The Merits of Public Humanities

The first Wednesday back from break, the whole school ventured to the Redfern Theatre on Keene State’s campus to see the Aquila Theatre’s performance of Romeo and Juliet. Here, Ms. Nicole Sintetos reflects on the experience and the importance of publicly accessible art.

The study of the Humanities is often sold as a solitary act: alone with a book in hand and snuggled in an over-stuffed couch in a library, the reader develops an initial image of the text’s intention where it lingers privately in a single mind.   For a long time, with the exception of class discussions, this is how I assumed it was meant to be.  I rarely visited museums except on forced school field trips. I did not know how to enjoy theatre. To be honest, I can’t recall seeing a play until I was in my twenties.  To me, the idea of “Public Humanites” was something rich New Yorkers did on a Saturday night.  Who would want to see a professional theater perform a Shakespearean tragedy, I wondered, other than entitled party-poopers. 

Then, a switch went off.  I saw my first professional play and can remember time stopping briefly. It is possible I cried and gave a standing ovation. It is also possible I realized my bias against “high brow” theater was totally and completely unfounded. My tastes in the Humanities had not changed—just my exposure.

When I was putting together the Humanities Series this summer, I wanted to be purposeful about providing a shared experience beyond our school where students could watch a professional theatre company. Aquila Theatre’s production at the Redfern Arts Center of Romeo and Julietfit just the bill: we could be in the front row and literally see the beads of sweat fall off Mercutio’s brow. Many of our students had never seen a Shakespearean play performed professionally, and they might not again for some time.  But, they have received a special invitation (in iambic pentameter, no less) to see art as publicly accessible, even if difficult in content.