Mathews County resident helps earn state designation for Virginia Shakespeare Festival

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Apr 24, 2013 - 02:20 PM

Photo: Rob Ruffin

Rob Ruffin

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg is now the official Shakespeare festival of Virginia, thanks to the efforts of Mathews County resident Rob Ruffin.

Ruffin, visiting professor of theater at W&M and artistic director of this year’s Shakespeare Festival, approached State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County) earlier this year about having the General Assembly designate the Virginia Shakespeare Festival as the state’s official festival, and Norment "immediately saw the value of it," said Ruffin. The senator authored the bill and carried it through the Senate with unanimous approval.

But the bill wasn’t as widely accepted in the House of Delegates, where delegates from Richmond, Staunton, and Northern Virginia objected on the grounds that they, too, had Shakespeare festivals that deserved recognition.

Ruffin said he and his wife, actress Mary Wadkins, were celebrating Valentine’s Day when they got a call from Del. Mike Watson (R-Williamsburg) saying the bill was in trouble, and they spent that night sending out 8,000 e-mails garnering support for the bill.

During the next day’s debate, delegates from across the state debated the merits and demerits of the bill (using quotes from the Bard in their arguments), and it eventually passed with "an overwhelming majority," said Ruffin.

Watson argued that Virginia Shakespeare Festival is the oldest Shakespeare festival in Virginia, that William and Mary is the second oldest college in America and the only American college with a charter from the king of England, and that one of the earliest Shakespeare troupes in America—the Hallam Troupe—gave its first American performances in Williamsburg in 1752.