Ralph Alan Cohen, Mary Baldwin College’s Virginia Worth Gonder professor of Shakespeare and Performance and director of mission for Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center (ASC), recently became the first American to receive the prestigious Sam Wanamaker Award from the London-based Globe theater.
“Like Sam [Wanamaker], Ralph passionately believes in making Shakespeare accessible to as wide an audience as possible,” said Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education at the Globe, when introducing Cohen at the award ceremony June 14. “[Ralph] is determined to eradicate what he calls ‘ShakesFear.’”
The award recognizes Cohen’s contributions to the study and appreciation of Shakespeare in the States and worldwide. After establishing the successful traveling troupe Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in the late 1980s, Cohen was instrumental in the vision and creation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in downtown Staunton, and he co-founded the American Shakespeare Center headquartered in that building. The same year that the Blackfriars venue opened, the first students enrolled in MBC’s Master of Letters and Master of Fine Arts program, guided by many of Cohen’s ideas. Cohen has been a member of the Mary Baldwin faculty since 2003. He also launched the Blackfriars Conference to draw Shakespeare scholars from around the world to Staunton, and he has directed more than 30 productions of plays by the Bard and his contemporaries.
“I hope that Sam would have liked the fact that this year the award … goes to an American,” Cohen said. He added that ASC actors and educators, the Blackfriars Playhouse, and Mary Baldwin’s MLitt and MFA students are all “children of Sam Wanamaker’s vision.”
He was also quick to point out that the award — established in 1994 in memory of the American actor and director who moved to Great Britain and spent a quarter-century campaigning for the creation of the Globe — was an honor for the American Shakespeare Center as a whole, not just himself.
The Wanamaker Award is the latest in a series of notable recognitions Cohen and others associated with the ASC have earned:
- 2008: Governor’s Arts Award (Cohen and ASC co-founder Jim Warren)
- 2009: Theo Crosby Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe (Cohen)
- 2013: Shakespeare Steward Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library (Cohen)
Watch the award presentation on the American Shakespeare Center’s website.