Meet Don Weingust, SUU's Director of Shakespeare Studies
Don Weingust directed his first play at age five, an imaginary western starring himself as gun-blazing cowboy, set in his best friend’s suburban Michigan home. Later in a high school drama class, he was introduced to the playwright who would shape his career, and though he has since professionally acted and directed every genre of play imaginable, as director of the Shakespeare Studies program and theatre professor at SUU, he has devoted much of his life’s work to William Shakespeare.
“This man understood extraordinarily the human condition and forged a path that no one even knew existed,” explains Weingust of the easy decision to focus so much of his talent and energy on one playwright. “Through Shakespeare’s plays, it’s possible to learn so much of what one needs to know about life: how to be a successful teacher, scholar, friend and family member.”
And with that, he now traces the Bard’s footsteps to unravel one of theatre’s most complex individuals with hundreds of students each year, making a 400-year-old subject relevant to 18-year-olds through the University’s growing ThunderBard Project.
The ThunderBard Project engages the entire freshman class in directed readings, discussion and a viewing of a professionally- produced Shakespeare play shortly after they arrive on campus— home to the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival. Under Weingust’s direction, students glean meaning from the world’s greatest playwright as they acclimate to the University, the community and one another.
And though it may seem arbitrary to some with interests beyond the performing arts, Weingust has a clear vision for all of SUU’s students and is confident the Bard can help bring them along.
“The ThunderBard Project allows students to relate to Shakespeare, of course,” says Weingust. “But as importantly, we open their minds to ideas outside many students’ ways of thinking, and that experience carries over into the rest of their lives.”
The results are tangible, and Weingust’s efforts have directed many undecided students toward a minor in Shakespeare Studies.
On top of administrating ThunderBard and teaching theatre courses, Weingust is an active scholar and thespian. His first book, Acting From Shakespeare’s First Folio: Theory, Text and Performance, revolutionized the field by deciphering what the Bard meant in his first scripts and changing the way others interpret and perform Shakespearean plays.
“I see a light bulb turn on when a student realizes the incredible power, artistry and depth of humanity available to them in Shakespeare’s works.” He adds, “That’s when I know I am doing something right. It ensures me I am right where I need to be.”
Since his early days as a heroic cowboy, Don Weingust has become a vengeful Hamlet, a terrorizing Richard III and even a lovesick Romeo. No matter the character, his ability to excite today’s college students in a centuries-old subject matter and inspire a similar passion in their own academic pursuits shines brighter than any spotlight.