On September 8, the FIA experienced a Renaissance when over 70 Shakespearean enthusiasts, some in elaborate Elizabethan costume, gathered to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Shakespeare Club of Flint with period music, a feast and (what else?) a play! The club is the oldest continuously active one of its kind in the United States.
“A Night with Shakespeare – The Play’s The Thing!” was a script written by club member June Fleckenstein-Emmert to commemorate the auspicious occasion, past and present members, and the bard at the group’s center. June is not the club’s president because it has no president; in fact, there is no static leadership. “We are an old group,” said June with a laugh, “with some very odd traditions.” The Shakespeare Club of Flint meets at a member’s home every other Monday from October-May, just as it has since its inception in 1889.
Membership is limited to 40 people and is invite-only. The group reads four of Shakespeare’s plays each year, which are selected by a committee made up of a male chairman and two female members. “We men of the club don’t really go by the title of chairman anymore when it’s our turn,” said current chair Howard Bueche with a chuckle, “because of the consternation it raises. We just call ourselves the committee now.” Rotating alphabetically, the committee members are charged with picking the plays and assigning the reading roles. Not every club member is assigned a role in each play because of the number of characters in the cast, but assignments rotate as well so that every member gets an opportunity to read throughout the year.
Membership is diverse and Kitty Moeller says that being a member of the Shakespeare Club has expands one’s circle of friends. “It’s wonderful because you meet people who like the same thing you do, people you’d never have met otherwise,” she said. Phyllis Schroeder agreed, saying, “We all enjoy Shakespeare, but of course, some of us are more knowledgeable than others!” In particular, R.J. Kelly has researched the history and politics of Shakespeare’s time, Professor Wesley Rae has created a guide to iambic pentameter, and Dr. Jack MacKenzie has compiled data on Elizabethan music, flowers and medical conditions.
The Shakespeare Club of Flint has carefully preserved their history, with meeting notes that go back as far as 1891. In a summary of their history, club historians R.J. and Kathleen Kelly reveal just how rowdy this crowd can get: “As ever, we enjoy strutting the stage in homespun headgear, simulating battles with makeshift weaponry or collapsing in death scenes on the hosts’ living room floor … Post-play comments are lively as ever, keeping the secretary scrambling to record our gems of wisdom …” The camaraderie between group members is evident, and as June says, “It’s just a lot of good old fashioned fun!”
Photography by Mike Naddeo