The Shakespeare Workshop

December 06, 2021

Professor of literature Sean Keilen, founding director of UCSC’s Shakespeare Workshop. 

The Shakespeare Workshop is a research center dedicated to the study of the works of William Shakespeare with an emphasis on how they speak to the experiences of today’s audiences and readers. Since 2013 the workshop has created a community of scholars, practitioners, and enthusiasts that strives to explore enduring questions about the human experience through the lens of Shakespeare’s works, using the common vocabulary created by the dramatic world of his plays to address existential concerns.

The Workshop was founded based on the belief that public universities should be cultural as well as academic institutions. It builds on the UCSC tradition of public scholarship in the arts and humanities that began in 1981 when Audrey Stanley established Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a professional theater company, as a campus program. It is also the scholarly partner of Santa Cruz Shakespeare, the independent non-profit theater company that grew out of Stanley’s vision. The Shakespeare Workshop provides a valuable dynamic bridge between UCSC and the community of Santa Cruz and beyond, by bringing to wider attention the aspects of Shakespeare’s works that are most vital for today’s audiences.  

During the summer, the Workshop organizes Weekend with Shakespeare, a free public symposium about the plays in the SCS season, featuring visiting scholars and professional directors, actors, and designers. During the school year, the Workshop offers a variety of programs intended to expand the public’s access to Shakespeare’s plays and poems and to explore the incredible diversity of uses to which those texts are being put in the modern world. 

Past programs have focused on a translation of the Sonnets into American Sign Language, prison-based productions of Shakespeare’s plays, Shakespeare’s interest in the experience of veterans and the challenges they face when coming home from war, and the work of a contemporary director who illuminated the experience of global refugees through Shakespeare’s meditation on exile in As You Like It. In 2019, the Workshop and SCS launched Undiscovered Shakespeare, an annual, Zoom-based dramatic reading of plays that are rarely performed or studied.

Professor Sean Keilen–who teaches Shakespeare, British Literature, and criticism, humanities and the classics–founded the workshop in 2013-2014. Thanks to generous gifts and bequests from members, it became a research center two years later. 

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