Shakespeare tends to follow Christy Burgess and Scott Jackson home.
If, for example, Jackson happens to say something about “crushing it” while in their kitchen, Burgess immediately follows with “Crushing it like a cup of the Capulets’ wine!” (an obscure reference to Scene II of “Romeo and Juliet”).
“Scott will be like, ‘No, Christy. We have to have boundaries,’” Burgess says as she laughs.
Burgess and Jackson, who are married, already spend their days with the bard. In 2008 Burgess founded the Robinson Shakespeare Company at the Robinson Community Learning Center, where she leads youth through three productions a year and offers after-school programs.
Jackson is the Mary Irene Ryan Family Executive Director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, leading, among other things, the annual summer Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. He also teaches a weekly Shakespeare course at Michigan City’s Westville Correctional Facility.
‘Shakespeare is what brought them together. They met one summer in Alaska, while performing “Julius Caesar” with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. The two hit it off before going their separate ways, Burgess to an internship at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau and Jackson on a world tour with the Fairbanks Theatre. Then, on Burgess’ birthday, Jackson drove eight hours to see her. They’ve been together ever since.
In 2007, Jackson was invited to become the first executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame.
“Christy was really encouraging me to go,” he said. “I was actually a little bit reluctant because I grew up in Elkhart and didn’t want to go back home. I’d been on the West Coast for years and years; I’d lived in the U.K. for years and years. Little did I know how much growth there had been here, especially in terms of the performing arts and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.”
While mulling over the decision, Jackson and Burgess took their dogs for a walk on a beach in Alaska. “We went on this hike, and it was on that beach that the two of us, without saying it, both realized that we were going to be together forever,” Jackson said.
“It was honestly just one of the best days of my life,” Burgess said. Together, they decided that Jackson would come to Notre Dame. Burgess joined him a few months later to work at the Robinson Community Learning Center, where she later founded the Robinson Shakespeare Company.
Although Jackson and Burgess’ roles don’t often overlap, they both appreciate being able to support each other in the work they do. And they both love their work.
“I think what’s special about us working at Notre Dame is that both of us got into theater for something larger than entertainment or performance,” Jackson said. “Both of us view the performing arts as this change agent, this way to be a positive force for change in the community. Notre Dame is so unique in its Catholic mission, and it allows us to mold programs that look to serve.”
Both the Robinson Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare at Notre Dame are heavily involved in the community. In the spring, Burgess and Jackson went to New York City with Tiana Mudzimurema, a Robinson Shakespeare Company student who competed in the National Shakespeare Competition — the RSC’s second trip to nationals (see related article above).
Burgess and her team also teach more than 20 weekly in-class drama integration workshops and after-school programs in South Bend schools.
Jackson leads Shakespeare at Notre Dame’s Westville Correctional Facility Shakespeare performance course and is one of the founders of the Shakespeare in Prisons Network, which promotes the production and study of the bard’s plays and builds foundational skills including literacy, teamwork, self-confidence and hope.
This fall, the RSC and Shakespeare at Notre Dame are teaming up with the South Bend Civic Theatre to create a world premiere of an “As You Like It” adaptation based on the Hunter Heartbeat Method.
“The Hunter Heartbeat Method is a series of drama games that bring Shakespeare stories to audiences with autism, and Shakespeare at Notre Dame is one of the first companies in the world to bring that work here on a community level,” Jackson said.
“We’re unique in our field because we’re able to take this idea of service and further it within the community in a way that our peers at Shakespeare theaters around the world kind of marvel at,” Jackson said. “We both kind of stick out because of the opportunities that Notre Dame encourages us to take on.”