Dr. Sharon Klassen can’t recall what first ignited her passion for theatre. It has been there as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always liked going to plays, although I didn’t go to as many as I would have liked. When I was in university and figured out there were student discounts to see things cheaply, I really started running with them. I loved old film versions of some of the great plays, even when I was much younger, and by the time I was 18 I was regularly going to the Shaw Festival on my own. I grew up in St. Catharines, so I was just a hop, skip and a jump away.”
As time went on, these regular outings turned from a favourite pastime into a well-informed interest in early 19th-century British theatre. This eventually led Klassen to pursue a PhD in drama at the University of Toronto, embark on a 20-year career teaching theatre at Redeemer and, in 2005, become a member of the International Shaw Society. In fall 2019, she was awarded the R.F. Dietrich Research Scholarship for Shaw Studies, a $1,000 USD scholarship that helps a graduate student or early-career scholar research the life and work of playwright George Bernard Shaw, the society’s namesake. Klassen considers the award yet another amazing example of how the Shaw Society has supported her career over the years.
“I have felt so blessed that world-renowned turn-of-the-century British drama scholars basically landed in my backyard, Niagara-on-the-Lake, pretty much every year. They helped me wrap up parts of my dissertation, and they’ve really kind of honed and enhanced an interest in Shaw that I already had.”
In conjunction with an internal research grant from Redeemer, Klassen will use the scholarship to spend a week in the archives of the Harry Ransom Centre in Austin, Texas. There, she will research the drawings of Feliks Topolski, the illustrator of Shaw’s famous play, Pygmalion.
“I’ve been writing and presenting conference papers on the illustrations of Pygmalion for a number of years now, and one of the things that has come up in my research is that Topolski complains that Shaw would correct his drawings. There is one published drawing with corrections, and apparently, the rest of them are in this archive in Texas. I’ll be spending my week looking at how Shaw commented on Topolski’s drawings, seeing the original sketches and trying to figure out which ones were included and excluded.”
Ultimately though, the most valuable thing that has come out of Klassen’s work is the opportunity to deepen her faith alongside generations of students.
“Theatre is one of the many ways we were created to tell stories, and I love being able to nurture and explore that with students within a reformed Christian context.”