Shakespeare Uncovered

February 2, 2013 at 10:31 am (As You Like It, Film Adaptations, Hamlet, Macbeth, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

shakespeare_uncovered_basic_page_main_image_528x297CI wanted to post a detailed review of the exciting new PBS series, Shakespeare Uncovered. Unfortunately, the shows air late on Friday nights and I keep falling asleep while I’m watching them, so I am not able to give you a useful summary. But I will tell you to watch them! The videos are on the PBS website, so watch them at your leisure… I plan to!

Each of the six episodes features a different Shakespearean actor delving into the “story behind the story” of various plays. In the first episode, Ethan Hawke takes you on his journey to prepare himself for playing Macbeth. He talks about the dark side of this man… is the evil in this play supernatural or is it within Macbeth? He goes into the theatrical history of the play, the witches, the unfiltered evil of Lady Macbeth, and the drama of the dagger speech. And much more. When I have a chance to re-watch, I will post more about it.

In the next episode, Joely Richardson talks to her mother Vanessa Redgrave about the wonderful women characters in Shakespeare as she focuses on the comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. I admit to major snoozing during this one, but no fault of the show itself, which I am eager to re-watch.

shakespeare-uncovered-8Last night, Jeremy Irons talked about Henry IV and V… made me really excited to watch and read these history plays down the road. I have gotten so bogged down with my project for this blog, but I still plan to read through and comment on all the plays some day, and this episode made me quite excited about the Henry plays.

And then the late one (the snoozer for me) last night was Derek Jacobi on Richard II… again making me look forward to this history play. He talks much about the modernity of the play, how it speaks to the behavior of despots throughout history. Jacobi also brings up the authorship question and his Oxfordian beliefs.

Next week comes The Tempest with Trevor Nunn and Hamlet with David Tennant. Don’t miss this series… it is really special.

I was also excited to see my favorite local Shakespeare group, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, do a series of entertaining 60-second Shakespeare videos that show between the episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered on Maryland Public Television. I hope they get wider distribution, as they’re really well done. Watch here, the short videos on Ghosts, Hamlet, and Shakespeare in America. CSC is also hosting a number of roundtable discussions in conjunction with Shakespeare Uncovered. There is one left about Hamlet next week, February 5 in Annapolis.

I’m so excited about this nicely-done series, and I look forward to enjoying it again and again in the future!

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Faction of Fools

January 17, 2013 at 12:14 am (Live Performances, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

foflogo_hi-resIt’s not every day that you can watch live Shakespeare performed in your backyard. So, when I saw the poster at the library announcing Faction of Fools playing A Commedia Romeo and Juliet at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, I knew what I’d be doing last Friday night. The Arts Barn is not quite in my backyard, but it is pretty much walking distance from my house.

What fun! First let me describe A Faction of Fools. They perform Commedia dell’Arte — a Renaissance theatre style.  From their website:

Commedia dell’Arte, which translates as “professional theatre,” began in Italy in the early 16th Century and quickly spread throughout Europe, creating a lasting influence on Shakespeare, Molière, opera, vaudeville, contemporary musical theatre, television sit-coms, and improv comedy. The style of Commedia is characterized by its use of masks, improvisation, physical comedy, and recognizable character types—young lovers, wily servants, greedy old men, know-it-all professors, boasting heroes, and the like. The legacy of Commedia includes the first incorporated (i.e. professional) theatre company, the first European actresses, and many of the themes and storylines still enjoyed by audiences today.

In the director’s notes, it is pointed out that Shakespeare drew on Commedia in his work. “Shakespeare knew their style, their characters, and their conventions… he borrowed liberally from their material.”

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Paul Reisman, Toby Mulford, Eva Wilhelm and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Paul Reisman, Toby Mulford, Eva Wilhelm and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Romeo and Juliet is very much a comedy at the beginning. But comedy (in the traditional sense) ends in a wedding. In R&J the wedding comes too early, and in fact marks the play’s turn toward tragedy. The bodies start piling up as soon as the wedding is over.

The Faction of Fools’ Artistic Director, Matthew Wilson, points out:

Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized that this play is a comedy set on edge. The text is riddled with jokes and humorous excess; the characters are fantastical. Though we think of this play as ‘romantic’ or tragic,’ Shakespeare wanted his audiences to laugh. Then in the midst of laughter, the knife falls. Tragedy shows up when we least expect it, and the mournful tear is all the harsher because it has been matched with joy.

I thought this was fascinating to consider… that the audience would have been familiar with the plot formula and the standard characters and would be expecting the standard comedy structure with the play ending happily with a wedding. Instead, R&J twists that formula upside down and all hell breaks loose after the wedding. What a shock that must have been to Shakespeare’s audience! Really, what a shock, and how much more upsetting all the mishaps that lead to the awful ending.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Eva Wilhelm, and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Eva Wilhelm, and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

So, the point of this Faction of Fools production is to emphasize the comedy — the Commedia — that inspired Shakespeare to write this play. There are five players who switch parts by donning masks, wigs and aprons and pulling the aprons over their shoulders to look like capes. The comedy is physical, almost slapstick, and very fun. Even as bodies appear, the tone is light, players who must take on another role are replaced by large rag dolls and onward they go to the bitter end.

It’s a fun production and would be great for kids — it’s only an hour long and there’s a bit of sword play. The Arts Barn is a nice venue — just 99 seats, so you always feel close to the action on stage. The show continues through January 26, but if you can’t make it to Gaithersburg, I found a video of them doing the same show at the Kennedy Center last year. Enjoy!

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Drew Kopas and Toby Mulford. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Drew Kopas and Toby Mulford. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

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Signature Shakespeare

October 6, 2012 at 10:50 am (Asides, Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

A while back I read a piece by Washington Post Book Critic Ron Charles about a beautiful new series of Shakespeare’s plays in print: Signature Shakespeare by Sterling Publishing. These works are illustrated with lovely laser-cut illustrations by artist Kevin Stanton. This interview with Stanton on the Casual Optimist blog gives more info and pictures of these amazing books.

I see Barnes and Noble is selling a Nook version, which seems like an idiotic marketing idea for these particular books which are meant to be touched.

Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet are currently available. Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet will be released in the fall (you can pre-order now through B&N). More to come if sales are good. I hope they are! On his website, artist Stanton who is only 23, says: “I’m so proud of these, and feel really lucky to have gotten such a sweet job….I hope that you enjoy them – I know I do!”

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Almost Heaven, Staunton, Virginia

September 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm (Live Performances, The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , , , )

I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Staunton, Virginia last month for a whole weekend of Shakespeare. Staunton is a lovely little town in the Shenandoah Valley, with mountains all around. It also happens to be the home of the American Shakespeare Center who performs there at the only replica in the world of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse.

Staunton has another replica building… this one from Stratford-upon-Avon. Indeed, there is a replica of Shakespeare’s wife’s childhood home, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and it’s a Bed and Breakfast. And the innkeeper’s name is Juliette. And I stayed in Juliet’s Room (there’s also Romeo’s room and William’s Room).

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage B&B in Staunton VA

The inn was a lovely place to stay for a wonderful weekend of Shakespeare…. and a wonderful weekend of Shakespeare, it was!

The American Shakespeare Center is a fantastic place. I first visited a few years ago when I saw them perform All’s Well That Ends Well at Blackfriars. I saw their touring group perform A Winter’s Tale last spring. This time, I made the pilgrimage to the Shenandoah Valley to see two wonderful performances at Blackfriars: The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I also took a behind-the-scenes tour of the playhouse. Let me start with the tour.

We learned the history of the original Blackfriars’ Playhouse in London and then we got to check out all parts of this lovely Elizabethan-style playhouse, up, down, backstage, onstage and everywhere in between (be sure to watch the slideshow at the end of this post!). We saw the dressing and rehearsal rooms, the costumes and props (the decapitated man is a prop for their current show, Cymbeline). The tour was wonderful and I highly recommend making time for it if you are in Staunton.

And then there are the shows. They are a lot of fun with great live music before the show, a cash bar on the stage, and lots of energy. There are seats on the stage and audience members are also invited to sit in Juliet’s balcony up above the stage. I can’t imagine it’s a great view of the show from above, but during the behind-the-scenes tour, it was pointed out that “being seen” was a big part of attending the theater in Elizabethan times, so sitting in the box above the stage ensured that you were “seen” by the crowd.

The American Shakespeare Center uses Elizabethan staging practices… so the lights are left on and the players often make eye contact with audience members, drawing them into the action, at least verbally. Sets and props are minimal, costumes are lovely, men are sometimes cast in women’s parts (and vice versa), and the action moves along at a fast pace.

The intermission features more music… the songs often are selected to go along with the show. For example, the Merchant of Venice featured an acoustic version of the Beatles’ song Money (That’s What I Want)… which was pretty funny. And then at intermission there was a spirited take on Soul Man and a faster and faster round of actors and audience members doing the Jewish wedding dance.

Tracie Thomason as Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Photo by Michael Bailey.

The plays were lovely. They were both staightforward renditions. It reminds me very much of the performances I’ve seen on video from Shakespeare’s Globe. I wonder if the ASC intends to ever share their performances on video. It would be a treat. They are beautifully-done by talented actors in beautiful costumes.

The Blackfriars experience is intimate and fun. Because the playhouse is small and the house lights are on, the audience is part of the performance. That’s especially true of the brave souls that sit on the stage. For example, during the Merchant of Venice, Portia and Narissa played with all the men on stage when making derisive comments about Portia’s suitors. The guy sitting in front of me was also pointed to as “the German sponge” (he and his wife were still making jokes about that at the intermission!). It is quite hilarious and adds to the fun atmosphere.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was fast and furious and of course, it features a dog (available for adoption after each show). As always, the music was fun… I remember at intermission hearing My Boyfriend’s Back. Pretty funny! Anyway, the play was fun, Proteus is a jerk, Julia is heartbroken, Proteus is an even bigger jerk, and then the play’s strange ending was kind of white-washed in this production, making it not-quite-so-unbelievable that Proteus is suddenly turning over a new leaf.

Tracie Thomason as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by Michael Bailey.

Two Gents and Merchant continue through November at Blackfriars. Also showing now are King John, Cymbeline, and The Lion in Winter. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a weekend of Shakespeare, if you can. ASC puts on plays 52 weeks a year. I think you cannot go wrong at Blackfriars.

Staunton has plenty to offer, as well. I kept busy all weekend, taking a history and architecture tour of downtown, a haunted ghost walking tour (boo!), and seeing the sites from the free trolley around town. I visited the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and presidential library, a wine tasting at Barren Ridge Vinyards with views of the Blue Ridge… oh and I enjoyed my quiet time at the quaint and cozy Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with its delicious breakfasts, friendly innkeeper, lovely garden and resident cats King Lear and Portia.


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Standard Deviants

August 17, 2012 at 12:50 am (Asides, Film Adaptations) (, , , )

I had never heard of the Standard Deviants PBS series, but I saw a disk on Shakespeare’s tragedies available on Netflix and thought I’d give it a try. This video focuses on Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. I found it enjoyable, if not earth-shaking. It’s geared toward kids, and presents everything in a lighthearted, easily accessible way. It looks quite low-budget, but I thought it was well done.

This disk begins with Titus Andronicus, describing Shakespeare’s sources and influences. There is an amusing, but easy-to-follow plot summary of the carnage, and an analysis of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this little-known play. They end it up by describing it as a failure as a tragedy, due to poetic excess and theatrical busyness — cluttered and contrived drama that doesn’t work. And yet, they admit, this play was loved by the Elizabethans — you could consider it the Elizabethan equivalent of today’s slasher flicks. I thought this was quite a cute analogy. I loved this quote:

A bunch of dead bodies lying around on the stage or a severed-head casserole does not a tragedy make.

You gotta laugh at that. Actually, there is quite a lot to laugh at during this discussion of a rather drab play, and I think it would help kids understand the development of Shakespeare’s skill as he moved from the failed tragedy of Titus to the experimental tragedy (with comic elements) of Romeo and Juliet and culminating in the masterpiece… Hamlet.

The discussion of Romeo and Juliet focuses on the beautiful poetry, images of light, and on the great characters. But it points out that the characters are not tragic figures and that the coincidences that result in the unhappy ending are simply plot devices that weaken the dramatic whole of the play… like everything would be cool if only an audience member would yell out “She’s not really dead!” before Romeo drinks the poison. These are not inevitable events, and they “stretch believability to the breaking point.” So, in their analysis, R&J does not represent a great tragedy, but is an interesting experiment by Shakespeare in combining comic characters with comic situations and taking them on a tragic journey. I think this is a great way to explain it to kids.

Hamlet is given more analysis. In addition to the plot summary, they discuss mystery and intrigue (the spying, lack of trust), Hamlet’s character (set in high relief against the other characters who each serve as a foil to Hamlet), philosophy (morality, how to endure suffering, the meaning of death), revenge (a popular theme in Elizabethan theater), and again an analysis of how the play fares as a tragedy (perfection!).

They point out that Hamlet is a “play of questions” and how the entire play is a riddle, with great characters, great dialog, and great ideas — endlessly fascinating. Hamlet changes and grows and audience members each see themselves in different aspects of his character.

I just noticed a local connection… the actor who portrays Hamlet and performs other scenes in this video is KenYatta Rogers, who now teaches at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD and is the contact for their annual WillPower program.

Anyway, this video is not going to provide insight to a Shakespearean scholar or even a college student probably, but I think for a nice general overview, accessible to kids, this does a great job. There is apparently more to the set (another disk on Macbeth, Lear, and Othello, as well as background info on Shakespeare, verse, and Elizabethan theater), but these do not appear to be available on Netflix now. You can get them on Amazon or for 7-day use for $1.99 on YouTube.

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The Holy Grail

July 11, 2012 at 11:00 am (Asides) (, , , )

Sometimes I have to remind myself that Shakespeare produced plays, not literature. He presented live drama on stage, and these productions were ephemeral. They were meant to be watched and heard, not read. His works (and his beautiful words!) come down to us indirectly… there are no manuscripts in his handwriting. We can’t be sure they’re his precise words.

We have Shakespeare’s works today because versions of the dialog from his plays were printed (not by him). Some appeared simultaneously with the production of the plays on stage — in an informal, small pamphlet-type format called a quarto. These were printed cheaply, and the words came from various sources… some more reliable than others. There are “bad” quartos for some plays.

Today’s scholars and directors wrestle with various versions of the words of the plays because they vary in the different quarto texts. It is difficult to figure out which are truest to Shakespeare’s own words. For example,  Michael E. Mooney in the Colby Quarterly describes the issues with defining a “correct” text for a famous passage from Romeo and Juliet (Q1 and Q2 are different quarto versions):

Bad quartos, rightly judged poor texts, may in fact be superior scripts. In their attempts to provide us with the best version of the play, editors provide us with the fullest text, not necessarily the most accurate script. They have not totally subscribed to Q2, however, and that has allowed four centuries of readers and viewers to hold Juliet’s point in their minds:

Whats Mountague? It is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme nor face, nor any other part.
Whats in a name? That which we call a Rofe,
By any other name would fmell as fweet, (Ql)

rather than Q2’s poorly printed, prosaic version:

Whats Mountague? it is nor hand nor foote,
Nor arme nor face, 0 be some other name
Belonging to a man.
Whats in a name that which we call a rofe,
By any other word would fmell as fweete.

The truth of the matter is more complex, however, since the version of these lines that we read and hold in our minds belongs neither to Q1 nor to Q2, but is the
product of the eighteenth-century editor, Edmond Malone, one of the earliest editors to conflate different texts in rewriting a passage we now believe to be Shakespeare’s:

What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. 0 be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

So, there are problems with quartos, but at least it’s something to work with. Nearly half of Shakespeare’s plays were not published in quarto form. Nearly half of Shakespeare’s plays would be lost if not for a compendium printed several years after his death.

A First Folio. My Close Encounter With The Holy Grail.

A couple of actors decided to print a very expensive, large-format “folio” edition including text for all of Shakespeare’s plays. Think about this. Their efforts saved half of Shakespeare’s work from oblivion. And for those that had previously appeared in quarto form, the First Folio provides a comparison text that clarifies or corrects mistakes in the cheaper quarto versions. The story is even more complicated because the First Folio was such a huge printing job that it was farmed out to a number of different printers, and individual copies of First Folios can be identified due to typesetting variations!

From the Folger Shakespeare Library website:

Printed in the large “folio” size, the First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It was put together after his death in 1616 by two fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, and was published in 1623. The First Folio is the only source for eighteen of the plays, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and As You Like It, all of which would otherwise have been lost.

In other words, the First Folio is the Shakespearean Holy Grail. Think how much poorer we would be if it had not been published.

And I have seen the Holy Grail. Up close!

Eastern Shadbush

I am studying for a masters degree in Library Science and I live in a place that abounds in special libraries… that is, libraries that are not your neighborhood public library branch or affiliated with a school or college. Washington DC is the land of special, and some very special, libraries. And I am visiting as many of them as I can. There are SUCH cool things.

I could spend hours and hours looking at the beautiful watercolor herbals and botanical paintings in the special collections at the National Agricultural Library. I posted last spring about the Shakespeare exhibit at the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine. I went back for a tour of their rare books and I sat in the incunabula room surrounded by the really old books. There I saw some of the very earliest printed books. And I also came face to face with a first edition of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species.

How cool is that?

So, you can imagine I was a little excited to see the student chapter of the American Library Association offer a special library student tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Yes, please.

Folger Shakespeare Library with Capitol Building. Photo by Julie Ainsworth.

Somehow I’ve lived most of my adult life in the DC area without ever visiting the Folger. Mistake on my part. The Folger Shakespeare Library was built by Henry Folger, a Standard Oil executive, and his wife. They loved Shakespeare and began collecting for the purpose of creating a Shakespeare library for America. They bought the land for it purposely… it is literally across the street from the Capitol dome, around the corner from the Supreme Court, and next door to the Library of Congress. It is one of the many beautiful white buildings of official Washington.

Folger Shakespeare Library, Gail Kern Paster Reading Room with First Folios in the foreground! Photo by Julie Ainsworth.

However, the Folger Shakespeare Library is administered by Henry Folger’s alma mater, Amherst College. Unlike many of DC’s white buildings, it is definitely private property… not a government agency. The interior spaces are beautiful, ornately carved wood and stonework and beautiful stained glass windows. Wow. Did I mention that, according to their website, the Folger is the home of the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials, as well as major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art.

Back to the First Folio. “The Folger holds 82 copies of the First Folio, about a third of those still in existence, and by far the largest collection in the world.” We were told during our tour that a First Folio recently sold for about $6 million. And did you catch that the Folger owns 82 copies of it? Yes, think about that for a moment.

Wow. The Holy Grail.

So, I was hoping to see one. Just one of the 82 copies in the collection. That didn’t seem too much to ask. I’ll get to that in a minute.

My friend and I arrived early for our tour and we had a chance to watch the actors rehearsing for The Taming of the Shrew in the Folger’s Elizabethan-style theater. I could sit there all day watching the director help the actors work on dialog — on getting everything just right, really thinking about the meaning of each word and figuring out how to get the meaning across to the audience through their tone and expression. So cool to watch this process which I also enjoyed in the Playing Shakespeare TV series.

Folger Shakespeare Library Great Hall. Photo by Julie Ainsworth.

We visited the exhibit about female writers in the English Renaissance in the beautiful and enormous Great Hall.

There, I spotted The Holy Grail. I was excited to see a First Folio on exhibit in the Great Hall. This area is free and open to the public, so if you want to see a First Folio, stop by the Folger during visiting hours. The First Folio in the Great Hall is in a glass case, not unlike the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Natural History museum a few blocks away. There is a touch screen below this First Folio. You can page through and zoom in on a digital version of it, but that lovely book is safely behind thick glass. I thought this was as close as I would come to a First Folio. I was mistaken.

Our special tour as library students took us deep underground to The Vault. We didn’t go into The Vault. But we saw it. Now when you go see that First Folio in the Great Hall behind that plate glass… you’ll feel all excited, but you will not feel like I felt underground at The Vault. And they will not take regular tourist groups down there. Sorry.

So, then they took us into a viewing room and There, I Saw The Holy Grail.

A First Folio (oh and a Quarto version of Romeo and Juliet and a bunch of other things) sitting on a table for us to inspect closely. I didn’t touch it, but the Folger librarian paged through it with me and let me look at anything I wanted. Some photos of my close encounter are below. I would have looked at the whole thing page by page, but that would have been annoying, eh?

I was amazed, really amazed at the beautiful condition it’s in. The pages are crisp and clean, the print is clear and not faded at all. I really felt like I was looking at treasure. A cultural treasure right before my eyes. It was an amazing experience!

Because we were there on a library student tour, we were also interested in how rare books are handled. Gloves are no longer used, as they cause more problems than they solve (it’s easier to tear a page wearing gloves than with your bare fingers). You’ll notice little strands of cord in some of the photos. These are leaded and heavier than they look. They keep the pages open without creasing. There were little velvet bean bags on some books. The books are treated carefully and lovingly.

I’m glad I can share this experience with you. My visit to the Folger was back in April, so it has taken me a while to put together my thoughts and photos. I hope you enjoy! It was quite an experience for me!

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Charm in Charm City

June 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , , , , , , )

I am so excited about Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, one of my favorite local performing groups. They are committed to producing “Shakespeare that’s not stuffy,” and they do a wonderful job performing unstuffy Shakespeare all summer at their beautiful outdoor space in Ellicott City, Maryland. Kids get free admission to their shows, which are family-friendly and fun (well… I wouldn’t take the kids to the roaming Titus Andronicus show in the haunted ruins a couple years ago, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream was perfect!)

Anyhow, CSC recently purchased a historic bank building in downtown Baltimore (aka Charm City). As reported by John Barry on the DC Theatre Scene blog, they will convert the 1885 Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Building into a 250-seat theater slated to open for performances in fall 2014. According to CSC Artistic Director Ian Gallanar: “The configuration of the building itself has some of the same layout as the Globe Theatre. That’s what we’re riffing off of. We’re trying to recreate a modern Globe. Three levels, an intimacy that I think is very important.”

The location puts CSC right in the midst of the tourist mecca that is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and they hope to take advantage of that great location, bringing people from around the region in to see shows while they’re visiting Inner Harbor. And, Gallanar says, they are planning an international theater festival for Baltimore. All quite exciting developments for the Baltimore theater scene!

In the meantime, this summer CSC is performing under the stars at the ruins of the antebellum Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. It’s a lovely venue and a very nice place to spend an evening. Romeo and Juliet is in repertory with Pride and Prejudice through the end of July. Fun! And I’m pretty sure my boys will love the swordplay in R&J.

Today is Flag Day in the U.S. and it got me thinking about Baltimore’s part in the flag’s history. Baltimore is currently celebrating (is that the right word?) the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with tall ships (a “Star-Spangled Sailabration”!) and fanfare. Cool stuff. It’s still a couple years before the bicentennial of the National Anthem (Francis Scott Key wrote it in 1814 after watching the British bomb the heck out of Baltimore harbor), but the inspiring Star Spangled Banner that Key saw still flying over Fort McHenry in the morning after the battle is on display at the Smithsonian in DC and you can also check out the nifty interactive version on their website.)

Step outside the Smithsonian, look next door at the White House and remind yourself that the British burned it down in 1814. And then walk a couple doors down to the National Archives and look at the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights) and think again what Key must have felt — what was saved — that morning in Baltimore when he saw the flag flying and wrote the song.

I was just downtown earlier in the week with my library school class and took a tour of the fantastic public exhibitions at the National Archives and I got to look at those amazing documents again (along with the Magna Carta!). Wow. The perfect activity if you’re visiting Washington DC for the 4th of July!

So, my meanderings into history and archives have a purpose here. I’m taking a class in public outreach and exhibitions for libraries and there are so many awesome examples around here, I just had to share. It’s all about making holdings accessible and interesting to people.

This is also, I’m sure, a motivation for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s expansion into Baltimore. So, a tip o’ the hat to Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s new home in Baltimore and in the spirit of CSC’s video last holiday season: we can live in a world of light beer, fried chicken wings, Shakespeare AND Jimi Hendrix!

Yes, Jimi Hendrix. Because my brother, and maybe others like him, are more likely to read my Shakespeare blog if I work in a reference to Woodstock. So, here’s my tribute to the Star Spangled Banner on Flag Day… some pretty spectacular fireworks and explosions from the fingers of Jimi Hendrix. I doubt Francis Scott Key foresaw this!

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June 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm (Asides, Live Performances, Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Have a couple bucks to spare? Think about supporting Bedlam Ensemble’s production of Measure for Measure by contributing on Kickstarter. They need to reach their goal of $1,500 by July 8 in order to make the play a go.

According to their Facebook profile, Bedlam Ensemble was established in 2011 in New York City. They are “dedicated to staging modern and modern spins of classical theatre works with high artistic integrity.”

Bedlam aims to nourish an open artistic community where artists are free to experiment and challenge themselves within the entertainment industry. The ensemble has a commitment to strike a balance between emerging and veteran artists; between the works of new and established playwrights, and revisiting classic pieces of work with a modern twist. Our ensemble nourishes an open and artistic environment that keeps us engaged in our community and proactive in our pursuit of excellence.

Past productions, also partially funded by successful Kickstarter campaigns, include productions of Alice and The Delirium of Edgar Allen Poe. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, performances of Measure for Measure will begin July 25 at Access Theater in New York.

Here’s their take on the play:

Years ago, Vienna was a place where the people were pure and the city was clean and beautiful.  Fast forward to today and you find a gritty, dark world filled with sex, drugs, and debauchery.  To bring it back to the glory that it once was, the Duke leaves a pure man, Angelo, in charge to right the sexual wrongs he has let slide for so long. Temptation prevails, however, when a smart, beautiful, and outspoken nun touches Angelo and he offers to save her brother’s life only if she will sleep with him. Measure for Measure is a play that explores sex and power and the interplay between the two.

I have no plans to visit Manhattan this summer, but I love supporting small theater projects and this sounds like an interesting production. Pledge just a dollar if that’s all you have! I think Kickstarter is such a cool way for groups like this to raise money. I hope their show gets off the ground, and I’m sure it will. If anyone goes to see it, let me know what you think of it!

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Shakespeare’s Women

June 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Got an hour? Get Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom (it’s available on Netflix). There’s nothing earth-shattering about it, but it’s enjoyable. Actress Claire Bloom, now in her 80s, played many (most?) of Shakespeare’s great female roles opposite leading men like Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. The 1999 video is a mix of her commentary on the various female characters and reminiscing about playing them on stage and film.

Current recitals are intermixed with video from her performances back in the day. There are also a few clips from silent Shakespeare, including the only existing video of the famous Sarah Bernhardt in performance — playing Hamlet!

She packs quite a lot into just an hour. Some highlights include her discussion of playing Lady Anne in Richard III and how she is often asked if she found it difficult playing a character seduced by her husband’s murderer at the coffin… her response: “It’s easy if it’s Olivier!” She talks about how Juliet is no English virgin, but a very sexual 14-year-old Italian woman waiting with excitement to enjoy her wedding night. “It’s most wonderfully put by Shakespeare — who knew everything about everybody — and knew everything about a 14-year-old waiting for her wedding night!”

Bloom touches on Portia in the Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It… she finds it amazing and intriguing that these roles were played by young male actors in Shakespeare’s day. Boys playing girls playing boys and even further convolutions. And beyond that, even the older female roles being played by boys — Bloom ponders what this was like to see.

Bloom played Ophelia in Stratford-upon-Avon at age 17, and then reprised the role at the Old Vic at age 22 with Burton as Hamlet. Later, she played Gertrude and was surprised to find the older woman a much more interesting role.

She talks about Imogen in Cymbeline, Volumnia in Coriolanus, Lady Constance in King John, and Katherine of Aragon in Henry VIII. Finally she describes Emilia’s speech to Ophelia about men… she finds Emilia ironic, accepting, funny, and thoroughly modern.

Bloom, who continues to act (she was Queen Mary in The King’s Speech), ends the video by saying she looks forward to playing Shakespeare’s crones and any parts that are left for her, because “even the smallest are worth doing.”

I would say this was an hour well-spent!

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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And It’s One, Two, Three… What Are We Fighting For?

June 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm (Coriolanus, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe McDonald

I’ll put it right out there to stem any confusion. I’m anti-war. I’ve had a little coincidental convergence of anti-war stuff going on this week. I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop — a satire about the media creating news about a promising little war in Africa in the 1930s. Then, my dad, a WWII vet, mentioned watching a touching documentary on PBS on Memorial Day. This is Where We Take Our Stand is the story of Iraq Veterans Against the War. It was available on YouTube briefly this week and I was able to watch it. Amazing stories of patriotic young people who want to tell their truths about the wrongness of the Iraq war. Oh, and then this morning, I saw today is the 40th anniversary of the famous napalm girl photo. Sigh. And so my thoughts turn to Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die. Really, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, where ever. What’s the point?

So, the Fates converged on my pessimistic mood by putting Ralph Fiennes’ film Coriolanus out on DVD this week and there I found it in my mailbox yesterday fresh from Netflix. Ahh. Well, here’s the thing. When the film came out earlier this year, I knew I’d see it eventually. Shakespeare didn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics, so I knew in the course of this blog project that I would have to eventually face the ugly stuff along with the fairies and ass-heads. War. Let’s put a face on it. Coriolanus.

So, I broke my basic movie-watching rules (I avoid blood and gore, violence, Mafia movies, and war movies, in general) and I watched Coriolanus. I’m glad I did.

I am not familiar with the play, have not read it, have not seen it staged, and honestly, I think I would not like it if I’d read it first without seeing this film. Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of Coriolanus: The Shooting Script… I got a lot of insight about the film and the play by reading the commentary from Fiennes and screenplay writer John Logan.

First, the film makes this play completely contemporary and accessible. The film was shot in Serbia, but it could be any modern city. From “The Shooting Script”:

It might be Mexico City. Or Chechnya. Or El Salvador. Or Detroit. Or Baghdad. Or London.

This Rome is a modern place. It is our world right now: immediately recognizable to us…. It is a volatile, dangerous world.

The story involves Coriolanus, a Roman, and his fight against the neighboring Volsces, headed by Aufidius (played by Gerard Butler). The film portrays them as modern guerrillas. Again, from “The Shooting Script”:

The Volsces are an insurgent force challenging the monolithic might of Rome: rebels that suggest to us Latin American revolutionaries or Hamas fighters or Chechnian separatists.

The war story is the backdrop in this film for Shakespeare’s amazing characters. I think of Mad Men, where none are likable, but their personalities and stories are irresistible in their awfulness. I feel like I understand the deep pride and inner pain that drive Fiennes’ Coriolanus, the killing machine, to such destruction of others, and finally himself.

Coriolanus is a tragic, bedeviled man, uncomfortable in his own damaged and flawed skin. Fiennes explains in “The Shooting Script”:

Coriolanus comes into the opening of the story and basically tells the people to go fuck themselves. I think we in the audience decide we don’t like this guy based on that simple fact. But then the audience experiences him as a soldier, an extremely brave, almost crazy kind of soldier. They come to see that he has a kind of integrity, which is manipulated and destroyed by the world around him, and by his own arrogance and pride. Coriolanus wants recognition and doesn’t want it at the same time. He is very riven. I think he’s happiest in the battlefield; that’s where he is at one with himself.

I have to say that reading that gave me a much deeper understanding of what Coriolanus was about… his motivations and his ambivalence. It’s very true.

This man, so brave and proud, so sure of himself and his decision to make Rome pay for their treatment of him… he’s really a mommy’s boy and a pleaser. As writer John Logan says in “The Shooting Script”:

What is Shakespeare’s genius in Coriolanus? To me it is this: in a play about so many things, and so deeply and murkily about them, the climax is a boy weeping into his mother’s arms. It’s dead simple. It’s not a political or military climax, it’s not a grand speech or battle; it’s not about the ostensible “issues” of the play. It’s a boy and his mom.

Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, and Harry Fenn in Coriolanus. Photo by Larry D. Horricks

I love watching Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Volumnia, the mother who creates the ultimate soldier and then asks for his mercy. Her profound complexity — a mix of pride and ambition and fear and mother’s love — it’s amazing and frightening. Redgrave, though she doubted her ability to play the part, is perfect for it.

In “The Shooting Script,” Fiennes also explains his choice of Jessica Chastain for the innocent, sweet, and nearly silent wife Virgilia (what a breakout year for Chastain… with her performances in Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help). It’s a quiet part, but she serves as witness to the chaos in Coriolanus’ mind.

In the end, I got a lot out of this difficult film, enriched by The Shooting Script. I had never heard of The Shooting Script series, and will definitely keep it in mind when I want to learn more about a film.

I think I’ve had enough war for the week. Now I’ll return to my regularly-scheduled programming.

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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