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Tyler Cohn ’06 (Wantagh, N.Y.) is devoting much of his senior year to finding out how three actors can cram 37 Shakespeare plays into an hour-and-a-half-long performance and send audiences into fits of hysterical laughter.

Cohn, who is majoring in English with a theater concentration and a minor in history, is reading piles of articles, reviews, and textbooks to determine how The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare “incorporates the basic tenets of postmodernism: parody, pastiche, irony, a melding of high and low culture, and a complete disregard for genre and convention.”

“Basically, I’m trying to determine why the play is funny,” he says, explaining the core of his senior honors thesis. “Over the course of two hours, three intrepid amateurs attempt to bring the Bard’s entire collection to life, with the help of a generous costume and wig collection, a willing audience, and a wicked sense of humor. Where else will you see Othello rapped, Henry IV in a football game, and Hamlet done at the speed of sound?”

Cohn says the conclusions he draws will be important because he plans to culminate his research by directing a production of the play for the college’s theater program this spring.

“This certainly differs from any major research [assignment] I’ve ever done before, mostly because I’ve never undertaken an academic project this massive,” says Cohn, who as a sophomore directed You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown for the Marquis Players, a student group that produces and performs an annual musical to raise money for local charities.

“I’m very excited about my thesis,” Cohn says, explaining that he’s heeding the advice of Michael O’Neill, associate professor of English and theater director, who told him, “A director should never undertake a project he isn’t thrilled about.”

“Through my research, I’m discovering the beliefs, practices, and motivations behind the things that make my generation laugh,” Cohn says. “When we start preparing the production in the spring, I’m really going to spread my wings as a young director and incorporate everything I’ve learned in my acting, directing, and technical theater classes, because The Compleat Works is going to be a very exciting but very challenging piece to bring to life.”

O’Neill and Cohn’s thesis adviser, Suzanne Westfall, professor and head of English, first suggested that he direct a play for his thesis. He’s glad that Westfall is guiding him through the process.

“As an instructor, she is incredibly knowledgeable about literature, theory, and criticism from both the present day and from the time of Shakespeare himself,” he says. “She also has a lot of experience as both an actor and a director, so she is a great person to bounce ideas off. She can foresee difficulties or opportunities I may have overlooked, and give me new ideas and new perspectives that I may have never considered on my own. Most importantly, she and Professor O’Neill are very encouraging and trusting and push me to make my own choices and defend them.”

Cohn, who hopes to pursue a career in entertainment, finds Lafayette to be a good place to work on his project.

“The theater program is small but well-staffed and well-supported, and provides me with the individual attention I want and need to make this project a success,” he notes.

Additionally, Cohn has been happy with his experience as an English major.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and interesting classes with members of the department, and I’ve been able to continue my loves of theater and writing through things like College Theater, the Marquis Players, and The Marquis literary magazine,” he says.

Cohn has acted and directed in College Theater and Marquis Player productions and won the Audience Award and Jury Prize for the documentary Searching for Irene, andthe Gilbert Prize for English during his sophomore year. He worked on the staffs of TheMarquis and The Lafayette, the campus newspaper. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society, and is president of the Arts Society. Cohn has also studied abroad in England, Ireland, Hawaii, and Australia. In addition, he served a campus tour guide.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 39 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News