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.
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.