Ralph Alan Cohen co-founder and director of mission at the American Shakespeare Center who was project director for the re-creation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, has been awarded the 2014 Sam Wanamaker Award from Shakespeare’s Globe London.
The Sam Wanamaker Award is the most prestigious prize granted by Shakespeare’s Globe and is given annually, in the name of the Globe’s founder, to celebrate work that has increased the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare.
“I hope that Sam would have liked the fact that this year the award named for him goes to an American," Cohen said upon accepting the Sam Wanamaker Award on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe on June 14. "In a way, Sam's quest to build the Globe was an expression of the American desire to be connected to Shakespeare's plays, and in honoring the work we have done in Staunton, Virginia, the Globe honors Sam's own yearning.”
Neil Constable, chief executive Shakespeare’s Globe, said: “In his TED talk last year, Ralph eloquently spoke of audiences ‘held hostage in the dark’ and has long championed Shakespeare productions in which actors and audiences share the same light. We want to shine the light on Ralph and recognize the enormous contribution he has made to the appreciation of Shakespeare performance, teaching, scholarly debate and, not least, for being a major inspiration behind our own candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.”
Sam Wanamaker spent the final 23 years of his life tirelessly campaigning, advancing research into the appearance of the original Globe, and planning its reconstruction. The Sam Wanamaker Award was instituted by Shakespeare’s Globe in 1994 to honor work which has a similar quality to Wanamaker's own pioneering mission. Cohen follows former illustrious recipients of the Award: Rex Gibson, creator and editor of the Cambridge School Shakespeare; Janet Arnold for her pioneering research into Elizabethan clothing; Stanley Wells, Shakespeare scholar and former chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; John Barton, founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; and actor and director Mark Rylance.
Cohen, who is Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance and founder of the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, was the Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2009. He was also a member of the Architectural Research Group, chaired by Farah Karim-Cooper, Globe Education’s Head of Higher Education and Research. His experience of reconstructing Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse in Virginia, was an important contribution in planning for the recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
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 the 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. 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 bi-annual weeklong celebration of early modern drama in performance.
In 2008, Cohen and ASC co-founder Jim Warren earned the Commonwealth Governor’s Arts Award. In 2013, Cohen was awarded the Shakespeare Steward Award by the Folger Shakespeare Library in recognition of outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms. 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.
June 16, 2014