CONWAY — Some might wonder if it was “much ado about nothing,” but to those gathered for tea, cookies and camaraderie, it was just as they liked it.
Members and guests of the Conway Shakespeare Club met April 19 at the home and garden of Irma Gail Hatcher to celebrate two things — the club’s 120th anniversary and the 450th birthday of the wordsmith from whom the club takes its name, William Shakespeare.
Special guests included Geneva Galloway, assistant to the director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and co-manager of its annual festival, which will feature four productions June 5-29 in Conway and North Little Rock. Three students from the University of Central Arkansas’ theater department accompanied Galloway and presented a scene from Shakespeare’s romantic pastoral comedy As You Like It. Sara Sharos of Bentonville was the student director of the scene, which was performed by Chelsey Herrold of Conway, who played Celia, and Emily Ray of Redford, who played Rosalind.
The Conway Shakespeare Club was founded in 1894 by a group of women, for women, for the “study of Shakespeare’s plays and other cultural programs.” Founding members were Mrs. George Burr, Annie Duncan, Mrs. W.H. Key, Mrs. P.H. Prince, Bessie Randell, Mrs. M.F. Robins and Nellie Randell. W.H. Key, who taught at Hendrix College, was the club’s adviser.
Cecilia Patterson, co-organizer with Carolyn Lewis of the recent celebration, said the club, which meets monthly, has met continuously since its founding, September through May, usually at members’ homes. According to the clubs bylaws, membership is set at 30.
Frances Hendricks serves as president of the Conway Shakespeare Club. Other officers include Linda Rogers, vice president and incoming president; Lewis, recording secretary; Hilda Malpica, corresponding secretary; and Patterson, treasurer.
Connie DeBoer, who has been a member of the club for 37 years, said each year a committee meets and comes up with two or three topics the club might study that year.
“They discuss the topics with the group, and the group votes on what they want to study,” DeBoer said. “This year we have studied murder mysteries. Each month we have studied a different kind of murder mystery.
“Next year, we are going to study women in Shakespeare’s plays. We study any literary subject — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, writers of the South.”
Carol Schedler joined the Conway Shakespeare Club in 1976.
“I enjoy it,” Schedler said. “We have very intellectual programs.
“I presented a Native American mystery this year by Margaret Coel. She writes about the Arapahos who live on the Wind River Reservation.”
Hendricks said she joined the club in 1995. She said her grandmother, the late Mrs. G.L. Bahner, was a member of the club.
“That’s probably why I was invited to join,” Hendricks said with a smile.
“She was a member in the early 1900s,” Hendricks said. “In going through my grandparents’ attic, I found a lot of the club’s old yearbooks and other information. My grandmother was a member during a time of great agitation for the club when some members wanted to study topics other than Shakespeare.”
Julie Adkisson said one of the club’s contributions to the community over the years has been its support of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, which was founded in 2007. The club has also been a staunch advocate for the Faulkner County Library System.