Ralph Alan Cohen, Director of Mission and Co-Founder of the American Shakespeare Center, has been awarded the 2013 Shakespeare Steward Award, presented annually by the Folger Shakespeare Library in recognition of outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms.
Folger Director Michael Witmore presented Cohen with the award on October 26, 2013 at the closing event of the Blackfriars Conference, the American Shakespeare Center's biennial gathering of scholarship on early modern drama. "Ralph has a long been a leader in the community of Shakespeare scholars who see that there is much to learn from the practice of staging Shakespeare's plays," noted Witmore. "People think differently about Shakespeare and Renaissance drama because of what Ralph has done."
Peggy O'Brien, the Folger's Director of Education added, "Ralph is close to magical. All of his gifts -- scholar, teacher, director, and entrepreneur -- have driven work that has created lively and exciting Shakespeare experiences for hundreds of thousands of students and teachers. And the founding and growth of the American Shakespeare Center besides! It's an honor for us at the Folger to honor him."
Past recipients of the Shakespeare Steward Award include the partnership between the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Chicago Public Schools; scholars Gail Kern Paster and Jeanne Addison Roberts; the Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival; Peggy O'Brien; and the inaugural recipient, Susan Biondo-Hench, a high school English teacher in Carlisle, Pennsylvania who founded a student Shakespeare festival in her community.
In 1988, Cohen and Jim Warren formed the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, a touring theatre company focused on bringing back the energy of early modern theatre by using their staging conditions. 25 years later, the company has been renamed The American Shakespeare Center, and has brought Shakespeare performances to hundreds of American communities and advanced an interest in Shakespeare and his times by building a re-creation of the Blackfriars Theatre and creating an American center for the performance and study of Shakespeare in Staunton, Virginia.
Cohen, Co-founder and Director of Mission at the American Shakespeare Center, is Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance and founder of the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin College.
He 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 Shakespeare Quarterly and has published articles on teaching Shakespeare as well as on Shakespeare, Jonson, and Elizabethan staging. ShakesFear will see its second printing in 2014.
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.
In 2008 he won the Commonwealth Governor's Arts Award along with ASC Co-Founder Jim Warren. In 2009 he was the Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare's Globe in London. 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.
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