Aquixotic endeavor rises in the rolling hills of Alberta, Canada. Two hours west of Edmonton, and an hour from the nearest city of any real size, lies the town of Derwent.

Population? Approximately 117.

Yet an amazing project has taken root in this isolated outpost. Deacon Ken Noster and his wife, Marlane, are realizing their vision of a Catholic college dedicated to training fine artists.

Living Water College of the Arts is a response to a need. As founders of Wisdom, a group that provides administrative and educational support to one-fourth of the home-schoolers in Alberta, the Nosters often were asked to suggest fine arts colleges. Was there someplace where students could learn in an environment that was not an affront to their most deeply held beliefs, one that nourished the soul while training fine artists within the context of a classical liberal arts education?

Finding none, the Nosters set to work creating their own. With the blessing of Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, as well as the endorsement of Catholic luminaries such as Cardinal George Pell, Thomas Howard and Michael O’Brien, Living Water is now planning to open full time in 2011.

A 10,000-square-foot central facility is already complete and houses a chapel, classrooms, a recording booth, a drama studio and living accommodations. More construction is underway.

“My vision for Living Water College is that it become a means by which artists at all stages in their life can benefit from one another,” said Deacon Noster, “specifically, in their need to grow in personal holiness and in their art. Of course, students at the beginning of their study in the arts need to develop a vision for art that is not exclusive but inclusive of their faith and their right thinking, and for this, a place of study is needed.

“Art, faith and reason need to be integrated within each human being in order for them to fulfill their mission on earth and attain happiness. Aristotle equates happiness with the attainment of virtue. The ancient Scripture writers equate happiness with wisdom. Artists are happiest when they feel fulfilled by performing their art as an expression of truth and beauty. Truth and beauty need not be lofty ideals, but honest expressions of the human condition, redeemed by Christ.”

This is the context in which Living Water hopes to train the next generation of Catholic artists, and they are beginning with the wellspring of English literature and drama: William Shakespeare.

Summer Shakespeare

The first offering from Living Water is an ambitious six-week program called “The Mind and Faith of William Shakespeare.” Running from July 6 to August 18, 2009, this intense course of study “will contain artistic training, academic study through Socratic discussion and daily prayer.”

“The Shakespeare Program is designed to help students approach acting as the art of expressing truth,” explains Deacon Noster. “By integrating students’ active faith experience with the intellectual challenge of right thinking, we hope to awaken in them the desire to express the truth dramatically, as did William Shakespeare. It will be beneficial for them to recognize in our culture many of the same contradictions against truth that Shakespeare faced, and, like him, they will want to draw upon their faith and reason to produce powerful drama.”

The program offers an extraordinary immersion in Shakespeare from various instructors. Joseph Woodard, the college’s director of liberal arts, will lead an intensive crash course in Shakespeare, studying his life and work in the context of cultural philosophy and Reformation history. Clare Asquith, author of Shadowplays: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, will spend a week with the students, exploring the specifically Catholic nature of his writing.

“Living Water College is being built around a unified Great Books and fine arts program,” said Woodard. “Our mission statement speaks of recapturing the cultural unity of art, faith and reason. So when we decided to launch a pilot program for one or two summers before opening full time, Shakespeare was a natural. He almost perfectly exemplifies the unity of art, faith and reason — that’s the mark of a high civilization. In a manageable, six-week package, we can actually explore philosophically the nature of art and culture, study the life of the faith during one of its politically challenging epochs, and produce one of his plays. So art ‘incarnates’ faith and reason.”

Morning Prayer and Fencing

Students will explore more than a dozen works across the entire gamut of Shakespeare’s output and examine such topics as the ancient hero, the meaning of tragedy, and the modern perspective. Students will also read Aristotle, Sophocles, Ben Jonson, Borges and other writers to provide additional context.

“During the first two to three weeks,” said Woodard, “the academic study of the philosophy of drama, the history of Shakespeare’s age, and the survey of classical Shakespearean criticism will consume about half of the students’ days. Into the third and fourth week, however, the actual production of ‘Macbeth’ will come to dominate their time, until the performances at the end of the fifth and sixth week.”

This full production of “Macbeth” will be under the guidance of Deacon Noster, whose own background is in acting and directing, and the director of fine arts, Frank C. Turner. Turner is not only a professional character actor with more than 100 credits listed on, the Internet Movie Database, but also an accomplished iconographer. Jean Pierre Fournier, maître d’armes for the Fight Directors of Canada, will provide the students with fight and weapons training.

Each day will follow a fairly rigorous schedule, starting with breakfast at 7:30, followed by morning prayers, movement study, seminars and symposiums, and daily Mass at 11:30. After lunch, students will do voice training, and then another symposium or, later in the program, a “videtorium” with screenings of Shakespearean films. The afternoon schedule includes more rehearsals, supper, and evening prayers, with reading and recreation ending the day at 10.

The intense, wide-ranging nature of the course fits well with Living Water’s overall mission. According to Woodard, the college’s goal is to “educate Catholic ‘culture warriors’ — which is to say, not merely technically competent artists (actors, painters, writers), but people who are sufficiently grounded in the whole sweep of Western civilization — from its Greek and Hebrew roots, up through Roman Late Antiquity and the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque — to see the Catholic Church at the center of it, the inspiration for what was true, good and beautiful in our culture up to now — and to come.”

Thomas L. McDonald writes

from Medford, New Jersey.

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