By MATT CRANE
The language of love written by William Shakespeare will be on display at Mississippi State University as Theatre MSU presents “Love Letters from Shakespeare: A Night of Music, Dance and Sonnets” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14-16 on the McComas Hall main stage.
Directed by Donna Clevinger, the evening will take audiences through the many stages of love by 20 actors, 10 orchestra members and 13 dancers interpreting 41 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Clevinger said she began working on the piece over a year ago collaborating with Tommy Anderson on how to best present Shakespeare’s romantic poems.
“I wanted to make conversations out of the sonnets and, instead of performing them just as an oral interpretation, framed them in love because that is what the sonnets were all about,” she said. “Each section of the program has different sonnets that reflect a side of a conversation about the certain stages of love.”
Along with Anderson and other professors at MSU, Clevinger said she received feedback from the American Shakespeare Center’s educational department about how to further develop the piece for audiences of all kinds to provide a nice evening of entertainment.
“Having it on the page is different from having it on the stage and that is how we are making this contemporary,” she said. “Whether an audience member understands every word in the sonnets, they should understand what the segments are about because of the acting abilities from our talented students.”
Clevinger said the stages of love represented are: the crush, first love, bittersweet love, injury and death, mourning and loving again.
“Taking selected and well known sonnets and dealing with themes of time, beauty and mortality, we framed various topics of love,” she said. “Original music, choreography, narration and singing tie these powerful rhythms together and guide the audience through the evening.”
Clevinger said music will be provided by a student-led orchestra with original compositions by Kevin Lenker and Seth Weesner, and Guy Hargrove will intersperse sections with period-appropriate love songs.
“Lenker and Weesner have written beautiful music and we’re looking forward to hopefully getting those pieces published,” she said.
“Hargrove will be singing three love songs out of the Renaissance period accompanied by Michael Patilla.”
Clevinger said each night will feature a talk back session of scholars discussing different aspects of Shakespeare’s life and work including Robert Wolverton, Tommy Anderson and Robert West.
“This is an opportunity for scholars to take Shakespeare in a different or same direction,” she said. “It gives the students and the audience members the opportunity to hear a different side of it all, and we hope people will stay and get something new out of it.”
Following the night of sonnets, the American Shakespeare Center will present a performance of “Twelfth Night” on Feb. 22 with workshops scheduled the previous day for high school and college students, an opportunity Clevinger said she has been working toward for quite some time.
“My first and primary project was to bring a professional Shakespeare company to MSU to stay and perform and have the opportunity to teach area students,” she said. “The night of sonnets is a way to wet people’s appetites for the ASC performance.”
Clevinger said she has enjoyed working with everyone involved with the production and the ability to give back not only to students, but the community as a whole in presenting Shakespeare’s works in a creative way.
“It would be a great date event, but I think audiences of all ages will get something out of it because love is about emotions and that is what we like to see,” she said. “Most importantly, this is an educational benefit to everyone, especially our students, and I am so appreciative and honored that we are working together to bring this to audiences around community.”
“Love Letters from Shakespeare: A Night of Music, Dance and Sonnets” runs Feb. 14-16 at 7:30 p.m. on the McComas Hall main stage. Tickets are $10.
For more information, call 662-325-3320.