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English professor co-edits book about Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Posted: 11/22/2011

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By Courtney Flynn

Regina Buccola, a Roosevelt University associate professor of English and scholar in residence at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is co-editing a book of essays about the theater’s first 25 years.

A writer and lecturer who enjoys making the plays of William Shakespeare more accessible to teachers, students and general audiences, Buccola’s involvement with the theater dates back to the mid-1990s when she was an usher for the organization, which then operated out of the Ruth Page Theater on Dearborn Street.

In 1999 after completing her final year of graduate work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Buccola won a grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. That achievement enabled her to fund an internship for herself at the Midwest’s premier Shakespeare theater.

“They had just moved into the space on Navy Pier and I was there when the actors saw the theater for the first time,” Buccola recalled.

“It was really amazing. People who had been with the company a long time were crying and I was there when their new lives began.”

For their part, theater leaders are delighted with Buccola’s contributions over the years and hope her upcoming book shines a well-deserved spotlight on the theater, which attracts nearly 200,000 audience members annually, including 40,000 students and teachers.

“Even though Chicago has a reputation for being the most exciting theater city in the country, it’s still hard to be acknowledged as an international resource,” said Marilyn Halperin, the theater’s director of education and communications. “I hope this book will really put us on a much wider map in the academy itself. I think that what Gina has imagined and is helping to pull together is a real milestone and an appropriate way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.” During the internship, Buccola worked with Halperin to write a teacher handbook for a production of All’s Well That Ends Well. She also learned more about the vision of the production from the theater’s artistic director, Barbara Gaines.

That attachment to the theater and Buccola’s love for Shakespeare kept her coming back for more. “The design of the current theater is amazing,” she said. “The stage juts out into the audience so you can look across it and see other audience members and how they react and the actors can see the audience, too. I also really Professor co-edits book about Chicago Shakespeare Theater appreciate the way in which their productions connect to the political and social issues of today.”

Buccola joined Roosevelt in 2000 and teaches a variety of courses on Shakespeare and other early modern British writers, including women who have been overlooked. While at Roosevelt, she has maintained her close relationship with the theater. She presents academic lectures for teacher workshops designed to support the main stage productions and the Short Shakespeare series, and she lectures before select matinee performances.

“When Gina landed the position at Roosevelt, I was so happy we would have her as part of our scholarly life, and that feeling has only increased with the years in between,” Halperin said. “She has such a grasp of pop culture and of early modern drama and history and, of course, Shakespeare.”

By 2010, Buccola’s unofficial title of “scholar in residence” became formalized. The theater’s executive director, Criss Henderson, suggested the change after learning that Halperin introduced Buccola as such during each of her lectures. Since that time, Buccola has added private lectures for theater board members and donors, some of whom also serve on Roosevelt’s Board of Trustees.

The synergy between Roosevelt and the theater has served as a source of pride for Buccola. And that sentiment is mutual. “As an institution, we want our walls to be permeable and our reach in the community to be broad,” Halperin said. “The kind of partnership we have with Roosevelt helps us do that.” Buccola is not the only Roosevelt educator to have worked with the theater over the years. Stephen Bennett, an adjunct faculty member in the English Department, serves as a visiting scholar at the theater. When he taught a Shakespeare class a couple of years ago, he brought some of his students to the theater to see a production of The Taming of the Shrew.

“It was so great to be studying it and then to see a fabulous production of it and go back to the classroom and talk about it,” Bennett said. “Blurring the lines between the stage and the classroom enriched the experience.”

In addition, Joel Fink, former director of the Theatre Conservatory at Roosevelt, helped establish internships for Roosevelt students at the theater beginning in 1996. Countless Roosevelt students have had the opportunity to study in the classroom and also gain real-life theater experience through internships. “Roosevelt’s educational philosophy is similar to ours,” Halperin said. “We’re reaching out to people from all walks of life. This is not a place simply for a certain part of our society. I think Roosevelt lives that and I think we do, too. This is an example of two institutions coming together to supplement the strengths of the other. How lucky we are to be in a city that allows for that.”