Sunday, May 06, 2007


I went to the Shakespeare performance the other night! I find it more amazing to see a full performance after I've got a good idea how much work goes into it, and they all pull it together.

The director had a conception for the production and a lot depended on the costumes and stage dressing, and they worked wonderfully. I really like minimalist staging, but this was more spectacular in the literal sense, and it certainly seemed to work well for the audience.

The students did a fine job. Some of them were a bit difficult to understand. I'm not sure if it was a matter of not feeling comfortable enough with the language, not having voice support or a loud enough voice, or not speaking clearly while projecting. (I'm sure the director has a better idea, and has worked with them, but students don't learn everything instantly, alas.) One or two moments didn't quite work for me, but overall, it worked well.

In any given play, there are moments that I really love and imagine staging. For example, I imagine staging Gloucester's "suicide jump" in Lear and how to really get across to the audience how serious that is. And then there's the final bit in Measure for Measure, when the Duke proposes to Isabella, and she has to respond somehow. This play wasn't Lear or Measure for Measure, but it has a moment. And happily, the moment worked. You could hear the audience draw in their breaths sharply with that stunned sound. Cool!

One of the joys of doing Shakespeare is that I know the plays pretty well, so when I read them, I feel the lines with a sense of fullness. Unlike "The Miller's Tale" (which surprises me every time), Shakespeare rarely surprises me (okay, there was that one Tempest where Ferdinand ended up with Caliban, but other than that, not so much). But that sense of familiarity also means that I miss the feeling of shock when something unexpected happens. Sometimes I forget that there's supposed to be that sense of shock, though usually teaching plays reminds me where the surprises are and where I'm going to need to help students "get" something. Often, those places are one and the same because there's something unexpected. It was fun to hear the audience respond to the unexpected during the play.

People in the audience seemed to be enjoying it. I ran into a former student in the lobby, and he spoke enthusiastically about the play and seeing Shakespeare, and his friends seemed equally happy to be there.

I'm glad I was part of it all, but this was basically a volunteer effort. When we talk about doing interdisciplinary work, the theater and history departments are where it makes most sense for me to look for colleagues. But our history department, while full of friendly folks, doesn't exactly emphasize English history or early modern Europe. So I hope our theater department encourages this director to go to town and do more Shakespeare or early modern theater in general.

But the volunteer thing. Next time, I'll know to talk to the dean and try to get my work recognized in some way because unless the powers that be recognize it, it doesn't count. And if it doesn't count, then it takes away from all the other things I need to do, and there are plenty of those. (The program did graciously recognize my work, but since I expect few if any of our deans or administrators to see the show, that doesn't necessarily mean much as far as the university.)

Resources are always limited, but the powers that be seem to find them for some folks, so it's at least worth asking if the opportunity knocks again.

All in all then, a really good experience for me. I think I contributed significantly to the success of the production and the understanding of the actors. And I learned tons myself!

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