The works of Shakespeare may be timeless, but the Elizabethan English can sound a bit peculiar to the modern ear. Fear not. Students from the University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts, Department of Theater and Dance, use big voices, exaggerated expressions and physical theatrics to communicate the Bard's 400 year old dialogue when performing vignettes from three of his plays for passengers on the Rail Runner.
For five years, UNM has teamed up with the New Mexico Rail Runner to entertain commuters on the #704 northbound and #705 southbound trains, the last two Saturdays in June and the first Saturday in July.
Lauren Albonico started the project as a capstone for her UNM MA degree in Theatre Education and Outreach. “The Rail Runner kept asking me to come back and do it again, and I was more than happy to oblige,” she said.
According to Albonico, plays not set in a theater are called, site-specific theatre. “The train seemed like a perfect site-specific venue,” she said. “It’s small and intimate, and comes with a built-in audience.”
This year, UNM students Grey Blanco, Katie Farmin, Caroline Graham, Nick Pippin and Alex Wasson performed scenes from “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They switched roles and played different characters in all three scenes. The props are simple and the costume changes quick.
“What's so awesome about Shakespeare on the Rail is that we're bringing live performance to people who may not otherwise get to see it. We're making Shakespeare accessible."
– UNM student Katie Farmin
"We've taken the scenes out of the context of the original plays and reworked them for the train setting," Albonico said. "Even the characters are like ones you might encounter on the Rail Runner. We use the poles, and every little nook and cranny that is specific to where the scene is being played. You take full advantage of what’s there."
Still, performing on the rails can pose interesting and unusual challenges not found on the traditional stage. The train is in constant movement, it’s sometimes bumpy, and overhead announcements can disrupt an actor’s line.
UNM theatre student, Katie Farmin thinks the train environment adds to the performance. “It's not a traditional stage, but it is still fitting for a show nonetheless. You have to think about projection and blocking in a new way. It's a challenge, but it’s worth it.”
“What's so awesome about Shakespeare on the Rail is that we're bringing live performance to people who may not otherwise get to see it. We're making Shakespeare accessible," Farmin said.
Albonico looks forward to this project every summer. “Working with the UNM theatre students is always a joy because they're enthusiastic and professional.”
Whether you’re a fan of the Bard of Avon or just happen to be on your way north, don’t miss this unique performance next summer. The event is free with normal Rail Runner fare.