The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.423 Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Subject: Ralph Cohen Receives Wanamaker Award
Contact: Cathy Bagwell Marsh
540.885.5588 ext. 26
Ralph Cohen becomes first American to receive prestigious Wanamaker Award
London, England (Saturday, June 14 at 5pm): Shakespeare’s Globe has named Ralph Alan Cohen as the recipient of the 2014 Sam Wanamaker Award. Ralph Alan Cohen is co-founder and director of mission at the American Shakespeare Center and was the project director for the re-creation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. The Sam Wanamaker Award is the most prestigious prize granted by Shakespeare’s Globe and is given annually, in the name of the Globe’s founder, to celebrate work which has increased the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare. Ralph is the first American to receive the award.
On accepting the Sam Wanamaker Award, presented to him on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe on Saturday 14 June, Cohen commented: “I hope that Sam would have liked the fact that this year the award named for him goes to an American. In a way, Sam’s quest to build the Globe was an expression of the American desire to be connected to Shakespeare’s plays and in honouring the work we have done in Staunton, Virginia, the Globe honours Sam's own yearning.”
Neil Constable, chief executive, Shakespeare’s Globe, said: “In his TED talk last year Ralph eloquently spoke of audiences ‘held hostage in the dark’ and has long championed Shakespeare productions in which actors and audiences share the same light. We want to shine the light on Ralph and recognize the enormous contribution he has made to the appreciation of Shakespeare performance, teaching, scholarly debate and, not least, for being a major inspiration behind our own candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.”
Sam Wanamaker spent the final 23 years of his life tirelessly campaigning, advancing research into the appearance of the original Globe and planning its reconstruction. The Sam Wanamaker Award was instituted by Shakespeare’s Globe in 1994 to honor work which has a similar quality to Sam’s own pioneering mission. Cohen follows former illustrious recipients of the Award, the first of whom was Dr Rex Gibson, creator and editor of the Cambridge School Shakespeare; Janet Arnold for her pioneering research into Elizabethan clothing; Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare scholar and former Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; John Barton, founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; and actor and director, Mark Rylance.
Ralph Alan Cohen, who is Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance and founder of the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, was the Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2009. He was also a member of the Architectural Research Group, chaired by Globe Education’s Head of Higher Education and Research, Dr Farah Karim-Cooper. His experience of reconstructing Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse, in Virginia was an important contribution in planning for the recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London.
Cohen has directed 30 productions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including America’s first professional production of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle. He also directed the first revival of Thomas Middleton’s Your Five Gallants and co-edited the play for Oxford University Press’s Collected Works of Thomas Middleton.
He is the author of ShakesFear and How to Cure It: A Handbook for Teaching Shakespeare. He twice edited special teaching issues of the Shakespeare Quarterly and has published articles on teaching Shakespeare as well as on Shakespeare, Jonson, and Elizabethan staging. He founded the Studies Abroad program at James Madison University, where he won Virginia’s award for outstanding faculty.
He has frequently directed summer institutes on Shakespeare and staging sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001 he established the Blackfriars Conference, a biennial week-long celebration of early modern drama in performance.
A pivotal point in Ralph’s career was founding the American Shakespeare Center with Jim Warren in 1988. Then named Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the company started by performing in schools and community centers across Virginia under the idea that using Shakespeare’s staging conditions – simple stage, multiple roles, acoustic music, and the lights staying on – would bring back the fun and accessibility of Shakespeare’s work. The idea worked, and using Shakespeare’s staging conditions, particularly universal lighting, created a fun, lively, interactive, experience- one that quickly grew in popularity. By 1999 the company had performed in 47 U.S. States, 5 other countries and one U. S. Territory.
In 2001, the Ralph and Jim found a permanent home for their company in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley by building the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre - the Blackfriars Playhouse. Built from Virginia Oak, the 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse has been established as one of America's premier Shakespeare destinations, called by Andrew Gurr “one of the most historically important theatres in the world.” Delighting tens of thousands of audience members per year, the American Shakespeare Center has helped transform the town of Staunton into a top national destination (Travel + Leisure, Smithsonian Magazine) and become a global center for the study of Shakespeare in performance.
In 2008, Cohen and ASC co-founder Jim Warren earned the Commonwealth Governor’s Arts Award. In 2013, Cohen was awarded the Shakespeare Steward Award by the Folger Shakespeare Library in recognition for outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms. He earned his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College and his doctorate at Duke University and has honorary degrees from St. Lawrence University and Georgetown University.