One of the fascinating things I'm learning working with a colleague in theater is how we think about staging and texts. Happily, the person I'm working with likes plays that move along. I, too, like plays that move along.
But we differ about how to move plays along. After a variety of experiences, I really want to hear plays, and see acting, and I really don't care much about scenery stuff. I'd be pretty much happy with a bare stage. I HATE having the play stop while the curtain comes down and we wait for a scenery change. I hate this especially with Shakespeare stuff, because he gives us so much in the dialog that we can use our imaginations. My theater colleague, though, takes pleasure in the scenery, and that means it gets changed.
My colleague focuses on making things faster with judicious cuts to the script. Now, I'm a realist enough to know that pretty much any time you see Shakespeare on stage, it's been cut, and I can deal with that. Seriously, someone could cut half of Hamlet and I'd survive. But it's a real education for me learning how a theater person thinks about and chooses cuts, and it says a lot about our differing focuses.
My colleague tends to want to cut the most difficult language; s/he argues convincingly that there are times when the modern audience just isn't going to get some metaphor or joke, but that people might focus on not getting it, and then miss important stuff coming up. In a class, on the other hand, we (or at least, I) take a lot of pleasure in teasing out the really difficult language. Thinking that sort of thing through helps us tease out how the play's working.
My colleague usually cuts weird racist metaphors and images because they don't make sense to modern audiences. In contrast, I tend to teach about how those images reflect and contribute to early modern understandings of human differences, and how early modern practices and attitudes feed into our own. I can live with these cuts, except I sometimes wonder if we're not making Shakespeare seem less racist than he is. And it bugs me that we never seem to have to cut his sexism, because we still recognize and accept that language. Some people even do it without flinching.
It's been fun to work through the play (which s/he calls a "script" and I call a "text") and talk about what should or shouldn't be cut and why. I was oddly happy last night to be able to suggest a specific cut, since I'm usually the one saying we should keep stuff. But this cut makes sense, I think, and flows better in my modern ear. (And it cracks me up to think I'm "fixing" Shakespeare. I mean, really, the arrogance!)
When we work with students, I tend to bring in broader themes, recurrent imagery or ideas, and my colleague says s/he's finding that useful, and actually using what we've talked about in his/her other class for this text. So that's neat, too. My colleague's better at communicating with students/actors about how to work specific scenes, and especially at how to think about the play as a whole staging, rather than in pieces. But I can contribute to helping students understand how to read the text for stage directions (which tend to be less full in early modern plays than in plays written in the past, say, 50 years), which facilitates his/her staging work.
I'm very much enjoying this process, but the theater life, well, I'm too old for that. They work in the late evenings, because that's when their students have learned to keep blocks of time free. It's also when I'm in the habit of being long abed, usually. And then after we work with students, my colleague and I have been spending an hour or so working through cuts and such for the next section. I don't know quite when I got so old; I used to be able to stay up until dawn without any trouble, though in those days I wasn't also getting up within a short time of dawn to go teach. So maybe that has something to do with it?