My Colloquy Experience
By Alex E. LaGrand

This October, I had the privilege of participating in a colloquy discussion at the tenth biennial Blackfriars Conference through the American Shakespeare Center. The official title of my colloquy was Accessing Shakespeare Beyond Text: Vision, Age, Gender, Race, and Identities, and was led by the phenomenal Jeremy Fiebig, graduate of the MBU Shakespeare and Performance program, artist with Sweet Tea Shakespeare, and professor of theatre and directing at Fayetteville State University.

This colloquy began months before the conference. Shortly after our selection to participate, an email chain began, which quickly grew into a digital refuge from our everyday lives. The goal was to develop a list of texts—suggested by all participants—from which to draw our research on and then to further our questions of inquiry. From the very beginning, Jeremy created an atmosphere in which everyone’s thoughts and opinions were valued, which was hugely important, considering how we all came from various walks of life, from being a first-year graduate student to being tenure-track professors in the field. To have that openness and to feel so valued was wonderful.

We spent the summer months reading, thinking of questions of our own, and then digitally discussing them through our original email chain. Ideas would bounce off of one another, and as time went on, our questions developed even deeper, and I don’t think at that point we knew how significant was or could be. Jeremy refined our list of questions in order to have a concise focus for our conference discussion, and in the midst of all of this research, October came.

For me, nerves were still settling. I am a currently a first-year in the MBU Shakespeare and Performance program, so the idea of working alongside these incredible scholar-practitioners was intimidating, and knowing that this would soon go on display at the conference was even more so. The day before our colloquy discussion was scheduled, we all met at Yelping Dog to have wine and a pre-discussion to go over the logistics for our discussion the next day.

What was supposed to be a thirty minute to an hour meet-and-greet sort of thing ended up being three hours of getting to know one another, and this was so fruitful, because it was a culmination of our digital discussions and recognition of what questions we had for one another. We learned about the difficulty each one of us had faced in the profession and why we were intrigued and impassioned by this topic.

One of us had been a professional actress and filmmaker in New York and had dealt with the difficulty of being a woman in a male-dominated world. One of us had been an actor that reviewers had called “fat” onstage. One of us was young director hoping to find her place in the world. One of us was an acting professor that struggled to find ways to make her deaf student feel welcome in the theatre world. One of us was Jewish and had taken to giving lectures on Shakespeare at her synagogue. One of us was a professor in rural Pennsylvania that had people walk out of her students’ production simply because they had two women onstage as lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We all came with different experiences and motivations, and we all left with a greater view of what access meant.

The greatest question from our colloquy discussion revolved around how we make Shakespeare accessible for everyone. In today’s world, it is a constant struggle to ensure accessibility for all because of the persistent resistance still present today. We were able to come up with short-term actions to implement immediately in our worlds to ensure this accessibility. And even though the long-term resolutions will take more than just a discussion to come to terms with, it felt empowering to leave the conference weekend knowing that there were at least seven of us in the world deeply committed to making this happen.

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