It’s hard to believe any play, especially one that apologizes for its own reckless imagination, could remain fresh, alive, and funny for 413 years. But then, not every play was written by William Shakespeare. And, equally important, not every play is performed by The Barter Theater of Abbington, Virginia.
The theater echoed with laughter, from beginning to end. The audience, nearly a full house, was mesmerized by the characters of the classic comedy, “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream,” believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596, and first published in 1600.
No doubt, there were many outstretched arms on the way home, forming the infamous “chink” in the wall where lovers rendezvous. And who can even walk past the artificial flowers in the dollar stores, after that performance, and not be reminded of the mystical, magical love powers a giant, be-sparkled flower might possess under the moonlight?
Shakespeare’s remarkable depiction of the human condition, matched by his mastery of the English language, has made his work an integral part of the English language and the American educational system. In Britain, Shakespeare is the only author students over the age of 13 are required to study. And in the United States, Shakespeare plays have been among the top 10 most popular for high schools since 1937, according to a survey by Strauss, 2010.
On February 19, 1931, The Cheraw Chronicle published a story about The Shakespeare Storytelling Club and how they met under the direction of Miss Kendall on Friday afternoons. “She is still enrolling members every day, while the pupils are finding themselves more interested in Shakespeare and his works each meeting,” the article stated.
One of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, playwright Ben Johnson, recognized the immortal strength of Shakespeare’s work by saying, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”
Several area English teachers from Cheraw High School and Faith Christian Academy encouraged their students to go, along with Blaire Goodson, of Darlington High School. She brought a bus load of her ninth grade English II honor students to the performance. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
“The stage presence was amazing!” Adrianna Sawyer.
“The performance was really good and the actors were amazing!” MiKayla Gandy.
“A tremendous, well performed comedy!” Josh Hickmon.
“This was the first play I have ever been to and it was an amazing experience,” Seirra McElveen.
The Cheraw Arts Commission is responsible for bringing this caliber of acting talent to our region. Lindsay Bennett, executive director for the Cheraw Arts Commission, introduced the performance, lending a little history on The Barter Theater. When it first opened in 1933, Bennett said, tickets were sold for 40 cents, or traded for 40 cents worth of produce; hence the name, The Barter Theater.
Bringing Shakespeare to town was a “new undertaking,” said Bennett. “And it was very successful!”
After the performance, the actors took a few minutes to answer questions from the audience. Each of them hold college degrees in theater, music, or both. They are professional actors who sign a contract to travel and perform together for 18 months, making their job more than full time.
There’s talk in the community, from time to time, among members of the OnStage theater group and others, to revive the town’s taste for Shakespeare. Mark Davies, director the Cheraw State Park, has mentioned the revival of the amphitheater, near the House on the Hill, at the park as a perfect host for summer Shakespeare.
Only time will tell if it is “to be, or not to be.”
The Cheraw Arts Commission is funded in part by the South Carolina Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.