Stage provides backdrop for New Oxford Shakespeare editing decisions

Terri Bourus isn’t so different from any other theater director, carefully considering how her actors are embodying their characters or how costumes might help audiences draw meaning.

Underneath all that, though, she’s on a secret mission.

As director and general editor of IUPUI’s New Oxford Shakespeare project, Bourus is one of three editors worldwide commissioned by Oxford University Press to make big decisions about what will be included in a new, multiplatform edition of Shakespeare’s works. And those decisions, she argues, cannot be made without seeing the Bard’s work on stage.

Lauren Briggeman

Indianapolis-based actor Lauren Briggeman will appear as Isabella in “Measure for Measure.”

“The New Oxford Shakespeare is a research project as well as an editing project and, in order to work out our research theories, we need a practical application. That’s where the stage comes in,” she said. “The stage operates as a kind of laboratory, a place where we can experiment.”

Bourus, an associate professor of English drama at IUPUI, created Hoosier Bard Productions to augment her editorial analysis. The group staged “Young Hamlet” in 2011 and last year hosted the premiere of “The History of Cardenio.” The so-called “lost” play was painstakingly recreated by Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor, which drew the attention of the BBC and was the focus of a documentary by WFYI.

Such theatrical experiments help address questions such as what to include when all three authoritative versions of “Hamlet” are different, Bourus explained, or how to address the questions that swirl around the authorship of “Cardenio,” which was apparently written by Shakespeare with a collaborator but only survived in fragments before last year’s re-creation.

“We keep good academic track of what’s happening in these different versions, which will affect our editorial choices and things like what we write in our introductions,” Bourus said. “We want to cross over, for theater and academia to have an exciting intercourse that generally only happens infrequently.”

In its latest endeavor, Hoosier Bard Productions will perform “Measure for Measure” at the Indianapolis-based IndyFringe Basile Theater on Feb. 21 to 23 and Feb. 28 to March 2.

And, of course, there’s a twist. Two versions of the play exist — Shakespeare wrote a lighter version that’s set in peacetime Italy, while Thomas Middleton’s more familiar 1621 adaptation is darker and is set in wartime Austria.

Hoosier Bard Productions will perform them both, offering Shakespeare’s version the first weekend and Middleton’s version the second weekend.

“The way we’re staging this, as far as we know, it’s the first time it’s been done,” Bourus said. “With ‘Measure for Measure’ we usually always see conflated text or the Middleton version set in Vienna, and nobody ever sees the Shakespearian version. We only do one production a year, so we’re very careful about selecting something unique that’s based on academic and editorial research.”

For additional details about the show or to purchase tickets, visit IUPUI’s event site.

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