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Calvin Classes to Present Sonnet Walk
posted April 19, 2007

Two classes from two different departments are pooling their talents to host the first-ever “Sonnet Walk” at Calvin College from 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. on Monday, April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday.

The walk will celebrate the birthday as it tours nine sites on Calvin's campus where student actors will be stationed to perform sonnets.

Debra Rienstra“I hope people will enjoy it and see that the sonnets can still be lively, humming, poetic performances,” says English professor Debra Rienstra, whose Shakespeare class is joining forces with communication arts and sciences (CAS) professor Todd Farley’s “Performance Studies” class to host the walk.

Rienstra’s class is responsible for researching the literary background of each sonnet and helping Farley’s student actors decide how to perform them. The actors will perform the sonnets at frequent intervals for the three-hour duration of the walk, and visitors to the walk can take a number of routes to hear them all. A printed guide to the walk, available at any of the sites, will list the locations and performance times of each sonnet and suggest a couple of paths to take through the walk.

“Part of the students’ task is to adapt the sonnet to a campus context so that the characters in these little dramas become campus characters,” Rienstra says. “For example, one of my groups is doing Sonnet 3, which is about getting married and reproducing immediately, before it’s too late.”

That particular sonnet, she hinted, is easily adaptable to a campus phenomenon known as “Senior Scramble.”

There will be a scavenger-hunt-style quiz question for each sonnet in the guide, and, following the walk, visitors can take their completed quizzes to the English department, where they will be entered in a drawing for prizes. The department will also serve cake in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday.

The Sonnet Walk was inspired by a similar event sponsored by the Globe Theatre, which Rienstra attended with students in 2004 when she directed Calvin's semester-abroad in Britain.

That walk took the class through the streets of London, where members of the Globe Theatre Company were stationed to act out the sonnets in contemporary settings.

“Every so often a street-clothed person would come up to us and start to recite a sonnet,” Rienstra remembers. “There were strange moments for us when we were not entirely sure whether a person was an actor or an actual person. Eventually we would realize, ‘Oh, yes, this is iambic pentameter here.’ Each of the sonnets was performed in a way that took advantage of the modern-London backdrop. We realized that these 400-year-old poems remain very entertaining and thought-provoking, especially when transposed into contemporary contexts.”

Rienstra hopes the Calvin version will be equally enthralling.

Student Erin Demoray, a veteran of Calvin Theater Company, is serving as "stage manager" for the event. Students in the two classes will be working together to get all the bugs worked out of the event before Monday.

“We’re still struggling a little with the complicated logistics of it,” Rienstra says smiling.

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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