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July 10, 1997

Unseam'd company: Performing Shakespeare and other great plays in a more contemporary manner

In 1994, the Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. was formed by a group of Pitt graduate students, and other local theatre people, with the idea of "unseaming" the great plays of the world, particularly those of Shakespeare.

By "unseaming," the company means performing the plays in a less formal, more contemporary manner than what is usually offered. The hope is that such an approach will make the great plays accessible to a wider than usual audience.

"We also try to do plays that are not much performed," noted David Pellegrini, director of development for the company. Productions have included John Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi," John Ford's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore," Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus," the Greek classics "Phaedra" and Hecuba," and Shakespeare's "All's Well That End's Well," "Richard III" and "King Lear." This summer's offerings, performed in the Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, are Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost," which closed July 6; "Troilus and Cressida," playing through July 12, and John Ford's "The Broken Heart," which will run July 15-26. The company also will perform "The Broken Heart" Aug. 11-23 at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in Scotland, the world's largest theatre festival. It will be Unseam'd Shakespeare's first appearance at the festival.

"Pitt students will have an especially strong showing in this [the Edinburgh] production," Pellegrini said. Ph.D. candidate Anna Rosenstein will serve as dramaturg, or literary adviser, while Pellegrini, another Ph.D. candidate, will direct the performance.

Twelve members of the troupe will travel to Scotland for the festival. They include artistic director Laura Smiley and John Koch, recent graduates of Pitt's Master of Fine Arts acting program, and Pamela McCready, a graduate of the Master of Arts in technical program, and three current undergraduates, Chris Rath, Dennis Penell and Rachel Wynn.

A non-profit organization, the Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. is supported by the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Pittsburgh Foundation. But its most important supporter "by far," according to Pellegrini, has been Pitt's theatre arts department, particularly since the demise of the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival.

"The Department of Theatre Arts has provided rehearsal space, the use of all technical and costume shops, and the Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre for our summer season efforts," Pellegrini said. Since the company's founding, according to Pellegrini, theatre arts department faculty and staff also have served as mentors and advisers, and have participated in productions as actors, designers and directors.

Theatre arts faculty who have worked with the troupe include Kyriaki Gounaridou, as a director, and Richard Keitel, as an actor. Pellegrini said department chair Stephen Coleman also has supported the company by allowing access to the department's costumes, scenery and props, and offering the use of the Stephen Foster theatre at a reduced rate.

"They've also been really supportive on a personal level," Pellegrini said. "Dr. [Attilio] Favorini, who was a founder and for many years the producer of the Three River Shakespeare Festival, has just been enormously helpful in providing us with advice on fundraising and show selection." This summer, for the first time, students participating in the Unseam'd productions can receive University credit, according to Pellegrini. Four student interns are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Information on the Unseam'd Shakespeare Co. is available by writing: The Unseam'd Shakespeare Co., P.O. Box 7292, Pittsburgh 15213-0292 or by calling 661-0244.

–Mike Sajna

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