Feb 172009
 

Ralph Alan Cohen

Ralph Alan Cohen

Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen spoke to a meeting of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society on February 13, 2009. His presentation, “The Theater of the Imagination,” traced the history of theater from Shakespeare’s time to our own, including the connection and competition between theater and film. According to Dr. Cohen, “The audience for live drama is dropping precipitously,” due at least in part to the influence of film and the increasing emphasis on creating stage illusions rather than  communal imaginative experiences. Dr. Cohen and his colleague Sarah Enloe illustrated his points with selections from Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice.

Blackfriars Playhouse

Blackfriars Playhouse

Dr. Cohen is Founding Executive Director and Director of Mission at the American Shakespeare Center and Gonder professor of Shakespeare in performance in the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin College.  He was the project director for the building of the Blackfriars Playhouse, built in 2001. He has directed twenty professional productions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He is the author of ShakesFear and How to Cure It: A Handbook for Teaching Shakespeare, which won the AEP’s Distinguished Achievement Award, has twice guest edited special teaching issues of Shakespeare Quarterly, and has published articles on teaching Shakespeare as well as on Shakespeare, Jonson, and Elizabethan staging.  Dr. Cohen is a former professor of English at James Madison University, where he founded the Studies Abroad program and where he won Virginia’s award for outstanding faculty. In 2008 Dr. Cohen and ASC co-founder Jim Warren won the Governor’s Arts Award.

  3 Responses to “Ralph Alan Cohen on the Theater of the Imagination”

  1. […] via Charlottesville Podcasting Network » Ralph Alan Cohen on the Theater of the Imagination. […]

  2. Dr.Cohen is certainly right about the drop in audience attendance at live performances. But I wouldn’t lay blame at the feet of movies and the expectation by theater-goers of stage illusions. I think it’s a failure of contemporary dramaturgy. To be blunt, August Wilson is bo-o-o-ring, and so are most playwrights whose mission is preaching social justice instead of entertaining the audience. Consider this: scenes in “Coriolanus” made people faint. When I was a boy of eight and watching a BBC production of “MacBeth” on television, I felt the hair rise on my head when the Forest of Dunsinane began to move. Dickens could make his audiences cry out, “No! No!” when he read aloud the death of Nancy in “Oliver Twist.” And they weren’t even seeing it, nor did he describe how Sykes killed her. They were only imagining what happened, similar to when Medea kills her children offstage. The hallmark of good drama is that the audience practically staggers out the door– from laughing, crying, or feeling frightened and then, mercifully spared.

  3. […] to lay the blame Posted on February 19, 2009 by Elizabeth Interesting comment over at Charlottesville Podcasting Network regarding the theater lecture I linked to earlier. The commenter is Charles J. Shields, the author […]

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