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Shakespeare Sucks

April 23rd, 2012 No comments

I started out in theatre as a stage manager for a company founded on strict Renaissance principles. This meant two lighting cues every show (lights up at the start, lights down at the end), and actors speaking at so many words per minute to make a five act play fit into two hours.

When I say strict, I mean according to the theories of the artistic director. They might have been accepted as doctrine in academic circles, or not. I didn’t care. When you’re in the role of stage manager, you learn to ignore such trivia so you can serve the larger task of not having actors kill each other.

However, the odd thing (even for me in my then great naivete about all things theatrical) was that the artistic director hated Shakespeare. Not enough to not program him into his seasons, but get him in private? Johnson, yes, Marlowe, yes, Middleton, yes, Rowley, yes, but Shakespeare?

Untalented hack. Overrated. And so on.

However, being exposed to a rep season of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, I could tell, even with my limited knowledge, that Shakespeare was the better writer. Not that I didn’t enjoy The Spanish Tragedy, but it was melodramatic, and characters in it were about as deep as they needed to be for a melodrama. The Shakespeare characters, on the other hand, came across as real people.

So yes, for some people, Shakespeare sucks. Not me, though! Happy Birthday Shakespeare! 

Running Callbacks, part 2

January 15th, 2012 No comments

I saw mostly women tonight, and a few guys.

Wow. What an array of talent. Tonight and last night are going to make it difficult to choose the top three for each role. Still, it’s a better position than me dressed in sackcloth and ashes, stumbling down the street and rending my garments, lamenting

Where have all the actors in town gone to? Who did greet this assemblage of cloth-tongued ninnies that did caper before me, sawing their hands in the air and mumbling under their breath, who did greet them and bid them welcome to our theatres? I would find this person and place them beneath Mike Duffy for a fortnight, then begin to truly punish them.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t write in the style of Shakespeare.

My Intro to Shakespeare

April 26th, 2011 No comments

I have never been to the Stratford Festival.

I know, eh? As a Canadian in relatively close proximity to Stratford, especially a Canadian who professes themself to be a theatre lover, this is tatamount to admitting high treason.

(I’d better not tell you that I’ve never been to the Shaw Festival either. Then you’d really be angry.)

Of course, in high school, there were annual trips out there. Trips which I had NO interest in going on. Why? I didn’t have any interest in theatre back in high school, and especially no interest in listening to a bunch of people in funny clothing reciting olde Englishe from Shakespeare. When it came time for elective English courses, I purposely avoided anything to do with Shakespeare and his ilk.

Fast forward many years. I am out of high school. I am out of university. I am bored, and in Kingston. (The two aren’t always mutually exclusive.) I see an ad that a local theatre company needs a stage manager. Why not? I thought. What’s the worst that can happen?

I don’t remember what made me suddenly take an interest in doing community theatre, but I do remember the stage management experience. The company was being run by a York University graduate who hated Shakespeare and wanted to make all things as authentic as possible. (Which meant, among other things, that I got to wear a hideous lime green “costume” which I think was assembled from couch upholstery and lace trim.)

It’s all very nice to hate Shakespeare, but economically, it would have been folly for his production to only have Thomas Kyd’s A Spanish Tragedy.  So the artistic director/director/producer also put in Much Ado About Nothing in his summer rep to draw in the crowds.

So, my first exposure to Shakespeare was stage managing one of his plays in a rep season with possibly the first ever North American production of Kyd’s work.

You hear text spoken a lot when you’re stage managing, and the contrasts between the two plays was very noticeable. Kyd’s words were more bombastic and speechy (for the most part), while Shakespeare managed to blend in the poetic, but keep it like it was an actual human being saying the words.

The season ended, and so did my interest in stage management, and I continued on to eventually act as Baptista in Taming of the Shrew. From an actor’s point of view (at least a novice actor’s point of view), the text was very accessible, and even though some of the words were old, their intent was always very clear.

Shakespeare helped to cement my admiration for a good solid piece of text. He showed that with a solid foundation of words, you could go anywhere with the production. His blend of play scenes for the nobles and things for the groundlings is a model that has influenced my approach to everything theatrical ever since.

Now I want to go to Stratford and see the Stratford Festival. All I have to do is find someone to go with.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Categories: Acting Tags: , , ,

Someone Else on Shakespeare

August 31st, 2010 No comments

This is a really good discussion/description on what makes a Shakespeare text a Shakespeare text, and how it affects actors. Go here.

(With thanks to Kris Joseph.)

Categories: Acting, Thinking Tags: