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ECU students challenged to modernize Shakespeare

GALEN HAWES - ECU
ECU English professor Dr. Joshua Grasso hold up copies of Williams Shakespeare’s works. He has asked his class to adapt the plays for a modern audience.

ADA – Some 400 years after his death, William Shakespeare is still keeping college students awake at night.

Dr. Joshua Grasso, associate professor of English at East Central University, has charged his Shakespeare Seminar students with the task of modernizing the Bard’s plays with the end goal of pitching their interpretations to a modern-day theater department or director.

Students have four of Shakespeare’s comedies from which to choose – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors. Students are charged with modernizing the play, but not its message.

“The goal here is for the students to help viewers see the true meaning behind the scripts they are adapting,” said Grasso. “Also, I really want my students to understand that Shakespeare is still a living author and his writings are still relevant when performed. We have to figure out how they should be performed for an audience with contemporary tastes.”

Some of Shakespeare’s works could be considered offensive to today’s audiences since some of them include racism, sexism and “politically incorrect” dialogue, Grasso said. If performed in their original forms, they could make modern viewers uncomfortable. He noted that Shakespeare’s plays have rarely, throughout history, been performed without some level of adaption.

“Following this assignment, I hope to share these student adaptations with a larger audience,” Grasso said. “I also want students to share them among their own friends and family, since their adaptations could actually be performed on a modern stage.”

Students will pitch their final projects on flipgrid.com – an online, video discussion forum – toward the end of the spring semester. Shakespeare fans in the community may enjoy following the process a little more closely at ecushakespeare.blogspot.com.