I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;

A stage, where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.

(Antonio, 1.1)

Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS) — a company of five professional British actors — presents Shakespeare’s comedy The Merchant of Venice at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton on October 16, 2012 and at Fletcher Collins Theatre at Mary Baldwin University on October 18, both at 7:30 p.m. The performances are part the company’s 2012 national tour, with stops at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Austin, Wellesley College, and Penn State and Kansas State Universities.

“This visit generates so many interesting angles. Although AFTLS has toured extensively throughout the United States for the past five decades, nobody back in London can recall the last time the company visited Virginia,” said Matt Davies, assistant professor in Mary Baldwin’s Shakespeare and Performance program who toured with the company between 1999 and 2003.

AFTLS’ arrival coincides with the inaugural production of Mary Baldwin’s MFA company, Roving Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, and the culminating performance of graduating candidate Dan Stott, The Tamer Tamed, both opening next week. In what is being billed as a Fall Festival of Plays, three plays will be performed in four venues over six days. The events are proving to be an opportunity for interconnectivity as well.

“The visit has generated a raft of classes, not only in Mary Baldwin’s own MFA and theater departments, but also in undergraduate English classes,” Davies said. “Making useful connections with neighboring colleges, the actors are also visiting James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University, while all the University of Virginia theater students are being urged to cross the mountain to see the show.”

The Merchant of Venice has stirred controversy for centuries with its clash of bawdy and gentle comedy, its blend of tender poetry and vicious prejudice, and its struggle with mercy and justice. In this vibrant, stripped-down production, just five actors take on all the roles in Shakespeare’s comedy of religion, race, love, family, and justice, and the frictions between them.

Members of the ensemble include tour veterans Nicola Alexis (Portia, Solanio, Bathazar, Gaoler, Leonardo) and Michael Palmer (Shylock, Old Gobbo, Lorenzo). Completing the ensemble are Noel White (Antonio, Gratiano, Tubal, Launcelot), Henry Everett (Bassanio, Morocco, Arragon and Duke), and Alinka Wright (Nerissa, Jessica, Solario, Stephano).

Developed in 1975 through the collaborations of Dr. Homer Swander of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Sir Patrick Stewart at the Royal Shakespeare Company, AFTLS is now the national outreach program of Shakespeare at Notre Dame. Davies performed with the company between 1999 and 2003, and remains an active board member. The actors, who have worked in such companies as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, and Shakespeare’s Globe, among others, devote much of their time to lectures, workshops, seminars, and informal meetings with students. Their residencies provide students and faculty alike with a unique opportunity both to observe extraordinary performances and to discuss literature and the art of theatre in depth with talented artists from some of the most important theatre companies in the world.

Performances are October 16, 2012 at the Blackfriars Playhouse and October 18 at Fletcher Collins Theatre, Mary Baldwin University. Both performances are at 7:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $15; senior citizens, faculty, and student tickets are $10. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 540-887-7237, by email at Smithc7263@marybaldwin.edu, or at the door (cash or check only).

For more information, contact Matt Davies at 512-751-7718. Photos and interviews are available upon request.