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Shakespeare Watch

Updated: Dec 21, 2023


SHAKESPEARE–THE FOUNT, TOUCHSTONE, MEASURE. We look at the newest, boldest interpretations, and modes of performance — and the most promising traditional explorations at England’s RSC and Shakespeare Festivals throughout the world. We explore Shakespeare productions on the front lines of war and human struggles for rights and psychic salvation — from women in Kurdistan to men in U.S. prisons. We look at the impact of gender-reversed casting and site-specific performances, delve into authorship controversies and biographical speculations.


HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES:


SHAKESPEARE SONNETS (above) Interpreted through voice, gesture, costume, music. Interrogator of classic works, challenger of conventions, Robert Wilson now collaborates with new generation iconoclast, composer Rufus Wainwright. First view in Berlin.


BRANAGH OFF-BROADWAY

Stage and screen actor Kenneth Branagh just directed and starred in the titular role of Shakespeare's King Lear. The production first played at Wyndham's Theatre in London before transferring to Off-Broadway's The Shed. A bow at The Shed's Griffin Theater will follow in the fall of 2024, with dates to be announced along with casting and creative team.



SWINGIN' THE DREAM

"Swingin' the Dream" was a 1939 Broadway show, a musical variation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" set in Louisiana. Despite a talented integrated cast of about 110, the show ran for only 13 performances and faded into obscurity. Today, institutions like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Young Vic are intrigued by this forgotten production and are revisiting it with a livestream concert of popular jazz tunes from the original score. The show's failure raises questions about race and cultural influences in pre-World War II America, making its backstory more captivating than the actual performance.


SHAKESPEARE IN THE FOREST

One of the few repertory theaters in America, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival mounts eleven shows each year. OSF draws in audiences not only with the strength of their performances, but also with the enchanting backdrop of the landscape. People often stay for at least a few days in Ashland near the site of the festival in order to enjoy the rustic grounds as well as to attend several of the plays and accompanying events. We talk to former OSF Associate Artistic Director Evren Odcikin who will direct this summer's production of Macbeth, about its divergent fantastical inspirations: Nordic myths, horror films, and graphic novels.


A SHAKESPEAREAN DEMOCRACY

For her first season as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Actress Michelle Terry was committed to helming a truly democratic theatre. Her first productions of Hamlet and As You Like It were created together by the Globe ensemble, with no one person directing the piece. The democracy didn’t end there – the audience voted too. Their touring shows – The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew were performed in repertory by eight actors, and the audience at each venue chose which of the three plays were being performed each night. Terry is paving the way for a truly collaborative artistic ensemble, and we’ll be keeping an eye on what she does next.


SHAKESPEARE ON BROADWAY

In this reinvention of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Fat Ham takes place at a Southern cookout. The comic tragedy follows Juicy, a queer college kid, as he grapples with identity questions, the ghost of his father, a supernatural demand for vengeance, and the choice of breaking or continuing cycles of trauma and violence. The work made its world premiere in 2021 as a streaming production via Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, and transfered to Broadway after a successful run at the Public Theater under the guidance of Saheem Ali. We talk to the director, who is also the Associate Artistic Director of the Public, about the work behind his Broadway debut.


CONTEST: Soliloquies for the Ladies Theater Hound will run interactive contests–some for the general public and others exclusively for our Insiders–and here is just one example. Virtually all the great soliloquies are delivered by men, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Gertrude speak alone about her own internal thoughts and emotions? or Desdemona? or Lady Anne? We invite Theater Hound members to write your own soliloquy for any female Shakespeare character. Our Shakespeare expert will choose five finalists. We will post their entries and member votes will determine the winner. The winner gets free tickets to the regional theater of their choice and a podcast reading of their entry by a Shakespearean actress. ADD TO THE CANON?

Found recently in a bank vault — a 1597 quarto. Style, structure, themes are remarkably Shakespearean. Did he write this Tragedy of King Arthur? Novelist Arthur Phillips has constructed a provocative theatrical experiment, raising age old questions. Can you say why something should belong to a canon? Do you judge by ear, feeling, or by the mathematical pattern of words and syntax? Can these elements be faked? What is the value of authenticity?

ATLANTIC DIVIDE Stereotypes surround schools of acting, particularly when it comes to Shakespeare. British actors are hailed for their command of language, but their performances leave some critics, like Charles Isherwood, thirsty for more humanity. Yet for many British critics, the emotion that American actors infuse in their Shakespearean dramatizations swallow up the Bard’s words or vulgarize his characters. What is the validity behind these claims? Is it a matter of actors’ training or is snobbery and nationalism the main source of this divide?

THE BARD OFFSTAGE: A Series Shakespeare’s presence off the conventional stage is vast–serving as therapy for prisoners, ammunition for war strategists, inspiration for music and film–and the list goes on. Shakespeare’s influence on our culture is so pervasive that his work affects people who may have never read or seen his plays. This is exemplified in much of today’s youth culture, from Taylor Swift’s hit song “Love Story” to teen films like 10 Things I Hate About You and O to classic sci-fi hits like Star Wars and Star Trek. In this series, we’ll explore the living legacy of Shakespeare in all its diverse, sometimes astonishing forms. EXTRA CREDIT As always with Shakespeare, the deeper you go, the richer the experience. •Hogarth Shakespeare is publishing novels based on Shakespeare plays, by acclaimed authors such as Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, with more lined up on the way. •PBS has a series called Shakespeare Uncovered combines history, biography, iconic performances, and new analysis by its hosts: Helen Hunt, F. Murray Abraham, and Brian Cox among others.

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