October 26, 2012

Theatre Expert Uses Shakespeare in Prison Ministry

By Amanda Morad

October 24, 2012

In a talkback session before the last showing of Regent University's production of The Tempest, Shakespeare Behind Bars founder, Curt Tofteland discussed the themes of the play with Regent president, Dr. Carlos Campo.

Curt gives direction.
"The Tempest starts with a man consumed with a desire for revenge—what a waste of time," Tofteland said. "Forgiveness is more about the victim, not the victimizer, and that's a theme that resonates with the men we work with."

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a non-profit organization that produces some of Shakespeare's most-beloved masterpieces in prisons with the incarcerated. According to Tofteland, these theatrical encounters create major life changes in the inmates who play the classic characters, helping ensure their successful reintegration into society.

Tofteland leads Shakespeare Behind Bars with 34 years of theatrical experience and a lifetime of adoration for the work of Shakespeare. "The insight he had into the human condition—it's deeper than any other writer I've ever encountered," Tofteland said.

Much of what's to love has to do with Shakespeare's willingness to tackle the most controversial ideas of his day. For The Tempest, President Campo explained, that controversy centered on the wayward flagship of the 1609 Virginia Company voyage that ran aground off the coast of Bermuda. "What made Shakespeare such a contemporary artist was that he wasn't afraid to address really delicate issues, to comment on the events and issues of his day," Tofteland said.

Prison guards look on as Greg prepares to go onstage.

"This play in particular really lends itself to themes that the incarcerated can really chew on," he explained. "We're talking about forgiveness and redemption and territory—that's their world."

Shakespeare's tragedies seem to evoke the most profound changes in the actors he works with, Tofteland continued. "Anger is at the root of dysfunction. Anger is what stands between you and your wish," he said. "Shakespeare Behind Bars is about unpacking and exploring that and really creating a family."

That family helps inmates build trust and have a safe place they can feel unthreatened and valued for what they have to offer. "People ask me why I do this and I tell them it's because I love miracles, and I see miracles every day."

Although Regent's run of The Tempest ended Oct. 21, Joyful Noise opens Nov. 16. Learn more about the 2012-2013 theatre schedule.

October 24, 2012

Congratulations to Cara Jewell (MFA '13) & Brad Brinkley (MFA '15), Irene Ryan Nominees!

Cara Jewell (Prospera) confides in Ashley Dakin (Ariel) in
Regent University's production of The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

Brad Brinkley (Antonio) in Regent University's production
of The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

October 22, 2012

Congratulations to Michael Woods (MFA '08) on his recently released commercial!

Congratulations to Michael Woods (MFA ’08) on the above commercial.   Michael has also appeared in an episode of SHAMELESS, Detroit 187 and Underemployed.

October 18, 2012

Theatre Faculty, Students and Alumni Land Roles on Documentary Series

By Rachel Judy

October 18, 2012

"The most effective mentors and teachers are those who remain practitioners of their craft," said Eric Harrell, associate professor of theatre in Regent University's School of Communication & the Arts. "When we have opportunities to apply what we teach professionally, we are more effective in the classroom."

Watch this clip to find out A Haunting using special effects makeup 
in order to recreate supernatural experiences.  Featuring current Regent MFA students
Brad Brinkley, Ashley Dakin and Chad Stem.

Harrell and fellow professor Dr. Michael Hil-Kirkland recently seized the opportunity to apply their own skills as actors by landing guest roles on the new television documentary series A Haunting. Airing on the Destination America channel, the show is a docudrama about paranormal activity produced in conjunction with New Dominion Pictures in Suffolk, Va.

"As a professional actor and member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), this was a rare opportunity to work on a television project in Hampton Roads," Harrell said. "We live in a largely non-union market so it was wonderful to have a SAG opportunity in our backyard."

"Every time I have the opportunity to engage the profession I walk away with valuable real-world experience I can share with my students," Hill-Kirkland added. "It allows me to better prepare them for the world that awaits them outside the protective environment of the academy."

A Haunting showcases first-person claims of supernatural activity, unraveling the mystery behind these happenings. Each episode showcases real-life tales of haunted houses and, sometimes, even haunted people. 

American Haunting Bloopers featuring Regent faculty: Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland, 
theatre alumnus: Amy Dunlap and MFA Student: Brad Brinkley.

The genre is a bit unique, but not a complete stretch, for an actor who is a Christian, Harrell explained. "We often think of this genre of entertainment as glorifying the presence of evil. In reality, it is one of the few in the industry that frequently acknowledges the power of Jesus Christ and uses his name reverently to rebuke the powers of evil," he said. 

Hill-Kirkland agreed. "I look upon this role as no different than if I were performing [Shakespeare's] Hamlet," he said. "It's a ghost tale that acknowledges a spiritual dimension exists in our universe that there is, indeed, life after death." 

Harrell's episode will air on the Destination America channel on Friday, Oct. 19. Hill-Kirkland's episode is set to air on Friday, Nov. 2. In addition to their roles, a number of Regent alumni and students appear on screen with small acting roles or as extras. Others landed work behind the cameras on the production crew. 

The Destination America channel is part of Discovery Communications, the world's number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in 200 countries and territories. 

Learn more about the School of Communication & the Arts' Theatre Dept.

October 15, 2012

Production Reimagines Shakespeare Classic

The Tempest runs Oct. 12-14 and Oct. 19-21. 
Photo courtesy of School of
Communication & the Arts

By Rachel Judy
October 11, 2012

Shakespeare's The Tempest has taken its place among his romantic works, particularly because of the play's quixotic setting—a lush, enchanted island far from the reach of ordinary life. But, as the classic tale comes to life at Regent University, it is not the setting that will take center stage.
"We've re-envisioned some of the traditionally male characters as female; not just asking women to play men but wholly reimagining the relationship dynamics of a mother and daughter, of political alliances between women, and the depth of female friendships," explained Eric Harrell, the play's director and an associate professor in the Theatre Department. "It's been a satisfying, artistic exploration for our company, reframing this classic story and deepening its thematic reach."

Shakespeare's masterpiece traditionally tells the story of Prospero, the former duke of Milan and a sorcerer, who lures his brother and the king to an island in order to exact revenge on them for leaving him and his young daughter stranded on an island. In Regent's production, Prospero has become Prospera.

This approach to The Tempest has become popular in recent years. In the '90s, actress Vanessa Redgrave played the role in an acclaimed production at Shakespeare's Globe. More recently, actress Helen Mirren played Prospera in the 2012 film version directed by Julie Taymor, known for her directing work in the stage version of The Lion King. In addition to reimagining the lead role, Regent has transformed several other characters as well.

While the approach is untraditional, Harrell is quick to point out that the heart of the production remains the same. "One of the reasons The Tempest has long been a favorite of mine is that it has a little bit of everything: romance, mystery, revenge, tragedy, comedy, illusions and an inspiring moral," he explained. "The characters are as complex as the genre. Like each of us, they have the capacity to love and hate, to seek revenge and forgiveness, to be blinded by professional ambition and romantic love, and to merit both judgment and empathy."

On Sunday, Oct. 21, Regent president and literature expert, Dr. Carlos Campo, will lead a pre-show presentation with Curt Tofteland, the founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars. Their discussion will touch on several themes found in the play, among them redemption, slavery, ownership, ruling with integrity and the relationships between characters. The presentation will take place at 1:15 p.m., in the Center for Performing Arts, prior to the final showing of The Tempest.

Purchase Tickets.

October 5, 2012

Sharon Bierman (MFA '13) and Grace Adams (MFA '14) Nominated for Irene Ryan

Photo courtesy of the School of Communication & the Arts.

Congratulations to
Sharon Bierman (MFA '13)
and Grace Adams (MFA '14)
on their KCACTF Irene Ryan Award nominations for Madame Arcati and Elivira respectively in Regent University's 2012-2013 Season opener:
Blithe Spirit!

2012-13 Theatre Season Kicks Off With Celebrated Comedy
By Rachel Judy

Since it was written at the height of World War II, Blithe Spirit has enjoyed critical success on stage in London and New York. Its most recent Broadway revival starred actress Angela Lansbury, who won a Tony Award for her role. This successful comedy will hit the Regent University stage for a two-week run beginning Friday, Sept. 14.

Blithe Spirit follows the story of a happily married novelist who suddenly finds himself haunted—literally—by the ghost of his temperamental first wife. Infused with Coward's trademark humor and comedic insight, audiences will have a stage-side seat to the challenges and joys of a marriage tested by unpredictable circumstances.

"Audiences will probably find themselves frequently laughing through tears," observed Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland, professor in the School of Communication & the Arts and the show's director. "Coward takes a good hard look at marriage—and what it means to be 'bound' to another individual.

"Perhaps the lesson we walk away with is, marriage can become a comedy of errors if not taken seriously," he added.

Kicking off Regent's 2012-13 theatre season, Blithe Spirit is the perfect piece to showcase the in-depth study and coursework of MFA in Acting students. "Our students take courses in Periods and Style, Shakespeare, and Scene Study that touch upon such revered playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, George Bernard Shaw, and, yes, Noel Coward," Hill-Kirkland said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage the skill sets they learn in class."

MFA in Acting student Sharon Biermann will perform her thesis role—a requirement for completion of a degree—in this production.