Duke’s Theater Studies Department presented Pericles in Sheafer Theater from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, 2007.
Pericles is not one of William Shakespeare’s best-known plays. But it is one of his liveliest. The story of the prince of Tyre is full of storms at sea, shipwrecks, pirates, priestesses and prostitutes.
“Pericles is a very rich piece,” says John Clum, chair of the theater studies department. “On the surface, it seems like a fairy tale with not much at stake, but really it is a life-and-death struggle. If you dig beneath the surface and mine it for meaning, it is a play about meeting misfortune with grace and nobility and discovering that patience will be rewarded.”
Clum co-directed the play with Duke senior Shaun Dozier in a production that drew upon the talents of many Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.
“It was a great opportunity to work with Professor Clum and with this ensemble,” Dozier says. “I want to be a film director and I learned a lot working with this cast. It was an excellent experience.”
The play tells the complicated story of Pericles, the young prince of Tyre in Phoenicia. It follows the protagonist on adventures in several Mediterranean countries over many years and has dozens of characters. In this production, the students worked as an ensemble and played multiple roles. Jeff A.R. Jones, a visiting lecturer, taught stage combat and shaped the movement for the production. Audiences witnessed some raucous scenes with pirate raids, jousting tournaments, assorted betrayals and acts of treachery.
As part of the production, the student actors took a course taught by Clum and Sarah Beckwith, a professor of English and theater studies. Beckwith also worked on the production as dramaturg.
George Lam, a Ph.D. candidate in music composition at Duke, composed the score for the play, which participants jokingly call Pericles – the Musical.
“Pericles lends itself to music,” Clum says. “There are references to music on practically every page of the script. All the actors sang and played instruments.”
The play was performed in the round. That’s partly because that’s how it would have been done in Shakespeare’s day and also because the scenic designer, Amir Ofek wanted the students to be challenged.
“There is nowhere to hide in the round,” says Ofek, a visiting lecturer in theater studies. “But it gives the actors a chance to shine.”