintances in reflective surfaces, driving him crazier than he already is.

"Once I start writing a character, they just come to life and do what they want to do, and the next thing you know is we have toast flying around. It's great," she said.

A senior, Thompson's next step toward her dream of teaching college-level English is graduate school.

"As an English major, one thing they look for is published writing," she said. "This is a big thing to put on your resume."

While new to playwriting, this play is her second to be performed -- the first was at the Fringe Festival in February -- and the opportunity is not lost on Thompson. When she learned at work her play was selected, "I kind of screeched a little. My boss came running over to make sure I was okay. It was very exciting," she said.

While the plays are tragedies and the sonnet is about death, Feinsod says the productions offer a lot of humor.

"The pieces really get to the truth about what Shakespeare's intent was, but through front door of contemporary culture. I think that will be exciting for both audiences who know these pieces and who don't know these pieces," Feinsod said.

Dick, who additionally has expertise in costume construction, draws on his love of music. For "Funeral," Dick was inspired by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland's dance in "The Pirate Dance."

"It's going to be really fun. There's a big surprise," he said.

In his re-envisioning of "Romeo and Juliet," Dick deconstructs the saccharin "Love Theme" from Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 classic into a hard rock anthem. Similarly, the intoxicating fish-tank moment in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film has the lovers seeing each other through liquor bottles.

"I love that the students have the wide-open opportunity to use their contemporary culture references to help shape what they're doing. My job as director and dramaturge is to make sure the structure is sound and the technique is sound, but make plenty of room for what they want to say," Feinsod said.

Tickets are $10 each, with up to 50 seats available for presale, noon-4:30 p.m. Oct. 5-9 in the New Theater lobby, 536 N. 7th St. All other tickets will be available for purchase beginning 90 minutes before each performance. Indiana State students' admission is free with a valid student ID.

For more information, call the ticket office at 812-237-3333.


Photos: -- Nancy Jane Thompson -- Tim Dick

Contact: Michael Speck, instructor, department of theater at Indiana State University, or 812-237-3337.

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or