For his dedication to fostering a love of Shakespeare, Ralph Alan Cohen, founding executive director of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., is the recipient of the 2013 Shakespeare Steward Award, presented annually by the Folger in recognition of outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms.
Folger Director Michael Witmore presented Cohen with the award on Oct. 26, 2013, at the closing event of the Blackfriars Conference, the American Shakespeare Center's biennial gathering of scholarship on early modern drama.
The American Shakespeare Center has brought Shakespeare performances—using original staging conditions—to hundreds of American communities and has advanced an interest in Shakespeare and his times by building a replica of the Blackfriars Theatre and creating an American center for the performance and study of Shakespeare in Staunton.
"Ralph has 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," Witmore said in a Folger press release. "People think differently about Shakespeare and the 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 the growth of the American Shakespeare Center besides! It's an honor for us at the Folger to honor him."
In addition to being founding executive director of the American Shakespeare Center, Cohen is the company's director of mission, the Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance, and founder of the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton. He was project director for the building of the Blackfriars Playhouse, a re-creation of Shakespeare's indoor theater.
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 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 member. 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 weeklong celebration of early modern drama in performance. In 2008, he won the Commonwealth Governor's Arts Award. In 2009, he was the Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare's Globe in London.
He earned his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, his doctorate at Duke University, and has honorary degrees from St. Lawrence University and Georgetown University.
November 22, 2013