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October 03, 2008, 8:00 PM

Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Plays

Participants: Robert Brustein, Alvin Epstein, Eugene Mahon, Ron Rosenbaum, Daniela Varon, J.P. Wearing

Of the most famous English writer in history, famously little is known about his personal life, but many have speculated about the relationship between his biography and his plays and poems. To what extent are Elizabeth prejudices apparent in Shakespeare's work? Is Shakespeare the man unknowable, or do his works yield some kind of buried subtext? What might the characters in the plays—who express such complex consciousnesses—reveal about Shakespeare's imagination, about the psychology of his time? Continuing the 400 year-old conversation about Shakespeare, this panel features speakers who have studied his biography and his oeuvre, directed and acted in his plays, and fashioned their own creative works inspired by his literature and his legacy.

Robert Brustein is Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University, Senior Research Fellow and former Professor of English at Harvard University, and past Dean of the Yale Drama School. He was the founding director of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theatre, where he continues to teach students. He has been theatre critic for The New Republic since 1959 and is the author of 15 books on theater and society. His most recent book, Millennial Stages, was published in 2006, and a new book, Shakespeare's Prejudices, will be published in 2008. In addition to eleven adaptations, including The Wild Duck, The Master Builder, and When We Dead Awaken (directed by Robert Wilson), he has written several full-length plays, including Demons, Nobody Dies on Friday, The Face Lift, Spring Forward, Fall Back, and The English Channel. Mr. Brustein is the recipient of numerous awards, including The George Polk Award in journalism, the 1995 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, and the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and was recently inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.

Alvin Epstein appeared as Nagg in the recent production of Endgame at BAM. He made his NY stage debut in 1955 with Marcel Marceau, then as the Fool in Orson Welles's King Lear. He went on to play Lucky in the American premiere of Waiting for Godot with Bert Lahr and E.G. Marshall (repeating the role for TV with Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith), and Clov in the American premiere of Endgame. He has acted in over 150 productions on and off Broadway and in regional theaters. He has been Associate Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theatre, and founding member of the American Repertory Theatre, where he acted for 25 years. He has appeared in many of Beckett's shorter pieces, including Ohio Impromptu, What/Where, Catastrophe, Eh Joe, Ghost Sonata, Words and Music, Cascando, and others. He is the recipient of numerous awards for acting, including the Obie Lifetime Achievement Award.

Eugene Mahon is a training and supervising analyst at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research. He practices child and adult psychoanalysis in Manhattan. He has published articles in all the major psychoanalytic journals on a wide variety of topics, including "A Parapraxis in Hamlet" and "Parapaxes in the Plays of William Shakespeare" in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, and "The Death of Hamnet: An Essay on Grief and Creativity" in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. He is the author of several plays, including Yesterday's Silence, A Mouthful of Air, Anna and Siegmund at the Rue Royale, and In the Company of Ghosts. He has published a psychoanalytic fable, Rensal the Redbit, and one of his poems, "Steeds of Darkness," was set to music by the American composer Miriam Gideon.

Ron Rosenbaum is the author of seven books, most recently The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Harper's, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, among other periodicals. He writes a bi-wekly cultural column for the online magazine Slate and has taught writing at Columbia, NYU and the University of Chicago.

Daniela Varon is a theater director, acting teacher, and longtime member of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. She has directed Shakespeare productions from coast to coast, as well as a broad variety of other plays in New York and regionally. She was Associate Director and co-founder, with Kristin Linklater and Carol Gilligan, of The Company of Women, which produced all-female productions of Shakespeare's plays and created Shakespeare-based outreach programs for women and girls in the 1990s. With author Rhona Silverbush, Ms. Varon is co-producer, director and moderator of Conversations with Shakespeare, now in its third season at Symphony Space in New York and in development for public radio. She is a teaching artist and Shakespeare specialist for Lincoln Center Theater, a founding faculty member of the Linklater Center for Voice and Language, and a member of the Theatre Department at Smith College. She is the director of the current New York premiere of Robert Brustein's The English Channel at the Abingdon Theatre Company, as well as the upcoming production of Jodi Rothe's Martha Mitchell Calling at the Nora Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

J.P. Wearing is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Arizona, where he taught courses on Shakespeare and modern European drama. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Shakespeare Diaries: A Fictional Autobiography, Bernard Shaw and Nancy Astor, the sixteen-volume The London Stage 1890-1959, critical editions of plays by Bernard Shaw and Arthur W. Pinero, and over fifty articles. He has held a Killam Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a four-year NEH major research grant.


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