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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

The MIT Shakespeare Ensemble by Paul B. '11

This ain't your AP English class's Shakespeare.

One all-too-common misunderstanding I’ve encountered about MIT is that “no one” at the Institute appreciates, let alone participates, in the humanities or the fine arts. Well, I don’t know about No One, maybe he doesn’t like the arts – but the truth of the matter is that MIT students have quite a bit of respect for drama, music, poetry, and all the other “artsy” things you might not expect engineering students to be involved with. In fact, there are over 50 different music, theater, and dance groups on campus, specializing in everything from improv comedy to jazz music to ballroom dance.

I bring this up because, last weekend, a friend and I went to see the one of these 50 student groups in action: specifically, the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble, which was putting on its summer production of Dirty Hands, by the famous French philosopher and dramatic Jean-Paul Sartre. To be honest, I mainly went because my friend Dennis ’08 was playing the lead part and kept inviting people to watch him perform. Because really, one of the best parts about college theater is watching your friends be absolutely ridiculous on stage. (And the play was free! Can’t beat that.)

Dirty Hands is, first and foremost, a political drama about an assassination – except that the identity of the assassin and his target are known from the beginning. The real question is whether the assassin was acting out of personal reasons, political ideals – or both. Essentially, the play is a framed narrative where Hugo, the idealistic assassin (played by Dennis), having just been released from prison, recounts the events leading up to the murder to Olga (Deirdre ’10), his confidant and advocate within the Party to which she and Hugo belong.

As the play unfolds, the audience delves deeper and deeper into Hugo’s mind (which is not a very happy place). Along the way, we meet Hoederer (Yoni ’10), a divisive but popular leader within the Party; Louis (Eric ’10), a Party leader opposed to Hoederer, who gives Hugo his orders; Ivana (Sara ’11), a Party saboteur; and Jessica (Bianca ’11), Hugo’s attractive and cunning wife. The cast is rounded out by Slick and Georges (Sabrian ’09 and Brian ’11), Hoederer’s bodyguards; Prince Paul (Oliver ‘G); and Kasky (Arnaldo ’09).

Although I don’t want to give away the play’s ending – you can rely on Wikipedia for that ;) – I had a great time watching Dirty Hands. The set was amazing, especially for a summer show. They even put together a promotional trailer on YouTube (warning: it’s PG-13 for about two seconds near the end). I also loved how the director, Kellas ’10, used color as a reflection of the characters’ personalities and ideologies. For example, Hugo starts out wearing black (because he’s an assassin, yo), but eventually is shown to wear yellow to indicate his loyalty to Olga and Louis – in opposition to Hoederer and his bodyguards, who wore blue throughout the play. Meanwhile, Jessica (and only Jessica) wore red to set herself apart from the other characters.

All that said, let me just conclude with a few photos of the play. I couldn’t take any during the play, but fortunately my friend Sara ’11 (Ivana in the play) let me use some of hers, including a few glamor shots from backstage. Enjoy!

An unlikely assassin.

Engineer by day, bodyguard by night, Sabrina is double majoring in computer science and “being a badass.”

Proper care of your weapon is just one of the many unconventional skills MIT students master.

In Sara’s words, “Requisite pensive dramatic mirror picture.”

Dirty Hands is the fourth performance Sara and Bianca have performed in together. Aww.

The mind-blowing set.

Another view.

Yoni and Sara want you to join the Shakespeare Ensemble!

21 responses to “The MIT Shakespeare Ensemble”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why is it called the Shakespeare Ensemble if they don’t exclusively do Shakespeare. And your tagline is right – this isn’t Shakespeare at all!

  2. Tina '12 says:

    so how many of these groups/activities continue through the summer?

  3. Basant'11 says:

    I totally loved the play. It’s great that you devoted a blog post to Sartre’s and the Ensemble’s awesomeness. smile

  4. Paul says:

    @Anonymous: I was waiting to see who would notice this first. :D As it happens, the Ensemble traditionally does a non-Shakespearean play during the summer. As one of the crew members explained to me when I asked, “Even the Ensemble can only do so much Shakespeare.” smile

    @Tina ’12: Most groups continue during the summer to some extent; it depends on how many people are still around. Even the groups that aren’t active on campus during the summer use the off-time to plan their events for next year. To use examples from clubs I belong to, the Assassins’ Guild still runs games during the summer, whereas we’ve just been planning the next issue of MURJ.

  5. Eric '10 says:

    Yay! Thanks for the entry about the play! And if anyone’s around this weekend, there are three more shows left. (Friday & Saturday, the 26th and 27th, at 8 PM and a matinee show on Saturday at 2 PM)

    – Eric (AKA Louis)

  6. Harrison says:

    I don’t know about the Gilbert & Sullivan Players, but Shakespeare Ensemble does a summer show (as evidenced by this post) and the Musical Theatre Guild does a summer show as well (which I’m admittedly a part of). This summer we’re doing Into the Woods and it opens Orientation Week (and frosh get a HUGE discount–come see it!)

  7. Piper says:

    Hey, I actually like Pericles…

  8. Kellas '10 says:

    To find out more about the Shakespeare Ensemble, go to

    And our Fall Show is going to be A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  9. anonymous says:

    Since dorm assignments just came out, can someone tell us how easy or difficult it will be to transfer out of the assigned dorm if we don’t like it once we get there? I understand how REX works, but do students really get to change dorms or is it just a theory and very few students get to move? Any personal experiences to enlighten us about transferring to another dorm? Just curious.

    By the way, did anyone get assigned to their first or second choice? Or were you assigned to a lower ranked choice? It would be interesting to know what rank students had given the dorm they ended up being assigned to when they completed their form.

  10. cindy says:

    The Assassins’ Guild looks amazing too!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I love Sara and Biancaaaa!!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    you totally just jacked sara’s facebook album and posted it as a blog. well done, paul. wink

    p.s. – see those squares on the set? each one is a painted cardboard box. one hundred sixty effing eight of them.

  13. JR'11 says:

    @ Anon who wants to know about switching:

    Switching dorms during REX is really common. A lot of people who were not temped in Simmons live in Simmons Hall (the Sponge/weird looking building), and vice-versa. You almost certainly will get one of your top three choices. There were a small portion of students who got fourth choices in the last selection process, though.

    For McCormick residents, I do not believe you can switch out of McCormick as a freshman.

  14. Shamarah says:

    If you’re in MCC you can’t switch out during REX; I’m not sure about the rules if you decide to leave at the middle of the year or something.

  15. Paul says:

    @Housing Anon: Applying for the Adjustment Lottery is highly recommended – even if you love your temporary dorm, but think you might like another dorm (or two) a teeny bit better, there’s absolutely nothing lost from entering the lottery. And as JR said, the vast majority of people who enter the Lottery are indeed able to switch.

    Here are some more concrete stats:

    – Last year (Class of 2011), about 19% of freshmen applied for readjustment and 16% of all freshmen actually moved. Of the 154 students who moved, 105 (68%) received their first-choice dorm, 29 (19%) received their second, 18 (12%) received their third, and 2 (1%) received their fourth.

    – Two years ago (Class of 2010), 15% of freshmen applied for adjustment, and 81.6% of those who applied (124 out of 152 students) were able to move. 80 (65%) of those students moved into their first-choice dormitory, 28 into their second-choice, 8 into their third-choice, and 8 into their fourth-choice.

    – Three years ago (Class of 2009), about 16% applied for readjustment and 85% of those who applied were able to move.

    So, basically, significant numbers of people do apply for readjustment, and most of those who apply to move end up in their first- or second-choice dorm.

    As for your other question, which was how many students get assigned to their first or second choice in the Summer Lottery…numbers have not yet been released for this year, but the number of people who receive one of their top two choices is typically around 90%. (Last year, it was 88%; two years, 93%.)

    Generally, McCormick will not allow students to move out, because of the mutual-selection process that occurred during the summer – although those students are still welcome to participate in REX, which is a lot of fun in addition to being a great chance to explore the dormitories. The same applies to Chocolate City, Spanish House, and (I think) iHouse, but I’m going to double-check my information.

    @Anon #4: Hey now, Sara wanted me to use her photos! wink

  16. Julie P. says:

    8th!! *so happy*
    By the way, nice pictures.

  17. Sara '11 says:

    @ Anon #4: Paul’s right. We haven’t posted Dirty Hands pictures yet on our website, so I told Paul he could use mine. =)

    For those who want to see more pictures of things the ensemble has done, there are tons of photos of all our past shows, including this year’s Titus Andronicus and Twelfth Night, at

  18. Anon #4 says:

    I meant “jacked” in the loving-est sense of the term. It is a pretty sweet album.

  19. Grace '11 says:

    Cheers, Paul! :p

    I’m another member of the Ensemble, and we also do scene nights (selections of individual scenes from various) over IAP or in the spring term. Although, last spring we did a 24-hour show; that is, a show entirely written, rehearsed, designed etc in the 24 hours leading up to the performance.

    It was called William Shakespeare: Vampire Hunter. It was awesome.

    /publicity speil

    Also, yeah, if we did Shakespeare all the time we’d end up having to do things like Pericles and Merrie Wives of Windsor. And nobody wants that.

  20. @ Paul: Thank you so much for the housing adjustment information. The stats are certainly encouraging. I will definitely visit all the dorms during REX to make sure I can find the one that is best for me.

  21. It was FLIPPIN’ SWEET. As the first MIT theater production I’ve seen, I was blown away. NICE JOB, FOLKS!