As incoming director of Southern Utah University's Center for Shakespeare Studies, Don Weingust has gone through all the requisite introductions.
He's met with the university's board of trustees. He's shaken hands with students. And of course he knows his boss, Shauna Mendini, dean of SUU's College of Performing and Visual Arts.
But unlike most Shakespeare scholars, Weingust has also had the pleasure of holding a pep rally for the world's most famous playwright.
Speaking before 1,500 students in SUU's Centrum Arena this month, Weingust launched the university's new "ThunderBard" project, a wordplay on the school mascot Thunderbirds. Shouting "Shake!" into a microphone, students responded with a thunderous rejoinder of "Speare!"
"I'd never experienced anything like it anywhere else," Weingust said by phone from his new home in Cedar City.
The Michigan native's new position falls in line with the university's mission to spread the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare throughout the curriculum, wherever possible. One example is the instructor who is offering a lecture course in criminal justice that puts Prince Hamlet on trial, Mendini said.
Weingust's position also makes ideal sense given the university's role as host to the regional Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival. After reading "Hamlet" as their first-year read for "ThunderBard," students can then see the festival production, which opens Sept. 20 at the Randall L. Jones Theatre.
"We're hoping every student remembers their first year here through the Shakespeare play they read," Mendini said. "Maybe they'll call themselves a 'Hamlet'-year student, or 'Tempest'-year student. Don was the total package for this new line of study. He's not just a scholar. As a theater professional and member of Actor's Equity Association, he also understands the practical applications."
Having coined the term "ThunderBard," he's clearly off to a good start, Mendini said. Weingust comes armed with formidable scholarly credentials as well. Studying for his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, he worked under the two most famous Stephens in Shakespeare studies: Stephen Greenblatt, a pioneer in the "new historicism" school of criticism and author of Will in the World, and Stephen Booth, a preeminent scholar of Shakespeare's language and author of a ground-breaking book on the Bard's sequence of sonnets.
He's also an accomplished actor who played his first Hamlet at age 20, while his publications include Acting from Shakespeare's First Folio: Theory, Text and Performance, and a contribution to the forthcoming Cambridge World Shakespeare Encyclopedia.
Weingust admits he leans toward Shakespeare's late romances and most renowned tragedies "King Lear," "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" yet his favorite Shakespeare play tends to be the one he's re-reading. Or the one he's just seen in performance.
"I can honestly say I've never met a Shakespeare scholar who was burned out," he said. "Shakespeare is a writer who provides more than enough for a lifetime journey. He gives so much back for every hour spent studying him."
Weingust said the university hopes to develop a graduate program in Shakespeare studies. The first-year Center for Shakespeare Studies currently allows undergraduates to earn a minor in the field.
'Hamlet' at Utah Shakespeare Festival
When » Sept. 20 through Oct. 27. In repertory with "Stones in His Pockets" Sept. 19-Oct. 26 and performances of "Les Misérables" through Oct. 27.
Where » Randall L. Jones Theatre at Southern Utah State University, 315 W. Center St., Cedar City
Info » $22-$73; tickets are nonrefundable, but can be changed for an additional $5 with a 24-hour notice. Most performances of "Les Misérables" sell out two to three weeks in advance. Visit www.bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX or 435-586-7878.