The Shakespeare at Winedale program is built on the tenet that performance is the most effective way to explore and understand the plays of William Shakespeare. Founded in 1970 by James "Doc" Ayres, a professor in the department of English at The University of Texas at Austin, Shakespeare at Winedale draws students and audiences every summer to the "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" town of Round Top, Texas, population ninety. The Winedale Historical Complex—a collection of preserved nineteenth-century buildings gifted to UT by renowned philanthropist Ima Hogg—includes a hundred-year-old German hay barn turned Elizabethan stage where scores of undergraduates have dedicated their summers to an immersive study of Shakespeare's works.
A typical summer season consists of three plays, performed in repertory by the class. Students take part in every aspect of the creative process from sewing costumes and writing music to choreographing swordfights and building props. Weeks of preparation culminate in four weekends of public performances that allow students to share what they have learned and created. For more than four decades, Winedale alumni have described the experience as life-altering.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Humanities Texas presents interviews with Shakespeare at Winedale founding director Doc Ayres and current director James Loehlin, Shakespeare at Winedale Regents Professor at UT Austin. Underscoring the program's reach and impact, we also include remarks from former students of the program.
For more information about Shakespeare at Winedale, visit www.shakespeare-winedale.org.
The following excerpts are from an interview with James "Doc" Ayres recorded by Kelsi Tyler on March 31, 2016, at the Winedale Historical Complex.
I was born in San Antonio, and I went to Alamo Heights High School there. I played baseball. That's about all I did, I think. After graduating from Alamo Heights High School, I attended Texas Lutheran College for one semester. I didn't study very much. I did play baseball.
After that one semester, I was drafted into the Army and was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, for basic training, and then to Boston, Massachusetts, for specialized training in aircraft artillery, and then to Korea. After the war was over in Korea in 1953, I was sent to Alaska for a while to get cool. I managed to get out of the service a little bit early, arguing that I wanted to go to college. The only university in Texas I could get into at that time—November, December—was Baylor University because they were on the quarter system. I went into Baylor with the intention of transferring to The University of Texas at the end of the term, but I met several teachers at Baylor that were very influential on my later life, especially in English history and in Milton, and I decided to stay there. I graduated from Baylor in three years. I was in a hurry, taking twenty hours each term and working three jobs to get it done. I had three majors: Spanish, history, and English.
My history teacher inspired me to get an MA in history and maybe a PhD. I was accepted to the University of Michigan and already had a place. I was a dorm counselor, and I was already registered for courses and so on. I went to California in the summer [before starting at Michigan] to work as a beach boy for a Chinese home for dependent neglected children. Out of nowhere—and I still can't figure out how he found me—my Milton teacher [from Baylor] called me on the phone, and he argued that I should not go in history but I needed to go into English studies. I said, "It's a little bit late because I have to leave in two weeks for Michigan." He said, "No, I'll get you into Florida State in two weeks. I have a friend there." So that's what he did. I said okay. I guess I was tired of the cold in Korea and Alaska. And I never made it to Michigan.
Then I went to Ohio State [to get my PhD], and in the process of all that I got married in 1958. By the time I finished my PhD in 1964, I had two young boys. I had about eight or nine offers to go to teach at different schools, including the University of Michigan once again, but I never made it. I wanted to go back home, so I chose Texas.
My first semester at The University of Texas I taught Shakespeare right away, which was a really exciting thing for me because my dissertation was on Shakespeare after the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare in the Restoration of the eighteenth century and later periods. Immediately, I started teaching Shakespeare through performance in 1964.
The approach to teaching Shakespeare through performance developed my first year [teaching] at The University of Texas in 1964. My teachers up at Ohio State always used to tell me that you have to get the student to imagine the play being performed or you have to show films of [Laurence] Olivier or whatever. I did some of that at Ohio State, and I always felt there was some kind of distance between the performance and me. And of course, with the performance, you're only getting one kind of interpretation, and I thought that there were considerable other interpretations to be discovered.
It all started in my first class when we were reading and talking about The Merchant of Venice. We had a number of students in the class who were really upset about what happens to Shylock in the play, understandably. And we had a number of people in the class who thought he deserved everything that he got. And we had some people who were sympathetic to Shylock, thought that Portia was about the worst person in the whole world. I had some law students in the class who were taking that point of view. They were criticizing [Portia] for her administration of justice, as it were. Anyway, I decided to take aside a group of students and work with them at other hours on the trial scene in the play. We tried to do it in a couple different ways. In one, our Shylock was very sympathetic, and in the other one he wasn't and Portia was an absolutely brilliant attorney. And there were other things that arose in the work—Gratiano's part in the scene, Antonio's part in the scene, Bassanio's part, other characters. So our understanding of that scene in the play broadened as we [performed] it, and things kept changing slightly every time we went over it. Then we did it for the class, and it sparked all kind of discussion, which was absolutely wonderful.
At that point, I was very excited about what we had done, so I asked for a special class in the English department to [teach Shakespeare through performance], and I was denied. So I kept doing it in my regular Shakespeare class. I think about a year later, I asked again and was denied. Then I went to the director of Plan II, and he very much approved of it and was very excited about it. So I got a Plan II number to do the performance course. In that particular course, we were still studying Shakespeare, but we were not reading twenty plays or fifteen or ten or eight but [reading only] four and focusing our attention on one and working on it. We didn't have performances particularly in mind. Gradually, we began to be able to do staged performances of the plays on the mall at lunchtime, in the area between Parlin and Calhoun. We did the trial scene there two or three times. We performed the gravedigger scene from Hamlet in the graveyard on Twelfth Street at night when it was raining and very cold, as I remember. We had skulls, and it was kind of interesting. We did scenes from Hamlet in the Texas State Capitol rotunda one evening. We had permission for that from one of the girls in the class whose father was a representative. I have fond memories of that. The lieutenant governor walked out when Hamlet said, "A body of politic worms is e'en upon him." We performed down at Sixth and Congress once on the sidewalk, just a sudden thing.
In the sixties, there was something called a "happening," and it was a moment when something happened. So our little performances were those happenings. You walk along, and boom! There's a scene, and boom! You're gone, pick up and go. So we were kind of traveling players. We did a lot of little things like that. We didn't have a place, so we explored every natural environment, natural settings, and so on. The classroom was always the wrong place, with its chairs and walls and so on.
In 1970, I came down here [to Winedale] for a retirement dinner for the president of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, whose name was Bob Sutherland. It was fortuitous that I got that invitation and found Winedale and met Miss [Ima] Hogg. She asked me what I do, and I said, "I teach Shakespeare." She said, "Oh, I want you to go into that barn and take a look at it." I went over [to the barn], and I looked at it, and I walked around in it. It was empty, didn't have chairs or anything in it, clay floor. Something struck me about it, and I said, "You know, this is the place." I went back and she was still in the receiving line for her guests. I told her, "I would love to come here with my classes." And she said, "I want you to do Shakespeare here."
I talked all about it on the way back to Austin. That was on a weekend, a Saturday. I couldn't wait for Monday to talk to the administration. I said, "I want to do this, want to go there. It's going to cost money. I don't have any money." The dean of the college gave me five hundred dollars, and my class was there November 15.
That semester class was the beginning. We were studying Much Ado About Nothing at that point, and this was the new venue for it. They really enjoyed coming down here and staying in the dormitory. The dormitories across the street here, you see it by the chimneys, burned down in 1981. It was a very nice place. We'd sit around at night and talk about the plays and do readings.
I don't know that we accomplished very much at the end of that first session, but we did make that trip. Then I did the second term in the spring of '71. So summer of 1971 was the first summer class. We were only going to be here two weeks. That's all the money I had for it. I had some students who had been in those earlier classes who were interested, but I wanted to get about ten or eleven or twelve students. At one point I was short two students, and I actually stopped one girl in the hall I had never known. I just started talking to her and finally turned her into a student. She became one of the best ones, one of the most startling performances I've seen.
It was a very special time, that first year. Miss Ima, who was here visiting for those two weeks, would come watch and talk to the students. What astonished us all was that, the night of the performance, she brought her nurse, and she and her nurse made their own clothes for that performance. They had twin dresses, and they had a chauffeur drive them up and bring them to [the barn]. She brought her Shakespeare text with her and a light to read by to follow the play. I had to pull the plug on the light and tell her that something was wrong because I didn't want it on.
[In] the early classes I had in Shakespeare at Winedale—I'd say from the beginning to about 1977—the students were part of that generation of students who had great energy and imagination, who worked together so well. They loved to play, and they loved improvisations. I remember, we used to stop at night sometimes about ten, and then go to sleep for about four hours, then go back [to the barn]. So at something like three, four, five in the morning we'd be in the theater. We used to eat breakfast in the theater. It gets pretty hot here, so the cooler hours are in the evening and the night. So we began the day very early. It almost seems like they were never exhausted. They always came up with ideas.
In the early years, we didn't choose the plays beforehand. We'd come down and spend four days talking about Shakespeare's plays. We'd say, "Okay, let's hear some suggestions. What do you think we should do?" We were doing improvisations in the evenings, so we were finding out a little bit more about each other and that kind of thing. We'd have discussions, and then all of a sudden we'd say, "Okay, what is it?" What they never knew is that I had my decision already made on the back of the bulletin board, but they would always select the one that I had on the back of the bulletin board.
What I was after in my approach was a teaching and learning experience that is intimate and immediate. [Students develop insights] in front of your eyes all of a sudden, they have epiphanies, they discover things as they go, and those change everything. I've always been excited by the prospect of change. I did As You Like It one summer with one group of students in the roles, and then at the end of the first performance, we changed and reassigned everybody so that Rosalind, for example, became Audrey and so on. They knew their new lines in two days because they'd been so immersed in the experience. The teamwork is amazing. Shakespeare teaches you an awful lot by telling you very little. The wonderful thing about Shakespeare is that he doesn't tell you too much, but he leads you, and you have to be alert to those directions, and cues, and hints, and suggestions, implications of things. It really tests your ability and the [students'] abilities.
I've always strived for change. I never wanted them to get stuck in any given interpretation of something or think that there is only one way of approaching the character or saying that word or that line. Inflections change the meaning of a line, and sometimes that turns the play in another direction. And then the others see that their response has to shift as well. They have to play with one another. One thing I emphasized from the very beginning is the importance of play, the spirit of play. I don't do shows; I do plays. Shows are artificial. Plays are substantial. It is very hard to play.
[Shakespeare through performance] gets students closer to the texts, to the characters, to themselves, and to other people than any other method. Talking about it in the classroom, lecturing on it, showing films on it doesn't do that. And this becomes a part of their life permanently. That doesn't mean they're theatre people. I know that Shakespeare at Winedale in my years spawned ten theatres in Austin, and some of them are still going. Some of them like the Rude Mechs are big time, with Shawn [Sides] and Madge [Darlington] and Lana [Lesley]—she was my first female Hamlet. We have a Broadway director, a very famous one [John Rando]. We have Michael Barker, who is the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, and Terry Galloway out in Florida, who is in theatre.
But the majority of them went on to careers doing other things. They're doctors, attorneys, and whatever. They still not only remember their experience [at Winedale], but they credit what they are doing in their professions to the experience itself. One of my former students, Dr. Craig Hurwitz, met [his wife Kathy] at the fortieth reunion. They'd never known one another, and they were both students of mine, and they got married. He met Kathy and decided to move to Austin from the East coast, and he is now director of palliative care at Dell Children's Center. He and Kathy and I started a program there called Play's The Thing, working with young kids who have chronic diseases or life-threatening or life-ending diseases, and we do improvisations and scenes and so on. The intent is to improve their quality of life and get their mind off that blasted treatment they're going through. And it works, it does work.
Students describe [Winedale] as a life-changing, life-altering kind of experience. It turns you a different way. You find out things about yourself you didn't know, and you find out things about other people you didn't know. Your task is to inhabit the lines, inhabit the character, to really be somebody for that period of time, and look at yourself from another direction. It's been very interesting.
I never lost faith in the idea or in myself. I always tell my students that I am completely confident in what I do. Starting it, I knew in '64 that I'd caught on to something. And when I found Winedale [in 1970], it was experimental. I mean, the first session, we just wondered if we were going to get an audience in the summer. We didn't have any things organized like that. But in 1973 we did our first whole play, entire play, The Tempest, and we were rolling, as far as I'm concerned. And after that, I just went on. I'd never done three plays in the summer, and I jumped from one to three. We were off, and I never doubted for a moment that it would be successful.
And I did have critics. I had people in the lower university administration who weren't interested. They certainly weren't impressed. One chair of the English department even tried to stop Shakespeare at Winedale, and I fought through it. I had friends in the upper administration—the deans, the vice presidents, the president, and the chancellor were very supportive of Shakespeare at Winedale. They actually came here, they actually saw what was happening. To the people in the English department, this was heretical. You don't do that in English departments, you see. So I broke something up. It's sort of my nature, I think, to do that. Then, curiously, about 1990, you started hearing voices in the department by the same people that criticized me saying, "Oh, I'd like to teach a course doing that." Amazing.
Anyway, we've been financially solvent all the way through this. But we had to scrape for money. I ran my program on private money. I helped establish two endowments. We have deans to thank for getting approval to do those things because a little program in a department doesn't have a chance at those most of the time. So, yeah, we fought through it. We're part of The University of Texas, but we're a satellite down here. Because of its remoteness, you don't always get the service down here that you need. Something is always breaking, and those are problems for the management—the toilets don't work, the electricity doesn't work. [It's difficult] to cool the theater. I've worked at cooling the theater for forty years. We used to put a hose on top of it. I did that when the chancellor came, just to show him that we needed something cooler. I put a hose on top of it, and let the water run down both sides, and it cooled it about five degrees. It was hot sunshine outside, and it's raining down the sides of the barn, and he's wondering [what's going on]. I told him, "This is my air conditioning system."
But we've survived, and I credit the students for that and the success that they've had. Our success can be measured by their accomplishments, then and now.
[Windeale] is an idyllic place. The ambience of the place really speaks to and assists in what we do. We've likened it to the forest outside Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream or the forest of Arden in As You Like It. The students found it a place of freedom, like in As You Like It. Rosalind has the line, they go "to liberty, and not to banishment." "Liberty" referred to that area of London across the river called Liberty of the Clink. You're talking about freedom—the South Bank was freedom. Freedom from the laws of the town across the river. The ambiance of Winedale is like the wood outside Athens or the Forest of Arden. It's a place where the characters in the play go for a communion with nature or to work out a certain problem. It's a place that they speak of as really ideal. Their experiences in it may be a little maddening or topsy-turvy, but they're better for it. As C. L. Barber [author of Shakespeare's Festive Comedy] says, there is a release, and the effect of that release is clarification. There's some insight coming from it all.
There is no clock at Winedale. I've always preached that from the beginning. There's no clock in the forest. We're busy all the time, and you lose track of time. In my summers, we lost track of what day it was and what week it was. Our clock had become scenes in the play ticking off. We're actively busy. We used to wake up at five o'clock in the morning and get things done between that time and the time we were going to start working on the play. Everything changes. It's a different time system. There's a funny withdrawal period after leaving. Terry Galloway wrote me right after she left in 1972 and said that for the last week she couldn't sleep. She wanted somebody to tell her what to do. She [said], "What can I do?" I said, "Just go out and rake the gravel in your driveway. Do something like that." There's always something to do [at Winedale]. I never had to ask students to do this, that, and the other. They knew immediately, intuitively, what to do. We have a goal. It's just like teaching a play: we've got to know the end, and then the joyful part will be finding out how to get there. But we have to know the end. You know what we have to do to do this. It's right there, and it's daunting when you begin to talk about it, but, as you proceed, you see that it's attainable. They work very, very hard.
"My first summer at Winedale, my mom dropped me off in front the old dorm named after Miss Ima Hogg. I kissed my mom goodbye and went off running towards the barn. It felt as if I were running towards the real passions of my life. And I was. I was running towards everything I already believed in: the power of Shakespeare, of language, friendship, art, community, and love. As I was running, I stunned myself by executing a perfect acrobatic flip in the air and landing, not on my head, but my feet. I easily could have killed myself, and realizing that made me laugh long and hard. I threw myself headlong into Winedale that summer and all the summers I returned. And for the rest of my life, I continued to throw myself headlong into all those passions Winedale awoke in me. Jim Ayres gave me all of that and more. I love him completely and with all the complexity a gift like that engenders."
Terry Galloway is a writer, performer, director, and community activist in Tallahassee, Florida.
I think these later classes are a little bit more accustomed to the country than mine were. [When we started,] it was kind of a double-edged thing: the country had to get ready for us, too. At the time I moved those kids down here to work, the people in this community looked kind of funny at us. The young girls weren't wearing bras, and the guys had long hair. Everybody is wearing tights, and they're walking up and down the farm road, and they're exercising. It's like, "What's going on over there?" I would go out and invite other people [in the area]. They finally got used to it. Little by little, they came to performances.
The thing I remember most is how the local people used to embrace the kids and welcome them. The people at the Winedale store when it was open used to have signs outside welcoming the class, and they would embrace every new group. We used to visit them every once in a while. Saturday night, after our work, we'd go over and drink beer. We didn't party a lot, but we did then. The community involvement was very important to us.
One of the things I remember a lot was when we did The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The kids didn't like the idea because it wasn't Shakespeare. We got into it and started working on it, and it was spectacular. It was more fun than a little bit. They enjoyed it so much, and it became the hit of the season. It became an opera of sorts—it's a very musical play. We had good singers. We had a young man in it, Kyle Fricke, a kid from the community who played the son of Mr. Merrythought. He was remarkably good. Kyle is now vice president of the bank here [in Round Top]. He danced well. People from all over came to see Kyle. Kyle the Smile. He was very nice. I remember things like that.
I remember I hid in a tree once. One of the boys couldn't sleep in the dormitory because, as he said, the boys were too noisy, and they were snoring. He would sleep every night in the bed of a pickup truck. Every night he would drag out his bedclothes, put them down in the pickup truck, and go to sleep. One night I climbed in the tree above the pickup truck, and he started to go to sleep, and I jumped down and screamed. He went bananas. Nick Wilkinson—Nick is a playwright in New York. That was a lot of fun, a lot of foolishness, but that was part of it. It's another home to them.
When the work on the play becomes play, you look forward to going over in the heat to get busy and go, "We gotta do this again." We'd do it again just for the fun of it, you see. Pretty soon the performances are improvisational. You just want to let them go, but the students have to be good at what they do. If there's any messiness to them, if you can't understand the words, if they don't have the rhythm of the line, they know it. When you really get good, you know it. James Loehlin walked out after Much Ado About Nothing [in 1984] and said, "Doc, they were line perfect," and I said, "That's right." He was in the summer class playing Don Pedro. It clicked. He knew that we were perfect that day, and I did, too.
At the intermission, if there's a problem, I let them know the problem. If somebody missed a line, I talked about it. I know one student was late coming on stage once in King Lear—that's going to ruin the whole performance, and I let him know that. It's very much like a basketball coach or something at halftime. I wanted leaders. They're all vitally interested in doing plays, working together, and doing well. But I would always point out to them that I could watch the way they walked to the theater in the morning, and I could tell how they were going to do that day. They sort of laughed, but I'm right. I could point it out at the end of the day to them why they weren't measuring up to what they've done. The most important part of the course is the preparation [of the plays]. The public performances, you know, I didn't really care about.
What I really wanted them to do, I wanted them to make "A's." I wanted them to be brilliant. I said, "We make promises, and I'm going to keep mine. You're going to keep yours. One way or another, you're going to keep yours. I'm going to help you or make you keep yours." Every once in a while, I had to remind them about that. There is a time for that laziness. I could tell in the circle before the play if somebody was a little casual about it, and it's going to throw somebody off. I didn't care if [the performances] varied, but, if somebody really wasn't attentive to what was going on or playing or just slipped or something, it affected the rest of the play and threw somebody off.
When we were riding so high through the years, every one of those years was better than the one before. You used to say, "How can you get better every year?" Like '75 we thought was a boom. There's no way that you could do [better]. . . . That makes the people of 1976 feel pretty bad, but we did As You Like It then, and it was really good. There's standards to it. That's part of the tradition. Those are traditions that are not talked about a lot. [There are] routine things, like singing before meals and whatever, but what you expect of yourself and what you expect of the others [is another tradition]. You're looking at a play that was written a long time ago. You're looking at something preserved that many people know and that has been done and done and done, and you're not going to do it the same way. You're going to be better. You're going to be different. You're going to put your stamp on it. That has got to be a ritual, and it has got to be perfect. We're not going to accept anything beyond that. That's the carrot that everybody's chasing. That's where it comes from. I think that's the thing that [the students] remember.
They also remember the times when they didn't quite do it, and they laugh those off. And that's fine. While I'm preaching one message, I'm also very much aware that the very first thing we do here is fail. And there's nothing wrong with that. The only way from failure—you go straight up. There's no way to fail worse. We expect that, and I told them at the beginning, "Don't worry about starting, don't worry about later on, but you're going to reach a point where you're going to be beyond that. That is, failure or weakness is not going to be a possibility at all, and you're not going to make excuses because all [excuses] do is say that something has control over you. You have control over you. Get it?" And they get it.
I remember once the day we were having a reception out under the pecan tree, the oak trees here, and the dean was there, Dean [Robert] King. He said, "Professor Ayres, every time you talk to these students, I see you standing [with your arms crossed]." I said, “That’s nothing. Look at my assistant.” And Madge [Darlington] was standing there [with her arms crossed, too]. I said, "That's right. We mean business." And he got a big kick out of that.
"I remember one night in 1993 when the class returned to our work on Hamlet after several days away from it while working on another play. During our private performance that evening for Doc, an audience of one, we did a terrible job. We were tentative, and we weren't listening to each other or trying to communicate the story as an ensemble. Doc didn't need to say much that evening; we knew we had not done well. He left the barn saying, 'I'll meet anyone that wants to meet here to work on the play at 5:00 a.m.' Getting up early was par for the course, but we'd never started work in the barn before 8:00 a.m. on any other day.
After Doc left, we decided as a class we would all meet him the next morning at 5:00. We planned out who would bring breakfast over and who would make the Gatorade and who would turn on lights and sweep the barn so we'd be ready to begin right at 5:00 a.m. The next morning, Doc arrived and sat down with his text. For the next twelve hours he worked with us individually and in scene groups. He went line by line through the entire play of Hamlet, discussing the rhetorical intent of each scene and making sure we understood what we were saying and what the stakes were at each moment of the play.
That evening, after dinner, when we would normally perform the play for Doc, we gathered in a circle behind the barn. Doc told us that our work that day had been superb. He said he was going to leave us on our own for the evening, but he thought that we owed it to ourselves to go perform the play with and for one another. And then he left. We performed the entire play, and, as I remember it, it was one of the best performances—private or public—of the entire summer.
In later years, when I was Doc's assistant, I often thought of that day. I remembered how generous Doc was with his time and focus as we worked through the play. And then how trusting it felt when he left us to finish the experience of that day on our own, as a newly cohesive ensemble."
Madge Darlington is a co-founder and co-producing artistic director of the Rude Mechs, a professional theater company in Austin formed by several former Winedale students.
In order to be really free, to be creative, and so on, you have to have discipline. You have to have a sense of what is appropriate and what is not. You're still experimenting, but you know parameters so that you're not just free to fly apart. "I can do whatever I want to with this thing. I believe that Feste is supposed to be a silly little clown." Well, Feste is not a silly little clown. Or that Touchstone, for example, is a fool when he's very wise, very witty. In other words, "I want to do what I want to do." But there has to be a discipline. The kids earlier on, they knew that. They knew right away.
Some of the improvisations we did in the evening were really strange, so I was very cautious about that. At one point, for example, in the chase scene [with] Conrade and Borachio in Much Ado About Nothing, in the middle of that confusion, we're using the upper windows, which you can't now, and they're running in and out off the roof and all around the theater, and a boat came out of the back curtain. Out of the curtain come Dogberry and Verges in a boat named the U.S.S. Marilyn, a canvas boat, and they came out with Dogberry looking like George Washington crossing the Delaware. The boat circled around and then went down the aisle and disappeared. After the performance, nobody noticed the boat. I asked them, "What did you think of the boat?" "I didn't see the boat." Now see, in any other situation that would have been complete gratuity, and, though it was a little excessive, it was completely unnoticed because the whole scene was zany.
There sometimes is a tendency, when you're working with a student, for them to come up with a gimmick that is theatrically—they think—effective because it gets laughs, it gets a response. That means to them that it works when [in fact] it's completely irrelevant and an insult to the audience. So that's part of the discipline. You don't lower yourself to depend on gratuity, the last ditch. It's almost like saying, if you don't know anything else, then mug, make faces. Or, if you don't know anything else, fall asleep or find an easy physical solution. There are tendencies to do that. I know that, and so I've come down and said, "Whoa, what is that for? That doesn't really develop understanding of anything. It's not really integral to the experience." That's what gratuity means.
Tradition develops because you keep doing things the same way, and sometimes that gets pretty boring. When we began, we did do things the same way. We’d have two-a-day exercises, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. "Lover and His Lass" is the [Winedale] anthem, and that's something that everybody's got to know. The tradition of leaving the theater after the performance, going out and serving the audience [snacks and drinks], was my idea. The circle before the play began as necessity, and it took on whatever personality the class had after that, and I let it go.
I had students in the first session who remained for two years, and then the next group of kids maybe for three years and so on. They would talk about routines, "Oh, here's what we do." Every year, at least about half of the class or maybe more is brand new. The new people were sitting down and listening all the time to the people [saying], "Oh remember last year when we did. . .? Remember this? Remember that?" But I remember distinctly what alerted me to the dangers of doing the same thing. In one session where [former students] were talking about what they had done last year, [a new student] stood up and said, "Dr. Ayres told me in my interview that everybody has an equal say in this, and so I wish to hell you guys would shut up." It was very quiet for a minute, and I said, "That was well said." So, that diminished the talk about what we did last year.
Every year is a new year, and I always told them that at the beginning. Every year is a new year. It's a chance for a new life. A new lifetime, I said. I had thirty lifetimes here. When you think about it, thirty lifetimes. . .no one else has done that.
Every five years we have anniversaries. We still do. 1975 was a landmark celebration of the first five years. It was spectacular. It has never been equaled here at all. The Much Ado About Nothing. . .it was way before Kenneth Branagh. We had horses. I know—I rode one. I was a messenger in the play. It had a band. The audience stood all along the highway and the road to the theatre, welcoming soldiers home. It was absolutely special. The thing that 1975 [Much Ado About Nothing reunion] spectacle came from—it developed like little doors were opening, or, to put it in another metaphor, it was like all of a sudden, you had a bubble here and a bubble here and a bubble here, and pretty soon you have an ocean of bubbles, things popping up. How big is that sea of bubbles going to be? These were all wonderful, creative things that were popping up.
I think it's true that we have the only alum group for a specific course in the world, maybe, as far as I know. There are other alumni groups that are for colleges and universities, but this is for a specific class. They stay in touch with one another. We had a reunion last year for the forty-fifth anniversary. Oh, boy. About seventy [former students] applied to come back to Winedale for two weeks. We could only take forty-four, and they left their families and children and homes and came back to Winedale. They worked on and performed two plays. Some of them, of course, had never met the others. We had one person from the very, very first class. Danny Blanchard, 1970. And then the latest one was Casey Caldwell. I don't think he was in my last class [in 2000], but he was close to it. And they all worked together, just like they had known each other and played with one another for a long, long, long time. Those were really exciting times.
At the reunions, the students sit down, and they talk about the old times, the moments when this happened and this happened. They could go on and on. It's a wonder they did two plays this summer. I don't know how in the world they managed to get through all of that talking and still get the plays done. I let them go and do what they wanted to. There are sweet spots of time where everything just happens absolutely brilliantly.
That's one of the reasons I like the reunions. [During the forty-fifth reunion,] we took our meals at Festival Hill and sat around these big tables, different people at each meal and so on. You hear them talk about this, that, and the other. "Remember when? Remember this, remember that?" I remember better than they do. Well, I've been through it all. It has meant a lot to me. They're recorded somewhere [in my mind]. I don't know if I'll ever get it out. I should have written something a long time ago, but every time I started I'd get off into more detail or something and start drifting off in a way.
There are so many wonderful moments in the experience that I'm not telling. I've written some of them down. They occur to me all of a sudden because I have a conversation with somebody. I just got a letter today with a donation from Rip Esselstyn, who is an Olympic swimmer and a triathlete. You know, I hadn't heard from Rip in fifteen years. He played Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. I remember him and all that he did and everything. He was a good guy, a healthy kid. He still is. So, you get something that comes out of the blue like that that triggers something, and I thought, "Oh, I remember that."
"Shakespeare at Winedale was one of the most pivotal summers of my youth. It was beyond hard, and yet with hard work comes great achievement. We pulled together as a group and hit a home run with Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's Lost, and The Winter's Tale. I'll never forget the last day as we circled up and held hands. A tsunami of pride welled up as we looked deep into each other's eyes without saying a word. We were all cherishing the moment. Then Doc broke the silence with four words: 'It's time to go.' I may have physically left Winedale that summer day in 1986, but Winedale will always be a part of my heart and spirit."
Rip Esselstyn is a health advocate and founder of The Engine 2 Diet. He lives in Austin.
We had the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1995 at the hall here at Round Top. The students gave me all kinds of gifts, people from all over came, and we had a lot of fun. At the very end of it, they presented me with a check for $4,000 with the instruction that I had to go to London. I had been there before, but my wife had not.
In 1996, we went, and they were building the Globe at that time. It was almost finished, but not quite. I had written ahead to talk to the education director, Patrick Spottiswoode, and the historian of the Globe, Andrew Gurr, a very, very accomplished scholar of Shakespeare. He knows everything about that building. I met with them and told them I would really like to come and do a play at the Globe. I imagine to them it sounded like, "Who is this kid?" But they were very polite, very calm. They suffered me. I talked to them about what I had been doing, and they listened. At the end of it, they gave me a date that the stage wasn't being used. So I used that money to make all the arrangements in '96. We were planning way ahead.
In August '98, I did the first quarto of Hamlet, the 1603 Hamlet, which I call "Hamlet with the brakes off." It can be done in two hours. [The people at the Globe] wanted to make sure everybody knew that we were an American group and not the Globe company. They let us advertise a little bit and get the word around. We just walked up and down the streets and into pubs and other places and invited people to come. We had about 600 people [in the audience]. The place holds 1500 max. They just wondered, "Where did you get the idea for this?" Some of them were astonished. Patrick Spottiswoode was beside himself. I just sat back like, "This is what we do ordinarily. This is how good it is." We knocked them over.
I immediately asked about the next year, so in '99 we did A Midsummer Night's Dream. . . . We had 1100 people. We almost filled the Globe. The American Embassy came. The people at the Globe could not believe how popular we were because we were American—we weren't them. . . . We were doing As You Like It at the same time, but we didn't have a venue for it, so we simply went to Regent's Park and found a place under the trees, and people came by and sat down, about a hundred people altogether on an afternoon in the park. I made arrangements for another year, 2000, but they cancelled it, but they let me in to do a performance of Pericles in the morning. We had twenty-five people or so. It was the wrong time, but we did it and got to use the stage. That's the most important thing about it: that the students get to use the stage that Shakespeare used. We did go to Stratford to the Swan Theater, and we did Romeo and Juliet there. We had a pretty good group, and that's a different stage, a thrust stage. That was a great experience.
I was getting a little bit frustrated with [the other courses I was teaching]. Winedale was the saving grace. [I was] free to do something that was really creative and immediately rewarding. You could see every second of progress. I hated to leave it, but I wanted to go on and do some other things. And I'm doing them.
I'd been teaching at the university twelve months a year from 1964 to 2000. Twelve months a year, I never had a vacation. I didn't have time off. Between the end of Winedale, after packing everything up, you've only got about two days, three days left [before the fall semester starts]. When I added on the trips to London to perform at the Globe and Royal Shakespeare Company and so on, it was less time. I didn't get to see my family an awful lot because Winedale was becoming more demanding. I did everything. I had to raise all the money. I carried the money over in bags to the development office. Fortunately I had somebody who could copy the checks and do all of the bookkeeping, and so on. But I did all facets. I didn't have an assistant. I just sit for a minute and think sometimes, I did all that without any assistance. Madge Darlington was an assistant for me in the '90s for several years, which was the first I had. I'm talking about from the beginning, planning and doing everything.
In 2000, I passed it on to James. I got to do things in that period after giving up Winedale. I got to teach at the University of London Royal Holloway. I got to do the summer at Oxford program. I taught at the University of Valencia in Spain. Those were a lot of different experiences that I had been looking for for a long time. I was finally free to do those.
I really wanted to work with children. When I was doing the summer program, every once in a while we'd need a kid for the program. I got farm kids around here to do it, and they're good as anything. So then I got the idea to do day camps for younger kids between the end of the spring term and the Winedale summer class. It's only a couple of weeks. So I did day camps for children, right here at Winedale. Teachers in Austin used to call me and say, "Can you come talk to my fourth graders about A Midsummer Night's Dream?" I'd go do it, and we'd get up and we'd [play] with it. And that happened more and more frequently. I had to start saying no because I've always wanted to say yes. Shakespeare at Winedale is built upon yes—at least my part of it is. You want everything Shakespeare to be open to everybody, accessible to everybody.
The demands became so much that, as time passed, I got [former student] Clayton [Stromberger] involved. He's taken [Shakespeare Outreach] over, and it's grown, and he has contact with a great number of people. As soon as I retired from Shakespeare at Winedale, I started Camp Shakespeare [for] eleven to sixteen year olds. It's doing very well. It works the same way as the university summer class, exactly. We do the same things.
Children have an easier time playing. The Camp Shakespeare kids have a leg up on the university class. They're a lot more creative, they have an unusual kind of energy, they're quicker on things, and they are flexible. When they get caught up in it, you can just stand back and watch them grow. We notice the change sometimes at Camp Shakespeare, when we get somebody who's sixteen, reaching their last year, and they've lost some things they had earlier when they were ten. But that's just natural, and you go on and do something else.
I always told the students that, if you really enjoyed this, if you ever have any problem, any difficulty in your life, you just come back to Winedale, and you go into the barn and sit down. Hopefully, there's no one there, and you can listen. If you listen hard enough, you can hear voices. And you can. It works. And students do that. They drop by the office on their way out and tell Gloria [Jaster, former manager of the Winedale Historical Complex] that they were there. Gloria would write me a note or call me and say, "So-and-so was here today." Even today I get letters [saying], "I'm going to go visit my grandmother in Houston, and on my way back, I'm going to Winedale." That's the kind of place it is.
One boy, Carl Smith, a helpless romantic, said, "When you walk in that barn, magic happens. It's a magical place." I said, "Carl, there's a lot of work in that magic." The magic is within the students. They provide that. That's what makes it. If you walk in that barn and you stand around and you expect to see something beautiful in front of your eyes happen, you may be there a while. But, if you reflect upon what you did there, it's different. I think students used to leave the place with a feeling that they had done remarkable things.
One former student, Jeff Larson, is an immigration attorney in Houston now. In 1976, he wrote an article [about Winedale] for the UT magazine, and he said, "It's like being a Roman." In other words, Winedale was like Rome. You were proud to be a Roman, and you left as if you had been very, very noble and would be for the rest of your life. There's a lot of truth to that.
It is, from beginning to end, an experience that is intense and condensed. It's so rich and there's so much in it that it's very difficult for some of them to describe. Students can only say, "You've got to go to Winedale." And [people] say, "What is Winedale?" And they try to explain. They can only do it piecemeal. There have been a lot of things written about Winedale, but it seems to me they haven't really got it yet. And that's good. "Let wonder seem familiar." That's what it's about. It's wonder.
The following excerpts are from an interview with James Loehlin recorded by Kelsi Tyler on April 5, 2016, at The University of Texas at Austin.
I was born in Austin, Texas, in 1964, which was a big Shakespearean year, the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. In high school, I had a very good English teacher, Maureen Atwood, and a very good drama teacher, Ron Dodson. We studied Shakespeare with them. We did Hamlet for our UIL one-act play when I was a junior, and I played the King and the Ghost. Subsequently, the Ghost has become a role that I've played at least three times, including in German one time and once at the Globe. I really enjoyed that.
My father taught at The University of Texas for many years, so I grew up around the campus and attended UT as an undergraduate. I was in the Plan II Honors Program and graduated in 1986. When I came into college, I was already interested in Shakespeare at Winedale. I had attended plays there. I was a participant in the Shakespeare at Winedale program for two summers in '83 and '84.
After [I graduated from UT], I studied for two years at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar and did an English degree there, but I also was quite involved in the theater community at the university. I was able to see a lot of theater performance and Shakespeare in particular in Stratford and London, which were nearby, and I also did a residency at the Orange Tree Theater in London. So that was an invaluable experience for me. Then I did a joint PhD in drama and humanities at Stanford University. There I was in the drama department and involved in both the practical study of directing and also criticism and did a regular academic dissertation.
I taught for visiting stints at Colorado College, but primarily I taught at Dartmouth College, where I was in the drama department. I was also director of the foreign study program in London, so I spent a good deal of time in London during those years as well, which was again invaluable in terms of my research and exposure to theater. I've been fortunate in being in London a lot and around the British theater culture.
I had stayed in touch with Doc and with the program. Since I'm from Austin, I went back [to Winedale] a lot. Probably there weren't too many years when I didn't come out and see a play. I was conscious of the program's continued growth and knew people who knew people who were in it and so forth.
In 1995, there was a reunion performance, that being the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the program by Doc. He contacted me to see about participating in that. I was the co-director of that reunion performance, along with Kirsten Kern, of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a lot of students from different years of the program.
Then after I was there in the summer [of 1995], discussions started about the possibility of my coming back to UT. I came back the summer of '98 to be a visiting assistant for the summer while I was still teaching at Dartmouth. That was the year also that there was a special class of former students that performed the first quarto of Hamlet at the Globe at the end of the summer, and I was a part of that group.
I officially came back [to UT] and joined the faculty of the department of English here in Austin in the fall of 1999. That following summer of 2000, I was associate director of the program, and then my first summer as director was in 2001. I've been director of the summer class each year since then.
I try not to think too much about the next season's plays until after the previous season has finished. In the fall, I think about what should be done upcoming, but I never plan seasons more than a year out. I try to make a season of programming that will I hope make some sense to our audiences and be beneficial to our students. There are a lot of different factors that go into the plays that I choose, and one of them is just what has been done or not been done recently. You don't want to do A Midsummer Night's Dream every year. You want to space those things out. I do give some consideration to having some plays that will I think be of general appeal or will appeal to families.
One [factor] is wanting to give the students in the class a broad exposure to the range of Shakespeare's work and to have a balance between the plays we're doing in the summer class. In a typical summer, we do three plays, and I like to have three plays from different genres—say a comedy, a tragedy, and a history, or a comedy, a tragedy, and a romance or late play. I like to have plays from different stages of Shakespeare's career—early, middle, and late. Plays that use different kinds of language, which typically goes along with the periods in Shakespeare's career and the genres. Plays that are prose-heavy versus plays that have a lot of rhyme or kind of experimental, different kinds of verse. A variety [to show] the breadth of Shakespeare's work. Some interesting sort of contrast. Also, plays that make sense in terms of casting possibilities, so not three plays that all have gigantic leading parts the same summer. Plays that offer plenty of roles that can be played by students of various degrees of experience. Roles that are available for cross-gender casting or plenty of roles for women, which there aren't that many of in Shakespeare's plays. Things that will allow me to kind of put together a season where the students will all get reasonable challenges and exposure to a lot of different kinds of material.
In the summer, I assign roles before I've had a chance to work with the students in that class, unless they've been in a [previous] class. There's a little more guesswork involved. With the summer, the class begins its work in May after the semester finishes with independent study of the plays, and I try to cast the plays about three weeks before the students move out to Winedale, still without having done much work with them at that point. It's a sort of balancing act with trying to give everyone in the class a somewhat equivalent number of lines. That's not always possible, but [I try] to not give everyone only large or only small parts and to give everyone some variety of challenges that I think they'll learn from but that I think they can succeed at.
A typical day at Winedale varies a lot depending on what part of the summer you're in. The first six weeks or so of the summer are spent preparing the plays for public performance, and then the last four weekends are those public performances. At the beginning of the summer, we are working on each play in sequence, so we spend a week on each play. If it's a three-play-summer, that's the first three weeks. [In a] four-play-summer, which we've done a few of, we are then slightly having to compact those weeks a little bit to allow enough time to [revisit] the plays. Generally, it's a week on each play, and we'll go from scratch at the beginning with a first circle read-through on a Sunday morning to a fairly full preview performance on the Saturday night of that week with costumes and music and swordfights and everything worked out. We have an invited audience for those previews. You basically have a week to put the play together. Each day we're adding more material to it.
On a typical day, we get up quite early, usually 6:30 at the beginning of the summer in order to have more time in the cooler part of the day to work in the barn because you don't want to be working there too much in the afternoons. So at 6:30, we will get up and usually play some sort of game or sport before breakfast to wake everyone up. Ultimate Frisbee is my personal favorite and, I think, results in the fewest injuries, but we also sometimes play soccer. Sometimes we play basketball or volleyball. We've made attempts at kickball and football, which weren't particularly successful. Sometimes we'll just go for a walk or something. Something to wake the students up.
Then breakfast and then over to the barn to sweep and prepare everything, make Gatorade, do different chores or "patrols" as Doc christened them. Then we start working on the play. We'll typically in the morning have several groups of students working simultaneously in different locations, some in the barn with me, some outside under the pecan trees with the graduate assistant for the summer. Some may be working somewhere else on their own. The idea is to have everybody working simultaneously as much as possible to maximize efficiency and minimize the amount of time people are at a loose end. Usually, there's plenty to do to keep us busy through the morning working on the play.
After lunch, we usually have an hour of concentrated time working just on lines and looking at the texts of the plays. Students are supposed to have learned their lines before arriving at Winedale. Generally we're able to start working very quickly because people do know their lines, but it's good to have time to reinforce and to make sure we've got them right and to study the details of the language. We always work in pairs after lunch on lines. Also, it's a good way to avoid the after-lunch sleepiness, to make everybody jump into a task like that. After that, we might work in the barn for an hour or two but usually not really late into the afternoon because it does get really hot. We'll do some indoor pursuits after that, like work on costumes, props, music, other things of that sort. Then we always have a volleyball game before dinner, which is, again, a way to sort of shake off the weariness of the sewing room [for example] and get everybody working together and having fun and lift everyone's spirits as we get ready for dinner.
[After dinner, there is] the evening work, which we might [begin with] some improvs or some other kind of warm-up activities. Generally, each evening we will run the entirety of whatever play we're working on up to the point that we have worked on it. If we're [working on] Much Ado About Nothing that week, then we'll start at the beginning each night and go up to Act II, or III, or IV. Then afterwards we generally get up on the stage, talk about [the play] for a while, and then knock off for the evening. It's a pretty full schedule every day, but there really is that much to do. Doing three or four plays in a relatively limited amount of time, you have to make the most of the time you have available. I'm not making up work for the students to do. There really is plenty to occupy us.
[The setting of Winedale] is very, very important. One of the things that obviously makes a difference is just having the students somewhat in isolation and able to focus on the work that they're doing and the class dynamic and not have to worry about commuting anywhere or their jobs or other classes or anything like that. At Winedale, I always feel like I have the students' undivided attention, which is something that's quite hard to achieve in other settings at the university. So that's important. It's important in terms of being closer to nature, I think, which is very important to performing Shakespeare.
The theater at Winedale is a barn, a nineteenth-century wooden structure that was part of the pioneer settlement there. It was eventually given to the university by Miss Ima Hogg. It has a rustic, pre-modern feel, with the beams and so forth of the barn, that's not too far from the architecture of early modern England. Also, Shakespeare was writing in a time when people were somewhat closer to nature than they are now. He lived and worked in London, but he grew up in Stratford in the countryside and had a real connection to the seasons of the pastoral year and the environment of Warwickshire. That feeds into the plays a lot, and that's something that you're more connected to and conscious of when working on the plays in a setting that is close to nature and has some sort of pre-modern feel about it. Being able to work on As You Like It and look out of the barn and see deer, and trees, and the kinds of things that you're talking about in the play is an amazing gift. Also, the connection to the history of the area, the history of the program, and the feeling that you're a part of a long tradition and a community that belongs to that place is important for the students.
Winedale is very heavily steeped in tradition, and many if not most of those go back to Doc's time and the founding of the program. They continue to evolve and change. New ones continually come up. There's a tradition at Winedale of meeting in a circle at various times [to check in about things], either first thing in the morning, or before meals, or especially just before a performance and then at the end of a performance. That is an iconic Winedale moment that goes back to Doc's first years. It's still something that we do now.
Another tradition is singing before meals, which I think Madge Darlington introduced, who was Doc's assistant in the '90s. It's something that we still do, partly as a way to learn the different songs that are in the plays, of which there are always a good many, but also as a little ritual to get the class together before meals. Another one I mentioned is playing sports in the morning or playing volleyball before dinner. Those are ritual observations and are good for the physical vitality and health of the class. The final banquet with the exchange of gifts is something that has definitely come down from Doc's time.
It's interesting to me because I was a student, and some of the things that I remember about my student experience are things that are still part of the program. There are also lots of things that evolved after I was a student but that I learned from Doc and the time that I was working as his assistant that have continued. Then there are new things that evolve every year.
[Before I did Winedale as a student] I had struggled through my freshman year and basically just gone to class and gone to the library. It was all going fine, but, when I came back from Winedale, suddenly I had all of these close friends that I had been through this extraordinary experience with. Suddenly, I was friends with all of their friends as well. I was getting invited to these amazing parties and being asked to be in plays and being invited to go on road trips to see Shakespeare. There was this sense of belonging to the community of my own class but also to an extended community of people who had had a similar experience or who had gotten to know people through the web of Winedale.
I think something like that still occurs. It's a really nice moment in the summer when we have the Saturday previews, when we're still in the preparation phase, and a lot of former students come out to those. It's great to see them arriving back at Winedale and settling back in, meeting the new students that they don't know and seeing their friends that they do. That sense of the wider community is important to the current students as well, feeling that they're going to belong to this in the future.
Lots of Winedale students go on into different areas that still involve a love of literature or performance, maybe not as a career but as something that they can pursue on the side. The students have play readings at their apartments or organize theater groups to do one kind of performance or another. I think that there's a sense that there are all of these people who share certain experiences, certain values that you know you can call upon in your job as a teacher, or if you're trying to put together some sort of performance event, or just to have someone to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday with.
I think there are a lot of reasons that Shakespeare continues to be popular and has remained popular most of the time since his career, since he was writing. For me, I think it's the range and breadth of the work. Shakespeare was so successful in so many different genres, and he writes about life from so many different perspectives, that there's a corpus of work that can resonate with almost any person at almost any phase of their life.
Also, obviously Shakespeare was a great dramatic craftsman. We can't give him too much credit as an inventor of stories since many of the stories that he told preexisted, but he turned them into really compelling dramatic structures. His plays are masterfully plotted, and they are just genuinely compelling to watch unfold in the theater. Going along with that, he created very memorable characters and gave them distinctive and rich and wonderful language.
I think for me one of the things that is continually compelling about Shakespeare is, because of the density and richness of the texts and the stories that they tell, they are susceptible to continued reinterpretation. There's no one right way to do them. You can see Hamlet or As You Like It or Henry IV time and again with different actors in the roles and different approaches to the production, different interpretations of the play, and continually find them rewarding experiences. It isn't just about seeing what happens at the end. It's about having another kind of communication with this rich and fertile text that can be something that you come back to at different times in your life and see different things in. I think that the range of Shakespeare, the dramatic quality of the plays, and this interpretability are the things that make Shakespeare such a perennial classic.
In terms of Shakespeare at Winedale, I think it's part of a larger phenomenon in the U.S. and other places: the summer Shakespeare festival. This program is distinct in that it's an educational program, so it has slightly different goals from some of the other festivals, but it gives audiences a similar experience of going into a pleasant country environment and of taking a picnic and getting to enjoy Shakespeare performances.
One of the things that I like about Winedale is the audiences that come back year after year, particularly that have an interest in seeing plays that they've never had an opportunity to see before. That's something that I have really been trying to do as director of the program is perform all of the plays [in Shakespeare's canon]. We still have several to go, but we've definitely performed a number of plays for the first time. It's been great seeing people turn up, excited to see [something like] Coriolanus or Troilus and Cressida that they've never had a chance to see before. Once I had someone who had driven from Colorado because they wanted to see the first part of Henry VI, which they'd never had a chance to see. I think there's that aspect to the Winedale audiences. People come to Winedale to enjoy Shakespeare in the barn, in the country, but also to enjoy the experience of students exploring the plays for the first time and growing and learning. I think people like to see multiple plays and to see the same students playing different roles and seeing what they bring to them.
Also, to an extent, Winedale creates its own audience because a lot of the people who come out to see the plays at Winedale in the summer are people who were in a Winedale class at some point or someone in their family was or friends of theirs were. There's a certain percentage of the audience that's generated that way. The other thing that I've heard people say—and I hope it's true—about why they enjoy coming to Winedale is that they feel they can really understand the plays, that the students have made a real effort to understand and communicate the language of the plays. That makes the plays accessible for audiences. I hope that's true as well.
Doc has always been an amazing teacher and still is. He has so much energy and so much love for Shakespeare, and he is so good at inspiring students. It's great to have him continuing that work [with Camp Shakespeare]. He has a really strong belief that performance is a key to unlocking the plays and that performance is something that should be available to anyone as a means of understanding Shakespeare. It's not something that is only for professional actors or drama departments. It's a great way into the plays. I think he was influenced by a lot of the thinking of people in the theater world of the 1960s and '70s. [English theater and film director] Peter Brook is a touchstone figure for a lot of his thinking.
He also has his own really unique perspective that he developed over years of experience with the plays. I find when I'm working on the plays I did as a student at Winedale, I have sudden memories of something that we did or that Doc said or that we learned in those times more than thirty years ago that still come back to me. It's clear that he created generations of students who love Shakespeare, understand Shakespeare, and continue to make it a key thing in their lives.
One of the real pleasures for me of teaching and directing the last few years is that I'm starting to get second-generation Shakespeare at Winedale students. People who are the children of Doc's students have been my students in the program. Also, people who were students of Doc's in the Camp Shakespeare program are now college students who are coming out to perform in the summers. It's so clear, especially with the former campers, how much they gain from that experience. They're just so hungry for the chance to continue the exploration of Shakespeare that they began with Doc in [Camp Shakespeare]. I'm very honored to be trying to carry on the work that he did, but I'm glad that he's still continuing it.
"Where does one even begin to describe the memories of Winedale? It lives in every corner of your being forever. Just writing this, I feel taken back to a time and place that continues to exist in who we are but could never exist again in the way it did back then.
I applied for Winedale but never imagined I would be accepted. I was working full time and going to school, and the idea of taking a summer off to do Winedale seemed a real stretch for me financially. After some contemplation, I told [Winedale assistant Madge Darlington] that I needed to withdraw my application. She encouraged me to reconsider, so I decided to go for a walk and think about it. In the basement of Parlin Hall, I saw this guy Ted from one of my English classes. I didn't know him well (although I think he ended up doing Winedale in '99 or 2000), but when I told him what was going on he said, 'You have to turn right around and go tell her you'll do it. I just have this feeling that you have to do this and it will change your life.'
He was right. I cannot even imagine a life in which I didn't do Winedale. My husband, Jeremy Edwards, and I met at Winedale in the summer of 1998. My husband, some of my dearest friends, my courage, my ability to live in the moment, and the knowledge that everything we do can include some moments of play all come from there. Winedale will always be my one and only true home."
Jodi Harris is a life coach and clinical social worker. Jeremy Edwards is a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. They live in Tokyo, Japan.
"The air at Winedale buzzes with Shakespeare. The wind hums soliloquies. The leaves dance to the rhythm of the verse. Shakespeare’s text has been spoken into the space for over forty years, and the trees and the ground have absorbed those words, those breaths. . . . Winedale’s church, its temple, is the barn. The barn was our play space for our nine weeks out there. I first noticed its smell: earthy, damp, musky, ancient yet fresh, rich with stories and life. In it we learned, we grew, we explored, we questioned, we provoked and were provoked, challenged and were challenged. The barn is the nucleus of Winedale, the site of genesis and epiphany. The things I carry with me from Winedale are those that I will carry for a lifetime. I leave, first, with a family, a group of people with whom I share an inexpressible bond. I also leave with a singular love and appreciation for Shakespeare, a love that has seeped within me and saturated my bones."
Connor Healy is a senior at The University of Texas at Austin.
"Winedale made manifest for me the ways we shape our world with the language we receive and produce, while also offering an immersive instruction in decoding and deploying advanced rhetoric. Most importantly, it offered a peak experience that exampled for me what is possible with complete commitment, and what is possible with diligent and generous teamwork. Winedale changed my life beyond my ability to accurately describe and, more to the point, gave me tools to co-create the life I want."
Robert Matney is a software developer and theater practitioner in Austin.
"I came to The University of Texas at Austin almost straight from my last deployment to Iraq. I enjoyed the classes at UT, but it was also an alienating experience, perhaps because the isolating quiet of independent study is so different from what I had done in the military. James Loehlin brought me into Winedale in the summer of 2009, despite the fact that I had almost no prior theater experience. The close-knit Winedale environment comes with focused goals and encourages high levels of cooperation; it therefore reflected my military experiences better than any other academic setting. But instead of raiding houses and hunting people down, we were making plays that explore politics and society. Shakespeare's words relentlessly explore the differing textures of our emotional lives, making each of us more valuable and distinctly different through the unique twists of language he gives us to say and hear. It was as if Shakespeare at Winedale gently tipped over a rotted tree that had been obscuring my view of the mountains."
Johnny Meyer is a PhD candidate in government at The University of Texas and a playwright. He lives in New Brunswick, New Jersey.