I started this post two whole years ago, but was sidetracked. Here it is with a few updates!
I love the local Shakespeare groups in the DC area. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is especially fun and vibrant. During the summer, they perform family-friendly productions at the haunted ruins of a Southern Belle finishing school. In the fall, they used to take folks inside those ruins for movable productions in the dark (they did Dracula like that a couple years ago!). Now that they’ve settled into their beautiful Baltimore home, it looks like they plan to stay there for the fall show (though it’s still bloody: Titus Andronicus!).
Two summers ago, I took my kids to see The Taming of the Shrew at the haunted ruins. Light rain was barely noticed and the actors were just happy to complete a performance (so many thunder storms in Maryland that year… and the ruins are on top of a hill). The outdoor venue is really fun for families, with blankets and picnicking encouraged and no need for kids to sit perfectly still and at attention. There are a few hundred folding chairs available, as well as space to spread out. The stage area is built on several levels in front of the ruins and the actors use window openings and the sides of the ruins for entrances and exits. There’s a lot of activity. This production of the Shrew was pure fun. The comedy was slapstick and silly, with hilarious situations and clownish antics. Great fun for kids.
Back in 2013, CSC was also still playing in community spots. I saw The Two Gentlemen of Verona in “The Other Barn” which was a surprisingly pleasant and intimate community performance space located in a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland. It’s a hike for me to Columbia, but it was well worth it. CSC is a a community-minded organization and makes a great effort to be accessible to its audience.
The performance I attended was preceded by a talk with director Patrick Kilpatrick who spoke a bit about the setting he chose for this production… it takes place in 1991, a year Kilpatrick described as pivotal to American culture… the year “everything changed.” His inspiration (if that’s what you would call it) was a combination of the William Kennedy Smith rape case and the Menendez brothers’ trial. “Proteus and Valentine are the Menendez brothers. They are William Kennedy Smith. Two kids from wealthy and powerful families who think they can have whatever they want, because for their entire lives that has been a fact.” It was an interesting way to look at the play and in fact worked really well, with the boys in their button down oxford shirts and smoking seegars.
And it was a great deal of fun watching the play at The Other Barn… the actors were within a couple feet of me. The Duke’s eight-year-old son was sitting near me on a bench watching his dad and hanging out with him between scenes… I loved the casual atmosphere. The CSC players also entertained us with some fun music before the show and during intermission. Love these performances.
This past summer I visited my favorite spot, Staunton, Virginia, once again. I stayed in a fantastic airbnb place and really enjoyed the town. I took in two performances at the American Shakespeare Center: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra. I even won a door prize… a poster signed by the cast! The shows were excellent, as always. They continue through November along with The Winter’s Tale and Henry VI, Part I (called Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc).
I saw ASC do The Winter’s Tale a few years ago in McLean, Virginia. ASC is bringing their Dangerous Dreams Tour to the Alden Theatre in McLean again in 2016. They’ll perform Julius Caesar, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Life of King Henry V January 22-23. They have a package deal for all three shows at the Alden along with a “Brush up your Shakespeare” talk on January 21. Prices: $88 general public/$62 students and seniors/$50 McLean Community Center district residents… what a bargain, especially if you live in McLean! The DC-area Shakespeare Explorers Meetup group is participating in all the Alden events… maybe I’ll make it out to one!
I had this post mostly written a whole year ago and I’m not sure why I didn’t post it then, but here it is. Better late than never.
I interrupt my long hiatus from my Shakespeare blogging project to bring you exciting news from Baltimore! My favorite local Shakespeare company, Chesapeake Shakespeare is opening their new “Globe-ish” theater near the Inner Harbor. See this wonderful article in the Baltimore Sun for more info.
The news is coincidentally slightly tied to my hiatus. I had to take a break from reading and blogging about Shakespeare while I was in graduate school and then I still found no time to blog this past year while I have been working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The new Chesapeake Shakespeare theater is located in the renovated Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co., a lovely brick building built in 1885. The building was one of only a handful that survived the devastating 1904 fire that destroyed much of Baltimore. Fire brigades came to help from nearby cities including Washington DC, New York, and Philly, but they found their equipment useless when they got to Baltimore.
The culprit? Each manufacturer of hydrants and fire hoses used different hose connections. The hoses from DC would not fit on the Baltimore fire hydrants. The city burned and burned while firefighters watched, helpless.
This brings me to the connection to my blogging hiatus. NIST (called National Bureau of Standards in 1904) was asked to study the Baltimore fire and make recommendations to avoid the same issues in the future. Their study found that there were 600 hydrant/hose variations used in the United States at the time.
The result was the establishment of the National Standard Hydrant and accompanying hoses, standards that remain to this day and have been adopted by many cities across the country. Ironically, Baltimore and DC still don’t have compatible hoses and hydrants, but another Great Fire is unlikely… the neighboring firefighters carry adaptors so they can fight each other’s fires.
Long live the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in its beautiful Baltimore home. I had the pleasure of seeing a (non-Shakespeare) play there soon after it opened. I can’t wait to go back.
Enjoy this hilarious video, courtesy Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Happy New Year! And be sure to donate to your local Shakespeare company, so we can live in a world of light beer, fried chicken wings AND Shakespeare!
The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
(The Tempest, V.i.27-28)
Shakespeare Behind Bars is a documentary about Curt Tofteland’s work with inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. He worked with groups of about 20-25 inmates each year to produce one of Shakespeare’s plays. The film focuses on the group’s practices during 2002, culminating in their 2003 production of The Tempest.
It’s amazing. I can’t get over how touched I am by this film. It is very complex emotionally. I felt like I really got to know some of the inmates involved. The film follows them as they discuss and rehearse the play, but it also takes time to let several of the inmates speak about themselves and their crimes and their time in prison.
T-I-M-E. The film gives you a glimpse into prison life. What I find most upsetting is the T-I-M-E involved. For me, and most people around me, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything we need and want to do. These men are serving long sentences and they have nothing but T-I-M-E on their hands. I found this a bit overwhelming to really consider. A man in his 20s, in prison on two life sentences with no possibility of parole, and he has nothing, absolutely nothing, but T-I-M-E on his hands. For the rest of his life.
Enter Curt Tofteland who volunteers his time to teach these men about Shakespeare (actually the warden speaks about the many educational programs at this institution and how his mission is to train the inmates to return to society, so I am sure this is just one of many worthwhile programs available to them). Tofteland is a mentor to these men who are sorely in need of mentoring. Tofteland says about Shakespeare, “He never ceases to teach me. He’s my mentor. His gift truly was insight into human behavior that is as true now as it was 400 years ago.”
You can feel the inmates coming to grips with the truths they find speaking through their characters as they work on the play. An inmate named Red was given the part of Miranda, and at first was quite upset about it, but as he got into the part, he realized there was a lot Miranda had to say to him personally. It seemed almost uncanny, karma, that he got this part that spoke so clearly to him and his own issues. He says, “Miranda helped me to deal with some of the things that was inside of me that needed to be developed, needed to come out.”
Sammie (who plays Trinculo), appears in the film as a sweet and thoughtful man, a hard worker, and someone you wouldn’t mind as a neighbor or co-worker. It’s hard to mesh that image with his description of his crime: he had already been in and out of prison twice and then he strangled his girlfriend in a fit of rage when she was threatening to expose their affair to his wife. You see, I say complex emotions. These are men who have done horrible things. Sammie admits tearfully that it is difficult for him to forgive himself, and find any goodness in himself knowing what he did.
Another inmate, Hal (he plays the part of Prospero), killed his pregnant wife by drawing her a bath, dropping a hairdryer into the water, and then making it look like an accident. He had much to get out of this play about forgiveness. He said, “Self-forgiveness doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s kind of hollow. I try to find deeper meaning in my life. This can’t be it. This can’t be what my life is all about and what my actions have caused.”
Tofteland says that these men have already been judged and sentenced by society, so he doesn’t feel the need to judge them himself. He simply goes in and works with them. The heart and soul that they put into their practice and their performance is amazing. This is a film that’s well worth watching.
I found out about it because Tofteland will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at 7:30 PM on April 1 at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland. If you are in the DC/Baltimore area and you can get in (space is very limited) you may want to catch this. The film is available on Netflix.
© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.
The ghosts of Southern belles are dancing in my imagination right now. I saw Much Ado About Nothing performed in the ruins of an antebellum finishing school today. It was the coolest thing! Well, it wasn’t cool. It was nearly 100 degrees and muggy when the play started. But it was really cool!
Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Patapsco River Valley in Historic Ellicott City, the Patapsco Female Institute was founded in 1837 and operated for more than 50 years as an elegant finishing school for young women. The stabilized ruins of the Greek Revival structure are open for tours, and serve as a beautiful setting for special events including Victorian teas and a summer open air theatre.
So, there were hoop skirts here. Young Southern belles during the Civil War. I bet they had dances like Scarlett O’Hara went to in Gone with the Wind.
Anyway, what a cool place to see a play! Huge trees surround the ruins. For the 4th of July, they started the play at 5 PM so we would have plenty of time to get out to see fireworks afterward. The actors also read the entire Declaration of Independence before the performance. That was kind of amazing to hear!
The seating is very casual and family friendly (kids get free admission to all performances). Some sat on blankets, others brought camp chairs. CSC provides 200 folding chairs, so I took one of those. We all moved around quite a lot to get out of the sun for the first 45 minutes or so. Once the shade from the trees kicked in, everything was much more pleasant. It would be really lovely in the evening.
The CSC provides pre-performance entertainment (jugglers, activities), but I arrived at showtime, so missed out on that. You could make quite a day of the outing. Because it was a family-oriented performance, one of the actors began by taking the kids (and any interested grown-ups) aside to explain the plot of the play (with photos) so they’d be able to follow along better. I thought that was really nice.
They did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing. The stage is a series of platforms and ramps built into the L-shaped side of the ruins. So, the actors perform there as well as using the many doors and windows of the ruins. It gives them a lot of flexibility and they use the space well.
This production is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The acting is terrific! I enjoyed everyone. Beatrice has a lot of spunk and presence. You could see her cracking her gum in a Rosie the Riveter job. And she has that Big Band era chic… she looks great with her hair nets and stylish outfits.
One thing I noticed in this production that was not evident in video versions or from reading the text — Margaret during and after Hero’s jilting at the altar. Wow. So, it’s Margaret at the window with Borachio (they staged the window scene quietly here). Then the next day, Claudio humiliates Hero at the altar and accuses her of being a whore. So, all the while, Ms. Margaret, Hero’s trusted servant… is doing what? Why wouldn’t she set things straight at the wedding (blushingly waving, ummm, ahemm, excuse me, can I say something?). I don’t remember seeing her at all during the post-jilting in the film versions.
Well, here, I watched her on the stage. It was interesting. Everyone else ran to Hero’s aid when she fainted. Margaret stood aside, by herself, nervously playing with a bouquet and quietly contemplating her navel. I kept looking at her. Why wouldn’t she speak up? But then it worked for me. Here she is, a servant. The jilting is huge: Big Drama involving the daughter of the governor and all these important people. I could see then… it would be very difficult for Margaret to own up to the truth here (although I still think she could have done it later, in private). But here, the big scene, how strange it would be for a servant to pipe up with the news that Claudio and Don Pedro were mistaken and that it was she having sex with Borachio at her mistress’s window while he called her Hero. How would she explain that here? So then, I understood Margaret a bit more.
Only one thing bothered me during the whole show. You may have noticed that I love Balthasar’s song, as I’ve started many of my posts about Much Ado by quoting it. So, I was looking forward to hearing it performed. Guess what? Balthasar sang it in Spanish in this production! Oh, darn.
It was really fun to watch this play, it’s so entertaining… really a pleasant outing. If you’re in the area, I recommend catching a show here at the ruins. Hamlet is running in repertory this summer with Much Ado. It’s a lovely venue.
And I got home in plenty of time to see fireworks. Happy 4th of July!
© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.