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Few students enter Harvard without having read a Shakespearean play, but the number that has sat through live productions may be considerably smaller. Unfortunately, opportunities to watch one of the Bard’s works have never been abundant on campus, and they decreased even more when Harvard’s only all-Shakespeare troupe, the Hyperion Theatre Company, experienced an organizational and financial crisis several years ago.
However, several undergraduate thespians, led by President Sean R. Fredricks ’07 and Vice President Tara L. Moross ’09, hope to engineer a Shakespearean renaissance on campus and revive the ailing company, starting with a production of “Romeo and Juliet” this spring.
Any successful theatrical production requires ambition and hard work; for Hyperion, other factors have made the journey even more difficult.
When Fredricks first took the helm of the company, he was shocked to discover the financial and organizational problems that plagued the group.
“I found out we had no bank account...We weren’t re-registered and we had all these problems,” says Fredricks, explaining the situation of Hyperion when he first became president of the organization two years ago.
But now Moross and Fredricks are spearheading a change, hoping to return the ailing company back to its former glory. They have solicited help from the founders of the company, David S. Speedie ’99 and Nicholas J. Saunders ’99 who will serve as alumni advisors. Since this past December, both Speedie and Saunders have actively worked with current members of Hyperion, talking with student activities and Office of the Arts administrators and planning fundraising events for the company.
The company first began its life in 1995 after Speedie and Saunders attended a production of “The Tempest” at the American Repertory Theatre.
“I walked out of that and spoke to a friend of mine in the class and said, ‘Of all the societies and clubs in music and theater at Harvard, why isn’t there a dedicated Shakespeare company?’” recalls Speedie.
Within a year of its formation, the company achieved real and tangible success. Praise from famed actor John A. Lithgow ’67 during Hyperion’s first season firmly solidified the artistic reputation of the young company.
“The debut production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ attracted hundreds of people for those four or five productions,” says Speedie. “Lithgow, who turned out to be the honorary chair of Arts First Weekend that year was only supposed to stop and watch for five or ten minutes...but I just remember: five, ten, fifteen, thirty minutes, an hour went by and he was still there.”
Hyperion’s productions became more and more elaborate as the years passed. By Speedie and Saunders’ senior year in 1999, the company staged a sold-out production of “Hamlet” on the stage of Sanders Theatre.
However, the company’s fortunes faded quickly with the graduation of its founders. Speedie admitted to poorly planning for the future of the company before he graduated, which may have led to the current problems of the company.
“The company was at its zenith [when I left], but I did a miserable job in succession planning,” he says.
Under its current leadership, however, Hyperion is getting a second chance in a most un-Shakespearean turn of events. Fredricks and Moross are hoping that their upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet” will be a turning point for the company.
“In order to make Hyperion a really great organization, something totally different from any student organization here, we want to bring in professionals to work with the undergraduate actors, to speak to and mentor,” says Fredricks.
As a start, Benjamin Evett, Artistic Director of the Actor’s Shakespeare Project, will direct “Romeo and Juliet,” which opens at the end of April in the outdoor Kirkland and Adams House courtyards, a setting that harkens back to the outdoor roots of the company. The production of “Much Ado About Nothing” that Lithgow so enjoyed took place in Harvard Yard.
Despite Speedie’s ambitions for an alumni reunion production of “Henry V,” Speedie says he plans to take things one step at a time.
“We’re going to have to restore the company’s name before we can credibly request a venue like Sanders or even the new theatre that’s being developed for the Pudding space.” says Speedie, “So I would say we are focusing our attention squarely on making sure that this is going to be a successful production this coming spring.”
—Staff writer Eric W. Lin can be reached at email@example.com.
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