Shakespeare at 50: The Hofstra Festivals and Productions
November 1, 1999 - January 7, 2000
Lowenfeld Exhibition Hall, 10th floor, Axinn Library
November 8, 1999 - January 14, 2000
David Filderman Gallery, 9th floor, Axinn Library
The person most responsible for bringing Shakespeare to Hofstra was John Cranford Adams. Adams, Hofstra's President from 1944 to 1964, was a Shakespeare scholar who had been a senior research fellow at the Folger Library in Washington D.C. in 1937 and had received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1935 with a thesis titled The Structure of the Globe Playhouse Stage. Hofstra built a playhouse in 1958 and named it in honor of Adams in 1974. Before the Playhouse was built, however, the plays were staged in the Calkins Gymnasium on a set that was also of Adams' design. Each year since 1950, Hofstra University celebrates its commitment to the arts with the celebrated Shakespeare Festival. Activities over the years have included exhibitions, symposiums, music recitals, amateur readings and performances.
Adams researched the design of the original Globe Theatre for years and although he eventually published a major work on its design (in 1942 by Harvard University Press), he was convinced that research alone was not enough. He created a model of the Globe in a ratio of one-half inch to one-foot scale. With the help of Irwin Smith, an architect and neighbor in Garden City, he refined and improved the model to coincide with the opening of the first festival at Hofstra. After its exhibition at Hofstra, the model was shown in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. It was brought back to Hofstra University in the mid-1980s where it is on continual display in the Axinn Library.
The model was made from more than 25,000 individual pieces including 6,500 tiny "bricks" cut from pencil erasers and laid individually. The roof for the stage is surfaced with about 9,500 separate tiles. The plaster in the panels was applied with a spoon and a medicine dropper and walnut was used for the model's timber. Wherever possible, the details of the model had exact Tudor prototypes.
According to Adams' calculations, the original Globe Theatre, located on the South Bank of London's Thames River and built in 1599, was octagonal in shape and 84 feet, 6 inches across the outside walls. A 58 foot open courtyard could accommodate approximately 600 people who paid a penny each to stand and watch the production. Adams estimated that an additional 1,500 patrons could occupy eight sections of the galleries on the three levels with a cost of between two pennies and a shilling. The original Globe burned to the ground in 1613.
The first Hofstra Shakespeare Festival started on a Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 1950, and the audience was local high school students, 1,000 strong. After four days of presentations, more than 4,500 people had seen the play and attended the symposium and music recitals. There were four performances of Julius Caesar in 1950; by 1958, eight performances of that year's play were necessary to satisfy the growing audience, and in 1969, 10 performances attracted an audience of 12,000. By the time the second annual Festival was staged, Hofstra had created a life scale replica that was based on Adams' model of the Globe. Because of the size constraints of Calkins Gymnasium, where the Festivals were first held, the stage set was a five-sixth reproduction. It takes approximately 800 man-hours to assemble the stage and another 300 to take it apart and put it in storage. The stage set was created by Donald H. Swinney, and he supervised its construction. The community also took part in the set design, since high school students were asked to create the spindles for the balustrades in their shop classes.
In 1958 the opening of the Playhouse coincided with the staging of the Shakespeare Festival. The space was designed to accommodate the Globe stage set and had a seating capacity of 1,134. The flexible stage proscenium could be opened to a maximum of 45 feet or closed, using a series of baffles, to a minimum of just 28 feet. The orchestra pit was equipped with an elevator so that it could rise from the basement to stage level. The use of a "fly" system created by theatrical engineer George Izenour allowed vertical movement over the acting area and electrical control over the many mechanical devices
Originally, the costumes for the plays were rented. By 1956, Director Bernard Beckerman realized that this was getting expensive. Costume designer Esther Bialo was hired and a permanent wardrobe was assembled. Students, faculty and family members were enlisted in creating, maintaining and adding to the growing wardrobe. Over the years, other designers worked arduously on the Hofstra performances, including Greta Richards, Lloyd Evans, Jeanne Buttons, Robert Pusilo, Richard Kramer, Mary Boyle, Michael Sharp, Deidre McGuire, Leor Warner, Jeananne Chesek, Edmond Felix and Meganne George.
Professional actors were used in many of the early Festivals, but the available student talent soon made this an option, rather than a necessity. All of the plays were directed by Professor Bernard Beckerman until 1961 when James Van Wart first directed Love's Labour's Lost. He subsequently directed plays in the years 1966-70, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1986. Other directors over the years include Joseph Leon, Miriam Tulin, Richard Mason, Estelle Aden, Carol Kastendieck, Larry Arrick, Peter Sander, James Kolb, Phylis Ward Fox and Royston Coppenger. Until his retirement in 1990, Donald Swinney worked to reconstruct the stage set as many times as it has been used since 1951. In recent years, the wooden scaffolding on the set was replaced with metal in order to meet fire safety regulations. Other changes over the years have been made temporarily at a director's request. These include the use of enlarged balconies, center stairways and gateways. There have also been modern interpretations that used only the support scaffolding or no stage set at all. Three plays hold the record for being most repeated during the 50 years of Shakespeare performances at Hofstra. They are Twelfth Night (performed in 1952, 1966, 1980 and 1988), As You Like It (performed in 1957, 1968, 1983 and 1994) and, of course, Romeo and Juliet (performed in 1960, 1967, 1977 and 1986).
This exhibition celebrates 50 years of performances of Shakespeare at Hofstra University. It starts with images of John Cranford Adams and the model of the Globe and incorporates the stage set, performances, as well as the costumes, props and images of the plays. The materials come from both the Hofstra University Archives and the Drama Department.
--Geri Solomon, Guest Curator