“All things are ready, if our minds be so,” William Shakespeare penned when writing Henry V in the 1500s, today Wheeling is ready to make itself home for a group of Shakespeareans. Since its creation in the early 1970s, Towngate Theater has served as a hub for arts and culture in the city of Wheeling, WV. Its offerings and opportunities for local community members are innumerable. Whether a novice in the theater world or a seasoned professional, Towngate Theater has a program that will appeal. One of their newest programs involves a flair for the classic with the “Brush Up Your Reading Shakespeare Group.”
Cathie Spencer, a student studying theater at West Liberty University, took a Shakespeare class where she immediately became enamored and wanted more. At that time, she got in touch with local English teacher Bethany Decker, retired Ohio University Eastern theater professor Dennis Fox, retired theater professor at West Liberty, John Reilly, and of course, Tim Thompson, director at Towngate Theater. In January of 2023, the plans were drawn to continuously meet to read through Shakespeare’s classic plays.
With the help of Tim Thompson, Towngate Theater Director of Performing Arts and P.D. Gregg, Towngate technical director, Towngate Theater has given Brush Up Your Shakespeare a new home. “They’ve allowed us the use of Towngate’s meeting space on the first floor and accommodated us with the use of their television in order to watch film adaptations and filmed theatrical performances of Shakespeare’s plays,” member Bethany Decker states. “They’ve also let us stay late when the conversations were lengthy or when we needed a little extra time to continue watching a performance.”
Since the inception of the program, membership has nearly doubled. Group members participate in any capacity in which they feel comfortable, and the conversations can be geared to novice Shakespeareans to trained performers – all are welcome. A typical session begins on a Monday evening from 6 – 7 p.m. with the group sharing any news or announcements. Participants are also welcome to bring in unique experiences specific to their relationships with Shakespeare, like a souvenir or a graphic novel.
The arts in Wheeling have a strong, supportive community with many eager for local moments in which they can become involved. In creating this program, Brush Up On Your Shakespeare hopes to foster creativity and a willingness to learn in local community members. “This program is a very small, grassroots one, and Wheeling is known for embracing those kinds of things. We hope that our reading group, first, inspires others to explore Shakespeare and join us for our next play. Second, if we can generate enough interest in learning about Shakespeare, perhaps that might spark some interest in planning some Shakespearean performances in the future,” Decker states. If the group continues to thrive, live productions will likely follow.
The group is always open to welcoming new members to partake in readings. If you’d like to join, follow Towngate Theater’s Facebook page for more information. Tentative members will be added to the Brush Up Your Shakespeare Facebook group for more information.
•Karin Butyn was born and raised in Wheeling, WV. A graduate of Wheeling Central, West Liberty University, and Wheeling Jesuit University, Karin spent nearly a decade teaching both English as Second Language and Reading Language Arts. She is currently in her third year as an Assistant Principal for Ohio County Schools. In her free time, she enjoys running and music. She and her husband, TJ, are raising their young sons, Finn and Watson, in Warwood.