Audrey Stanley is a Professor Emerita of Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz, and the founding artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. In this oral history, Stanley addresses her life and career in education and theater, which spans from her youth in England to her ongoing tenure in Santa Cruz. Her narrative begins with her childhood in Whitstable, Kent, and London, where she was first introduced to theater through pantomimes at a young age, and was soon inspired to direct her inaugural production with a cast of local friends. Stanley relates both these experiences and their larger social context, discussing her education during the bombings and defense of England in World War II, and delineating the important role that theater and art played in that time of national trial. She follows this thread of interest through her experience at the University of Bristol, where the United Kingdom's first drama program was founded during her time as a student. As a result, Stanley emerged as one of the very first individuals in the country with a drama degree, and went to work as an educator setting up drama programs in a series of other English universities.
Stanley's engagement with theater persisted and diversified through her work in universities in England and Canada, her UC Berkeley doctoral research on theatrical sites in ancient Greece, and her engagement with UCSC, where she has spent the majority of her career. She details the small-scale, experimental climate at Stevenson College and Cowell College upon her arrival and discusses the ensuing evolution of dramatic performance and theatrical education at the young university. After starting to build a career outside UCSC as a director, working at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland Shakespeare Festival (where she was the first woman to direct a Shakespeare play), Stanley relates her decision to focus her career on the fledgling vision of a Shakespeare festival in Santa Cruz.
This interview finds its heart in Stanley's ruminations on Shakespeare Santa Cruz, which became nationally renowned for its high-quality productions, marriage of scholarship and performance, generation of opportunities for students, and the unique beauty of its setting amongst the campus redwoods. Stanley relates both the triumphs of the festival—reflecting on individual productions, key collaborators, and its longevity—and its ongoing challenges with budget shortfalls, reflecting in particular on the issues of running a theater company with immediate fiscal needs in the densely layered financial and bureaucratic context of a large university.
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