Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuesday Tempest in a Teapot

Starting next Monday morning, I'll be working with a group of high school students to help prepare them for their production of The Tempest. I spend an hour and a half with them for a week talking about the text, playing with ideas, helping them with cultural, language, and historical issues. Meanwhile, each of them also spends time working on set design/building, costume design/making, and prop design/making (they choose which they want to work on), and they all start rehearsing and learning lines and stuffs. The next week, they make and build stuff and work lots more on rehearsing.

Pretty much all theater and film productions of any given Shakespeare text cut and adapt the text in some way. In our production, the director does the cutting. Basically, the idea is to shorten the play a bit, since our theater practices lengthen playing times dramatically by doing scenery stuff and having scenery changes, moving curtains up and down, and having an intermission. It's a trade off, maybe not my ideal choice, but there you are. (And some companies work very hard to get the feel of an early modern production; if you haven't seen the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, and get a chance, DO!)

So, I'm not having my little personal tempest about the fact that the play's going to be cut in some way.

As far as textual problems, The Tempest is lots less difficult than lots of Shakespeare's plays. The text is first printed in the First Folio (Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, printed 1623), and doesn't have a separate quarto edition early on. Still, modern editors make decisions about uncertain line readings, and prose lineation varies considerably in different editions (that is, the number of lines a section of prose occupies on a page differs. A broad page of print uses far fewer lines than a thin column does.) Lineation differences aren't a huge tragedy, of course.

So, here's my little tempest for the morning. I've emailed the director (a couple of weeks ago) asking which edition she's using for her text. And I've gotten no response.

I need to get hold of the playtext she's using, and the edition she's taken it from!

I've been prepping with my old Oxford, which is a nice, useful text with good notes and plenty of margin space for layers of my own notes.

But if lineation's way off with the players' text, it's going to be a real pain.

Okay, I originally was going to rant for a while, but what I really need to do is call the theater and see if they've got copies of the playtext (oh, I guess I COULD be all modern and call it a script!), right? /nod

So, talk amongst yourselves while I try to take a little personal responsibility for a change.


  1. No comment on your text woes other than to say I'm sure it must be frustrating to have to prepare without knowing which text you'll be using. But, I did want to say thank you for the link to Shenandoah Shakespeare's American Shakespeare Center. I was not aware of it's existence. I try to get to that area of Virginia every year or so for two wonderful reasons: great hikes in Shenandoah Nat'l Park and the Green Valley Book Fair. Now I'll have something else to check out while there and maybe add to my list of reasons to make a 500+ mile road trip!

  2. I am thrilled that you mentioned SSE, because it gives me an excuse to gush about them. I am so very not a Shakespeare person _except_ for SSE productions. I tell everyone I meet that they must see SSE sometime in their lifetime. Of course, trips to California are few and far between, so my friends just think I'm a big liar that there's this amazing group in some podunk town in Virginia.

    I get to call it "podunk" because that's where I went to school and therefore I know firsthand the podunkiness. :) I must have seen a gazillion SSE performances in 89-92 (ok, maybe 20). Then I graduated and moved away and what do they do? Build Blackfriars Playhouse there. Sheesh.

    Best SSE moment: theme music for a production of Macbeth included a lone acoustic guitarist doing "Wave of Mutilation" by The Pixies. :)

  3. What fun! I did the Tempest in 8th grade, and still have a soft spot for it.

    And again, props for your SSE mention--I saw a Twelfth Night and Knight of the Burning Pestle there a few years back, and have been itching to get there again for a bit...

  4. I LOVE the Tempest. Good luck!!