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Theater Emory recreates Renaissance playhouse experience

Audiences became participants in Theater Emory's experiment in English Renaissance-era theater from the moment they ordered their tickets for one of the Elizabethan plays performed this spring.

"Prices varied," says Pat Miller, Theater Emory's managing director. "So people had to decide whether they were nobility with money and prestige, tradespeople, or scalawags and apprentices playing hookey."

The experiment continued as guests entered the theater--a full-sized reconstruction of a late-sixteenth-century English playhouse--and were seated according to social rank. Plebian groundlings crowded the courtyard below the stage; members of the merchant class sat on hard, flat gallery benches; and aristocrats occupied elegant boxes around and above the stage.

In this era of high-concept, technologically driven renderings of Shakespeare's plays, Theater Emory, a company of students and professionals who teach in the Emory College Theater Studies Department, looked backward to the world of the Bard to inspire almost a year of work. Theatergoers experienced English Renaissance stage productions the way the original audiences might have seen them.

To experiment with some of the dynamics that defined Renaissance theatrics, the crew created a theater within a theater-a wooden playhouse based on period designs constructed inside Emory's Mary Gray Munroe Theater. The "Black Rose Theater" combined elements of the Blackfriars and Rose theaters, two English playhouses where, scholars believe, several of Shakespeare's plays premiered. From the Rose, the architects of Emory's Renaissance theater took the polygonal seating around the square stage, while the set's dimensions and indoor lighting conventions were patterned after the Blackfriars.

"We feel as though we're in Shakespeare's head," says Vincent Murphy, Theater Emory's artistic producing director and mastermind of the project. "He thought spatially--in terms of where the audience is and the interplay with actors.

"Nationally, theaters have started to compete with movies, with the entertainment industry, to get people to watch Shakespeare. So we've gotten Shrew: The Musical or Hamlet: Godfather of Brooklyn. It made me think, What is it about any play, especially an Elizabethan play, in its original conditions that would seem alive to us?"

To explore this question, Theater Emory presented a Renaissance Repertory in the Black Rose this spring. The project included a full-text production of The Tempest; The White Devil, a Jacobean tale of love and betrayal by John Webster; and Hamlet and Ophelia, adapted and performed by Emory College students Ariel Bennett and Daniel Colman, who rearranged the text of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Theatrical lighting and other pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum. Instead, Theater Emory's production designers recreated some of the conditions that Elizabethan audiences probably experienced.

A play in the open-air Rose theater might have taken place in the mid- to late-afternoon, so Theater Emory designers re-created a sense of natural outdoor lighting for The Tempest. To evoke the atmosphere of an indoor theater like the Blackfriars, electric "candles" in chandeliers and wall sconces created the aura of universally even light for The White Devil. In accordance with period conventions, no intermissions broke the more than two-hour productions, so audience members came and went as they pleased.

The spring repertory played to sold-out houses and was well received by local reviewers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the Black Rose set "fun, transportive, an experience. . . . And it's wonderfully complemented by a rough-edged performance [of The Tempest]. The actors aren't sloppy, by any means, but they're never self-consciously 'Shakespearean,' either, and not above playing to the crowd. . . . With no set, you end up truly concentrating on the story and those telling it."

Plans are underway to stage more productions in the Black Rose Theater before the set is dismantled after Thanksgiving. In June, an Alumni University workshop on Shakespeare and Renaissance theater was conducted in the Black Rose. "Shakespeare wanted to tell a great story in a space that makes people communicate," Murphy says. "So that's what we've tried to do."-A.O.A.


This spring a journalism reunion and banquet was held at the Emory Conference Center Hotel. The event was hosted by Loren Ghiglione, the James M. Cox Jr. Professor in Journalism and the director of the new undergraduate journalism program. Among the nearly one hundred and fifty alumni and their spouses who attended were many graduates of Emory's former journalism department, which ran from the late 1930s through 1953, as well as later alumni who have pursued careers in journalism, public relations, advertising, radio, and television. A number of well-known journalists were in attendance, including John N. Herbers '49C, longtime New York Times Washington correspondent; Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Claude Sitton '47Ox-'49C-'84H; Grady Clay '38C-'86H, the former editor of Landscape Architecture magazine and the author of three books on urban topography; and the Rev. James M. Wall '49C-'55T-'82L-'85H, longtime editor of the Christian Century. The event also featured an exhibit in the Special Collections Department of the Woodruff Library that displayed memorabilia from the former journalism department and items from the careers of a number of alumni.

After dinner, alumni and their guests viewed a video tribute to Raymond B. Nixon '25C, the founder and head of the original journalism program, who was named Emory's Man of the Year by The Campus in 1942. Following that presentation, the establishment of the Annual International Journalism Lecture in honor of Nixon was announced, as well as the establishment of two awards: the Annual Student Journalism Award in honor of Sitton, and the Annual Reese Cleghorn '50C Award to honor the person who has made the greatest contribution to journalism education at Emory. Also unveiled were the Pullet Surprises, a yearly spoof of the Pulitzer Prizes, with categories including best checkbook journalism, infotainment, over-reported story, invisible story, photo of questionable taste, misleading headline, and malapropism.

"How can you be young today and not want to serve? It's a wonderful time to be alive and share your talents. People are trying to make you mean, but there's no reason for your generation to be mean. We've given you twelve years, sixteen years, in order to learn something. No generation that has come before has been given that. You ought to be the most generous generation on the face of the earth."

--Poet and essayist Nikki Giovanni, addressing students in Glenn Memorial Auditorium as the keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Week

Photo by Kay Hinton


Tinsley Ellis '77Ox-'79C travels the world playing the blues

Blame it on B.B.

In 1971, when Tinsley Ellis was fourteen years old, he convinced his father to take him to a show at a Miami Beach hotel lounge where blues legend B.B. King was performing.

"B.B. just really knocked me out," says Ellis in his mildly gravelly voice from the basement of his home near the University. Guitars and amplifiers are scattered around the cavernous room. "There were only like fifty people there; it was amazing. He really ripped it up that afternoon, and then he stood around and met all of us after the show."

The concert was a defining moment for Ellis, a fourth-generation Emory graduate who earned his Oxford College degree in 1977 and his history degree from Emory in 1979. "That show was when I decided what I wanted to be-a blues guitar player," he says.

Twenty years later, Ellis would meet B.B. King again, but this time under very different circumstances--in 1991 he toured Florida as the opening act for the blues icon.

The venerable Chicago-based blues label, Alligator Records, has just released Ellis' ninth album, Fire It Up. CD Review has praised him as "the heir apparent to the blues-rock throne," and the San Francisco Bay Guardian has described him as "a blues-bred guitar phenom."

Ellis' career began while he was a student at Oxford, playing on campus in a group called the Haygood Band, which was named after a dormitory where a number of musicians lived. At Emory, he became heavily involved in the Atlanta music scene, and when he graduated he toured with a blues band called The Alley Cats.

Two years later, Ellis formed The Heartfixers with well-known blues singer and harmonica player "Chicago" Bob Nelson. That band would grow into Atlanta's most popular blues act and would release four albums. In 1988, Ellis went solo, and since then he has put out five records on his own. Rolling Stone gave his 1994 effort, Storm Warning, three and a half out of four stars and wrote that "on guitar his eloquence dazzles" and that he "achieves pyrotechnics that rival early Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton."

Ellis says he is happy with his new record but admits it is somewhat of a departure. "There are no horns this time, and the sound is pretty stripped down. It's a little more rockin' than anything I've ever done."

Ellis is currently touring the country in support of Fire It Up, but being away from his home is nothing new. For most of the last decade, he has spent three hundred days a year on the road. He has played in every state but Hawaii and also has performed in Europe, Australia, Canada, and South America.

Ellis says one of the benefits of so much touring is that he has been able to play on stage with a number of his heroes, including blues stalwarts Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Buddy Guy. He even sat in with Jimmy Buffet's band in Key West one New Year's Eve and played "Margaritaville." But he says his biggest thrill was opening for the Allman Brothers in 1993 and then performing with them during their show. "If somebody had told me when I was an Emory student that I would play with The Allman Brothers, I would have fainted," he says.

Now in his late thirties, Ellis has no plans to slow down or cut back on his grueling schedule. And as a blues artist, he knows longevity is on his side. "In a rock 'n' roll band, once your hair falls out you're finished," he says. "In blues, once your hair falls out you charge another $500 per show."--J.D.T.


Architectural firm to plan the campus of tomorrow

Emory has contracted with the Baltimore firm of Ayers/Saint/Gross Architects and Planners to create a campus master plan for the University. The process, expected to take fourteen to sixteen months, will establish guiding principles for the use of Emory's more than six hundred acres, address transportation and parking needs, and set guidelines for the placement and design of buildings and grounds. Ayers/Saint/Gross has conducted similar projects for the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, and George Washington University.

The review began at the initiative of President William M. Chace, who says, "We need effective and strong master planning for the entire campus--attention to buildings, spaces between buildings, thoroughfares, pedestrian avenues, landscaping, parking, oases of learning and conversation, 'sacred' places wherein the intellectual life of the University can be enhanced, and the perimeter of the campus so that one knows when one has entered upon Emory and when one has departed from it."

According to Earle Whittington, senior project manager in Emory's office of Campus Planning and Construction, "It will be an inclusive process and involve people at the University, Emory Village, the Druid Hills Civic Association, Victoria Estates, Dekalb County planning and development offices, and MARTA. What we hope to obtain is a framework that will serve as a flexible guide for decision-making as we respond to the continuing changes in higher education. As programs expand and space becomes more limited, we need to have a well-thought-out direction for physical development that will outlive all of us."--A.O.A.


All spring varsity teams compete at nationals

Emory's varsity athletics program batted a thousand this spring, as all six sports qualified for their respective NCAA Division III national championships--men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field, golf, and baseball. That record of achievement ensures that the Eagles will again finish in the top ten in the Sears Directors' Cup competition for the nation's best all-around Division III athletics program. No other Georgia school in Division I, II, or III placed in the top twenty-five in those standings.

Some of the spring sports highlights include the women's tennis team's third-place finish in its national tournament and the golf team's fifth-place showing, which was its best ever. The baseball team set a school record for wins, going 32-16, and reached the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. The men's tennis team placed seventh at nationals, marking the twelfth time in the last fourteen years it has finished in the top ten. And eight student athletes, the largest contingent in recent years, represented Emory at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships. Also, nine student-athletes were named All-Americans this spring, bringing the school year total to twenty-three.

At the end of spring semester, Emory also unveiled its new Scholar-Athlete Award. The first recipient was senior English major Megan Bern. She was a member of Emory's 1996 national champion women's tennis team, a 1996 All American, and a two-time GTE Academic All American. Bern was also chosen as a Bobby Jones Scholar and will study in Scotland for a year at the University of St. Andrews.


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