Clarksville, TN – At first, it sounds like the set-up to a joke—a voice actor, a Restoration-era drama scholar and a sound engineer walk into a bar (or coffee shop, in this case).
But instead of hijinks, these three Austin Peay State University professors discuss a bold collaborative project to connect students from different disciplines and provide an entertaining resource for the community.
Earlier this semester, Talon Beeson, assistant professor of theatre; Dr. Jane Wessel, assistant professor of languages and literature; and David Ellison, assistant professor of communication, began teaching three separate classes in their fields. The courses, however, require the students to collaboratively produce a four-episode podcast on Restoration and 18th-century adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.
“This is the moment when Shakespeare becomes Shakespeare,” Wessel said. “The class asks how people played with his material to make it their own, to make audiences interested again a century after his death. He’s old news, but because of all these adaptations, people are paying attention to Shakespeare again.”
While Wessel discusses this subject with her literature students, Beeson is leading a special topics class on radio dramas and Ellison is teaching a radio theater workshop. The three classes meet separately at the same time, but on certain afternoons, they come together to work on the project.
For the podcast, Wessel’s students have selected a scene from an original Shakespeare play and a scene from an 18th century adaptation. They then give those scenes, along with narration they’ve written and some historical context, to Beeson’s radio drama class.
“For the first several weeks, my students have been learning Shakespeare, going in and pulling research, and then I’ve been teaching them how to work a microphone,” Beeson said. “It’s starting to come together. We’ll have auditions, a table read, work the scenes and then go into the booth and record them.”
That’s where Ellison’s class comes in. His communication students have read the plays, and they’ve made notes on how they should record the final podcasts.
“We’ve been paying attention to the surroundings in these plays,” he said. “What is the background noise going on in Venice? They know the actors are going to know their lines. How are we going to create this ambiance and this feel for every scene?”
At the end of the semester, the public will be able to download three podcasts pairing scenes from “The Merchant of Venice,” “Macbeth,” and “The Tempest,” with their Restoration-era adaptations.
“We’re talking about the public humanities these days and making what we do go beyond the university and connecting to broader communities,” Wessel said. “I think this is a great way to do that because our students are producing a product that will go up on the web and is aimed to be accessible for non-academics.”
The students will also receive professional experience they can take with them when applying for jobs in their fields.
“Radio drama is having a huge resurgence with podcasting in the last 10 years, but it’s a style most of my actors aren’t familiar with,” Beeson said. “At the end, we will have a show we produced that will go out into the public. That will serve as a credit for my actors on IMDB, a credit for writers, a credit for producers.”
The podcast is also helping students move beyond their comfort zones. All three professors work within APSU’s College of Arts and Letters, but they don’t often interact on projects.
“My communication students are not versed in the 18th century in any way,” Ellison said. “Many of them are sports journalism students, and they wouldn’t normally read ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ It’s been pushing them well beyond their norms. I love it, and they’re loving it.”
“I love that your sports journalism students are reading ‘The Merchant of Venice,’” Wessel said.
The three episodes, along with a fourth “making of” podcast, will be available later this spring on iTunes.