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Summer Research combines student’s love of Shakespeare and music

Marianne Virnelson '17 works to compose music for a scene in Twelfth Night.

Marianne Virnelson ’17 works to compose music for a scene in Twelfth Night.

After seeing a production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet last summer, Marianne Virnelson ’17 realized she wanted to dedicate her professional life to preserving the great playwright’s work. One of her first steps is to combine her theatre and music majors, as well as her love for Shakespeare plays, into a Summer Research project.

This summer, Virnelson is reading a wide selection of Shakespeare’s writing, particularly from the Elizabethan era, to find musical scenes she can recreate. She will then compose about 10 songs for a 60-minute presentation at the conclusion of Summer Research. She is also learning to play the mandolin for the performance.

“For a lot of these scenes, we have the lyrics but don’t know what the music sounded like,” she said. “I’ve never composed anything before, but I have been through four semesters of music theory classes. We’re probably not going to end up with Beethoven-tier sonatas, but I’ll be able to come up with some fun little ditties.”

Marianne Virnelson '17 and theatre professor Stephanie Earl meet to discuss Shakespeare plays during Summer Research.

Marianne Virnelson ’17 and theatre professor Stephanie Earl meet to discuss Shakespeare plays during Summer Research.

For further inspiration and guidance, Virnelson is working closely with the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton. Stephanie Earl, a Randolph theatre professor and Virnelson’s faculty advisor, has been a member of the ASC’s Touring Troupe since 2011 and introduced Virnelson to the center’s actors and musical producers. Virnelson was also selected for an internship at the ASC that will begin later in the summer.

“The American Shakespeare Center is so beautiful,” Virnelson said. “The productions absolutely keep the Bard’s plays alive, and that’s something that I’m interested in participating in.”

“This project seemed like a great fit because Marianne can benefit from interviewing these people and learning from their experiences,” Earl added. “I’m excited to get to share with Marianne a bunch of the ins and outs of the place I have worked for so long.”

Virnelson has gained plenty of additional experience in the performing arts at Randolph. She is a member of Chorale, and last fall served as president of the College’s combined vocal and instrumental music ensemble. She has also acted in or been a member of the stage crew for every Randolph theatre production since her first year at the College. One of her favorite shows was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night last fall.

“This past year I was blessed enough to be acting in every show, which was phenomenal,” Virnelson said. “It was a lot of great experience working with a lot of really great directors, students, and costumers. It was a very cool year.”

Virnelson said the opportunity to receive individual attention while developing as an actress was one of many reasons she chose to attend Randolph.

“If I had gone to a conservatory or larger college, I might not have had to do math and as many general ed. courses, but I also wouldn’t have assistant stage managed a production, gotten to work in the costume shop, or learned that I don’t really like hanging lights because I don’t like ladders,” Virnelson said. “It’s a lot of really unique experiences compiled here that make me feel ready to go into this as a business.”

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