Bringing Literature to Life through Theater
When not teaching in the classroom, Assumption Professor of English Paul Shields, Ph.D., is bringing literature alive by way of local theater. In early July, he directed a production of Samuel Beckett’s Not I at the Worcester PopUp Theater.
“I was listening to an interview with Beckett scholar, and my former mentor, S. E. Gontarski this past January, and he mentioned that he would like to see more productions of Beckett's Not I," explained Prof. Shields. “I had been considering doing more directing, and so I set out to do this short work.”
Not I, a short play that premiered in New York City in 1972, features a talking mouth (known as "Mouth") that “spits fragments at us from an alternate universe or dimension or void,” explained Prof. Shields. “Mouth tells stories about a woman, but informs us four times throughout the monologue that she is not the woman. Critic Katherine Kelly suggests the play is a reworking of the myth of Orpheus, while Corinna Salvadori Lonergan believes Mouth is at the entryway to Dante's Purgatory.”
In March, Prof. Shields began Zoom rehearsals with local actress Amelia Thompson, who took on the role of Mouth, before moving to in-person rehearsals. Thompson appeared in Prof. Shields’s production of Beckett’s Footfalls at Worcester’s Sprinkler Factory in 2018. “She has incredible gifts, and I am very thankful she agreed to this part,” he said. “This was a four-month project of late-night rehearsals and morning meetings. Amelia often directed herself. She's very funny, which kept things light between Mouth's sorrows and screams.”
Along with the play, Prof. Shields screened a short documentary film, which included clips from their rehearsals and critical analyses by a few Beckett scholars. Following the documentary, there was a question and answer session with the audience. “I enjoyed talking with audience members, who asked great questions and offered great ideas,” said Prof. Shields, who is himself a Beckett Scholar. “We had engaging conversations about the play and Beckett.”
In April, Prof. Shields made a laboratory film of Not I to share with scholars at the 2021 Between.Pomiedzy Theater Festival, which was held virtually this May rather than in Poland due to the pandemic. In addition, he also directed a short commemorative film, entitled May Nein, for the festival for a panel celebrating the 40th anniversary of Beckett’s 1981 play Ohio Impromptu. The six-minute film starring S. E. Gontarski is about a man in a room listening to lines from Ohio Impromptu and early drafts of the play, as well as screams coming from another room above him. Greg Weatherspoon G’20 performed voice over work for the short film, as well as for the documentary that was shown after the performance of Not I at the Worcester PopUp.
“This was a real pleasure for me,” said Prof. Shields. “I will always remember how we brought this Beckett play to life in Amelia's small dining area. I reveled in the experience. I discovered how much I didn't know about this play, and it's now very important to me. We're now considering a second run of shows."
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