BWW Feature: OCU to Host Inaugural Conference of 'Center for Excellence in Classical Theatre Training'

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BroadwayWorld sat down with Lance Marsh, Head of Performance at TheatreOCU and Conference Chair for the new Center for Excellence in Classical Theatre Training, to discuss their inaugural conference and the exciting future of the organization.

"TheatreOCU is dedicated to doing classical theatre," Marsh explained. "Classical theatre is a deeply rooted part of our curriculum. A lot of schools are backing off from as much classical training. We have great connections with Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, Montana Shakespeare, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater - so there is a really nice tradition of our kids out there working in this kind of genre of theatre. So we thought we were placed well for doing something like this and we saw the we made it happen."

"We are partnering with a couple of other academic institutions," he said. "The graduate classical directing program at University of South Carolina and a number of professional Shakespeare festivals to create this organization. I've been working on it for about two years now. The founding members are myself; Brian Parsons, Associate Dean of the OCU School of Theatre; and Robert Richmond, Department Chair of Theatre at the University of South Carolina."

Once a year, CECTT will invite dignitaries and master teachers from around the world to come to Oklahoma City University to teach classes. The first conference will take place April 8th, 2017 where a keynote speech, series of workshops, roundtables, paper presentations, and performance of a classical play will be presented.

"The idea came out of a conversation that Brian, Robert, and I were having," Marsh explained. "Academia can be a struggle for practitioners of theatre. My wife is a Philosophy professor, and there are many conferences for Philosophy where you write a paper, get accepted, present your work... there are all sorts of professional benchmarks to be had. If you are a Voice trainer, they have VASTA, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association. If you're an acting theoretician, dramaturg, theatre historian etc. there's an organization called ATHE, American Theatre in Higher Education, but it's primarily focused on the academic side of things.

"But if you are a practitioner / teacher of acting - and particularly of this type of acting - there's no place to go, no central organization. I was wondering, 'How do we push out into the profession, get the work recognized?' A whole generation of acting teachers - particularly those who have taught techniques valuable to classical theatre - a lot of their work was getting lost...they're weren't many places to publish. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have an intersection with the professional classical theatre community?' Bringing together practitioners and teachers, then also the people who hire their students... how do those things interface?"

The official professional partner for this first year is the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. "Our idea is to eventually move beyond simply a conference and start doing some producing work," he said. "We want a show that would tour; start here and tour to hopefully the Shakespeare Globe in London eventually."

The Shakespeare Globe is not an official partner as of now, but CECTT is in talks to partner with them in the future. Other potential collaborators include the Folger Theatre in Washington DC, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and The Old Globe in San Diego. During the next five years, CECTT is set to expand to partners in Russia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany.

"Our feeling is that the definition of 'classical theatre' is constantly changing, so ours can't be limited," Marsh said. "We are primarily going to deal with Shakespeare, but we definitely want to tackle the Greeks; we have a proposal for commedia dell'arte mask work. Classical theaters are doing Somerset Maugham and Tennessee Williams...they are becoming classical. Anything that requires any kind of heightened language or physical style work, that feels like it is in the realm of what classical theatre is - we're not trying to limit it at all."

The inaugural CECTT Colloquium will take place April 8th, 2017 on the OCU Campus. "Our students from OCU will get to participate for free," Marsh highlighted. "I have almost 50 of them lined up and ready to go. We have also opened up participation to anybody in the local community. $20 for the all-day event gives you access to two workshops plus the master class keynote. We think it's a pretty awesome deal." All presenters and attendees are also invited to attend the evening performance of OCU's production of The House of Atreus.

Paper Presenters and Master Teachers for this year's CECTT conference include:

  • Robert Richmond, Artistic Director of Theatre South Carolina and Associate Artist, Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC:
    Keynote Speaker
  • Jenny Mercein, Assistant Professor of Acting, Tulane University in New Orleans, LA:
    Viewpoints and Shakespeare, A Physical Approach to Unlocking Shakespeare and Building Ensemble
  • Lisa Dalton, President of the National Michael Chekhov Association:
    Classic Chekhov: Using Michael Chekhov's Technique To Train Classical Theatre Artists
  • Emily Heugatter, Associate Professor of Shakespeare and Period Styles at the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, OK:
    Shakespeare in Jeans: Contemporizing Heightened Text
  • Mark Langley, Associate Professor of Performance at Bath Spa University, Bath, UK:
    Speech - The Point of Connection
  • Roger Apfelbaum, Course Leader of MA in Performing Shakespeare at Bath Spa University, Bath, UK:
    Professional Engagement and Graduate Programs: Models and Questions for Collaborations Between Professional Theaters and MA Programs in Acting, Directing, and Producing
  • Alissa Mortimer, Assistant Professor of Acting at University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK and
    Rena Cook, Professor Emeritus at University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK:
    The Shakespeare Audition
  • David Pasto, Professor of Theatre at Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, OK:
    Rewriting the Classics: How 'The Truth Suspected' Became 'The Liar'
  • Brian Parsons, Associate Dean of the School of Theatre at Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, OK:
    'The more likely to be feigned': The Triumph of Technique Over Truth in University Actor-Training Programs.

The conferences will be videotaped and archived. Transcripts and links to videos will be published in InterCECTTion, the upcoming online yearly journal of CECTT's work and collaborating practitioners.

"One of the things that we are passionate about as a long-term project," Marsh said, "is to start raising money now and launch an American version of Playing Shakespeare. It was a wonderful project with John Barton that the BBC undertook back in the mid-80s. What we want to do is pick a different major American classical theatre company for each episode so we can really highlight and showcase the excellent work that happens in America, and the different kind of classical theatre that happens in America versus the UK."

"We're excited about getting started," Marsh said. "In the end, I think this is going to highlight something we feel very passionate about here. It seems like building on a strength we already have."

Attendees can register the morning of the event on April 8th in the Atrium of the Wanda L. Bass School of Music Building on the Oklahoma City University Campus. Registration begins at 11:30am ($20 admission) and the conference kicks off at 12:30pm and concludes with TheatreOCU's performance of The House of Atreus at 8pm (show tickets sold separately - purchase HERE.)

For more information and to register online, visit

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