Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sex and The Shakespeare

Ok, that’s a terrible title, but it’ll get more clicks than “Shakespeare and The City.”

Since I’m behind in my links you may already have seen that Kristin Davis, most famous for playing the “nice” girl Charlotte in Sex and The City (get it now?) wants to do some Shakespeare.  If this were Kim Cattrall we were talking about, the one who plays the slutty Samantha, I’d make a “do Shakespeare” joke right here.  Oh, well.

Davis has specific plans, too.  At 44, she wants to play Viola from Twelfth Night.  I appreciate that she’s got that level of understanding about the plays, and doesn’t want to get into them just because she’s got this vague notion that “Shakespeare” equals “be taken seriously as an actress.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9 Shakespeare-Inspired Novels, and One Piece of Crap

See, lists like this are the stuff I crave.  From the opening quote:

Vivien Leigh once said that acting in a Shakespeare play was like 'bathing in the sea - one swims where one wants'.

You get the idea that the author has at least some clue of what they’re talking about.  Drawing upon the themes and characters of Shakespeare still leaves infinite flexibility in *what* you write.  It is a tremendous playground for Shakespeare Geeks.

So we get the “Top 10” Shakespeare inspired novels, although it’s a bit more like a sampler than a top 10.  We get relatively new David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” (1996) and the classic Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1931).  I’m familiar with “Gertrude and Claudius”  and “A Thousand Acres”, though I’ve not read them.  “Money” and “Wise Children” are really the only ones completely new to me.

But then the list goes and discredits itself with the inclusion of Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis.  I read this one.  It’s been years since I admitted it.  It is terrible.  I mean, seriously, this is a book that I chose to throw away rather than to let someone else read.  It’s horrible.  I’m embarrassed for it to have Shakespeare content.

Still, a top 9 list’s not that bad.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Romeo and Juliet, Sort Of

Should the phone ring one day, and you are asked to recount the plot of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” would you remember which Italian city the play takes place in? The particulars of the faked-death ruse that ends so unfortunately? The immortal lines that Juliet speaks from her balcony as her heart flutters with awakening love?

Well, umm…..yes.  To all of those questions.  But I don’t think I’m in the target audience :).

The show reviewed appears to be something of the reduced/improv Shakespeare variety, starting with the premise that most folks kinda sorta know the story, but are foggy on the details. 

Sounds like a crowd pleaser.  I remember seeing “The Complete Works in 60 Minutes” or whatever it’s called, and not really loving it.  Not so much for the Shakespeare-mocking, but more for the weak attempts at humor.  There’s massive amounts of material to be found in poking fun at Shakespeare so that Shakespeare fans can actually enjoy it.  But there’s the rub, I suppose – these shows aren’t for fans.  These shows don’t start with Shakespeare, they start with “That bit of Shakespeare that everybody in pop culture kinda sorta knows”, and then from there they just run with whatever sex joke they can find.  In the Complete Works we got “Call you buttlove? What?  Ok, buttlove” and other types of lines.  In this version of Romeo and Juliet there’s apparently scenes of Paris … ummm… having some private time with Juliet’s corpse? 

Insert your own “rub” joke here, I can’t bring myself to do it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Time Once Again For The “Secret Catholic” Game

A guestbook for visiting pilgrims to Rome.  A handful of signatures containing references to “Stratford”, circa late 1500s. Hmmm…who do we know that was from Stratford, living around 1585 or so?


“Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis” signed the book in 1585, while “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis” arrived in 1589.

A third entry in 1587, “Shfordus Cestriensis”, may stand for “Sh[akespeare from Strat]ford [in the diocese] of Chester”, he said.

Other than the Stratford pointer, you have to get creative.  “Arthurus” is supposed to be “King Arthur’s compatriot”, they say – is that supposed to be some sort of “I’m from England” reference?  The second one, although it’s apparently in Italian, is a more straightforward translation - “William, clerk from Stratford.”

It’s always fun to find “evidence” like this, and see how it fits in the grand scheme of things.  I like the idea of accounting for Shakespeare’s lost years more than I like jumping on the “secret catholic!” bandwagon, I’ll say that much.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tale Of Two Brothers

As a Shakespeare Geek and a New England native, I couldn’t pass up this story of what might become of Tom Brady’s two sons, told with allusions to Richard III … although I wonder if King Lear might be more appropriate?

For those who don’t follow the sports – or gossip – page, Tom Brady’s first son is John Edward Thomas, with former girlfriend Bridget Moynihan, who lives off on the Other Coast and was the subject of so much speculation when he was first born (post-breakup) that the rumor going around was that his mother deliberately chose the initials JET, for the long hated rival NY Jets.

Just this past week however saw the birth of second son Benjamin to current wife Gisele Bundchen.  Benjamin will be the one that grows up with the luxury of playing catch with all-star quarterback dad.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, getting a bunch of pop psychologists together to weigh in on somebody else’s family life without even a quote from any member of that family, well, that’s pretty much the definition of “waste of time”.   But for those who dig a good story and don’t mind speculating what sports might be like in another 20 years or so?  This stuff is gold.  These boys are not about to grow up like Peyton and Eli, you can be pretty sure about that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rufus! Rufus! Rufus!

I have Rufus Wainwright’s Sonnet 29 in heavy rotation on my playlist (which otherwise consists of some serious heavy rock and metal, headbanging sorts of stuff).  I’m always on the lookout for more.  Apparently he’s all over YouTube, though.

Anybody know if he’s done studio versions of these?  Live video from YouTube is fun, but not nearly as good as having an MP3 you can take with you all the time.

Sonnet 20:





Monday, December 14, 2009

Commwealth Shakespeare on Boston Common 2010 Presents Othello!

Rumor has it(*) that our favorite Boston based free Shakespeare will be around next year, and finally getting back to tragedy with Othello!

I’m very excited.  The comedies are cute, but I much prefer to really dig into the tragedies.  What about everybody else?

(*) And by rumor I mean Twitter.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shakespeare Master Class

Thank Twitter for pointing me at this little gem I’d missed, a very young Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry doing “Shakespeare Master Class”.

Given some of the spirited discussion we’ve had here, I got a kick out of it.

“And why did Shakespeare capitalize the T in Time?”
    “Because it’s the first word in the sentence.”
“Well…yes, I suppose that’s partly it.  But why else?”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Were Shakespeare’s Actors Any Good?

We know what people do with Shakespeare’s words now, sure.  And in general we can point to an Orson Welles, Ian McKellen, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and say, “Those, those are good actors.”

But I’ve often wondered about the people who originally created the roles.  Were they any good, to our standards?  Or was it completely different? 

How we interpret Shakespeare changes.  Compare the Hamlets of Kenneth Brannagh, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier.  Going back farther we’d have Gielgud or Barrymore.  But what if we kept going, all the way back? 

I’m not asking if a modern audience would *like* it.  They probably wouldn’t, given the different expectations.  What I’m asking is, were the actors “good”?  Would you look at a person playing Falstaff, his facial expressions however slight, and say “Damn, that is heartbreaking.”  Or would he have been more concerned with annunciating everything so perfectly that he could be heard in the cheap seats?

Know what I mean?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Love’s Labour’s Lost : The Show

Ok, finally I can talk about the show.

Well, let’s get the organization out of the way first.  They couldn’t find my seat.  I mean, this is basically a town hall / gymnasium sort of set up, sectioned off and folding chairs set up.  Maybe 200 or so capacity, about 4 rows of seats?  I’ve got a ticket that says “Right section, D 5.”  Usher gets all confused when he realizes that the fourth row, which is logically D, is full.  “They told us that row was general admission,” he tells me.  “Let me go find out.”

I sit around for awhile waiting, hanging out with a dude who has brought a hardcover “Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom.  The usher comes back and keeps trying to hand me back my ticket and tell me that yes, that is my seat.  I keep telling him that if he put somebody else in my seat to go tell that person to move, I ain’t doing it.  Turns out that the woman who is sitting in my seat has also come down to argue about something, so they basically tell her to move.

That was my only problem with the event itself.  Once that was resolved I had a grand time.  The cast members (in character) came out and mingled. Costuming was wonderful, as was the stage.  Musicians wandered around, eventually signalling the start of the show by all coming together in a single tune.  A fascinating deer puppet wandered through the stage, and interacted with the audience.  Costard and Jaquenetta had a bit of a fling in one corner.

I don’t particularly want to go through the details of the play, both because a) I’m not familiar enough with the material to comment in detail, and b) because of circumstances beyond my control I left at intermission anyway. 

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, having never been to London to see the real deal.  This was … small.  Intimate.  As I mentioned, only a few hundred seats.  Characters roamed around and greeted people.  That was cool.

Their comic timing was impeccable.  I mean, I’ve seen plenty of people do Shakespeare, and do comedy, and there’s a bunch of relatively standard ways to get a laugh. But when you’re made aware that their *timing* is better than you’ve ever heard, I think that says something about the quality.  After all they’re delivering the same words as everybody else, so much of the difference has to be in how they do it.

Two things surprised me, relatively quickly.  The first is how often they broke – and by that I mean, cracked themselves up so badly that they had to stop to keep from laughing out loud.  Ferdinand was particularly guilty of this.  So, somebody tell me – was I watching a rare, bad thing?  Or is it more acceptable than I realized?  Is their approach more of a “Hey, we’re having fun up here, and the audience is laughing with us, not at us” style of Shakespeare?  I quite liked it, I’m just not sure if it was supposed to be happening.  Perhaps it’s that these folks are so confident in the material that they don’t mind as much, whereas an American cast might be a bit too much in awe of the material to let themselves have that much fun.

The second was interaction with the music.  I’ve seen this plenty of times, and it bugs me.  There’s an upper balcony to the stage, where the musicians are handling the background music between scenes.  Several times characters would enter, pretend like they were going to wait for the music to die down as if that was a cue, and then when it doesn’t, they’d go wave at the musicians and make the “Cut it!” gesture, upon which the music would stop abruptly.  Again, not something I haven’t seen before – but is that cool? Is that how Shakespeare’s people would have interacted with the music? 

Something that fascinated me was the dancing.  I’m not sure the appropriate theatre terminology, but at a couple of points (most notably when the ladies go off hunting for deer), the cast onstage break into a silence dance number, as if they were miming “Ok, we’re hunting now.”  Perhaps that’s exactly what it was supposed to be. 

The staging was well was very well handled.  Characters came in through the audience when it would get a reaction, but for the most part they came through the large double doors, stage center, which served to separate the forest and the palace.  To the side were two backdrops done up to look like trees, with balcony above.  Want another good example of that attention to detail I was talking about?  At one point, just before all the gentlemen are to discover that they’ve all broken the pact, Biron is first on stage and has hidden in the balcony (“climbed a tree”, as it were).  After he announces himself, rather than beginning his lines up there, he descends the stair case behind the scenery (climbing down out of the tree)…and emerges with a mouthful of leaves, which he promptly spits out before continuing his line.  It’s the little things.

I didn’t love it all.  Though the accents, timing and delivery were wonderful, some stuck out.  Biron (Berowne? I think I’ve seen it both ways?), for instance, was delivered in a fairly heavy Scottish accent which made me think Craig Ferguson  could have stood in at the drop of a hat.  Had the actor broken our some Sean Connery I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  Many that’s just my American, tv-watching self talking.  We hear Scottish, we map it back onto the handful of Scottish actors we know.

Also, I have no idea what Don Adriano was supposed to be.  He’s a Spaniard, yes?  I thought he was doing Russian for most of it.  At some points he seemed more Borat than anything else.

As mentioned, I had to leave at intermission because of the chaos at my house (see previous posts).  So I can’t really say much about the second half.  If I were living a different life, a bachelor whose full time job was to be a Shakespeare Geek?  I’d have been there early and stayed late.  For every show.  In reality, what I did was laugh.  Frequently.  Sometimes at the words, sometimes at their delivery, sometimes at the slapstick clowning that went on between them.   What more can you really ask?

Love’s Labour’s Lost Part Two : And Then The Tree

Ok, so, the story continues.

LLL is playing in Holyoke, Mass, which is about 2 hours from me.  It’s a 2pm show, so working backwards I plan to leave around 11-11:30 in the morning.

We wanted to get a Christmas tree this weekend, and we’re sure about the timing (the rest of Saturday, and much of Sunday, are already booked).  The early plan was to get the tree Saturday morning, then put it up and decorate it Sunday night.  Instead, on a tip from a friend, we go get the free Friday night, and put it up Saturday morning.  That way the wife and kids can decorate while I’m off at the show, and it’ll be a good project what turns out to be a rainy/snowy day.

Plan goes off without a hitch, and I hit the road around 11:30 or so.  I get about 45 minutes away from home when the phone rings, and I think it’s Kerry checking on my progress in the snow.  “Tree fell down,” she tells me in a panic.  She’s holding it up with one hand, dialing with the other, trying to call anybody in town who might be home, whose number she remembers.

I call one friend – no answer.  I call another who says that he’ll go right over.  I mean, I’m stuck – even if I turn around and call off the whole day’s plans, it’s still 45 minutes for me to get home.  I call back Kerry, and one of her friends has come over as well, so everything seems to be going well.

I arrive at the show without a problem.  Call back, and my friend (Rob) answers the phone.  “Still working on it!” he tells me.   I think he is kidding, but he is not.

I’m early so I grab some lunch, and 5 minutes before the show starts I call one more time to say “I’m going to be out of touch for a couple hours.”  Kerry answers, “Can’t talk, still working on it!”

That’s the frame of mind I’m in when the show starts.   I’ll detail the show in Part Three, but let’s jump to when I get home.

The tree is up, tied to the wall.  I see a new vacuum cleaner in the corner, which has been borrowed from our neighbor because ours (which, by the way, was down in the basement hiding behind the Christmas presents) is broken anyway.  All of the carnage has been cleaned up, so I do not fully appreciate what has gone on here today.

The funny part?  First of all, that’s the third time that a tree has gone down on us.  So the way I see it, Christmas trees each come with their own story. :)

Second, the neighborhood Christmas party was tonight, and Kerry’s day is the talk of the town.  Because she called everyone, who in turn bumped into everyone else.  Best story comes from one lady who says “I heard you calling and….well, we don’t have the kids this weekend.  So we…let it ring? You know? We were kinda…ummm…busy. “  Nice.  “After all I figured Oh, that’s Kerry, I’ll see her tonight at the party.”

I see my friend, the one who I called first, and he says the same thing - “Dude, saw you called and figured I’d see you tonight.  What’s up?”

“Tree was on my wife,” I reply.  Takes us awhile to convince him that we are not kidding.

Kerry spends the evening (well deserved drink in hand!) telling people that screw it, next year we’re just converting to Judaism so we don’t have to worry about the tree.  I point out the middle road between Catholicism and Judaism is “artificial tree.”  But we both know that in our world, it’s more likely that we’ll convert than put up a fake tree.  Just not gonna do it. :)  We’ll just have to remember to tie the thing off every year from now on.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Love’s Labour’s Lost Part One : Shakespeare Dreams

So I’ve had a busy week.  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was coming to town (Holyoke, Mass) to perform Love’s Labour’s Lost, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.

First came the Shakespeare dream.  I love it when this happens.

It was the day of the show…only, we were at Boston Common, where Commonwealth Shakespeare performs.  “Odd,” my dream self thought, “I did not realize that CommShakes had a winter show.”  Even in the dream I realized that this was not the right place, and I had to get by them in order to get to my show.

The show itself was a rather weird choreographed affair, mostly of children.  They appeared to be dancing, though they were armed, as if miming a large battle scene.  (Funny how this comes into play later during the actual LLL show.)

I jog through much of this (hoping that this is a rehearsal and not a performance, I do not remember seeing an audience).  As I cross to the other side I hear reference to characters of “Richard” and “Katherine”.  I wonder if they are doing Taming of the Shrew, somehow mapping “Richard” to “Petruchio” in my brain.  Even in the dream I recall thinking, “This is probably one of the histories, and I just don’t recognize it.”

The story doesn’t have a climax, that’s really about it.  I never got to LLL in the dream.  Just crashed a rehearsal for what only now occurs to me may not even have been a Shakespeare play to begin with :). 

If I know my brain, and I think I do, then the production was children because of what Keri from Rebel Shakespeare (the kids’ group) has been going through this week.  It was highly choreographed because what little I know of Love’s Labour’s Lost comes from cursory knowledge of Kenneth Brannagh’s movie, which I understand to be a classic 1930’s musical (I’ve not seen it).  I have no idea where the Richard and Katherine references came from, although if I had to guess I’d say that was my brain’s way of generically referring to “the Shakespeare stuff you don’t know.”  Which would be logical, given that I’m not that familiar with LLL, either.

Ok, that’s enough of that story.  Part two shortly.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hamlet, In The Original Klingon

When I saw “Klingon Hamlet” going around Twitter I ignored it, because I’ve seen it a million times.

Well, ummm, no.  How about a video of someone actually *performing* it (selections, obviously) in Klingon, in full garb as well?


Imagining Shakespeare

I’ve never had a chance to see “Shakespeare & Company” out in Lenox, MA.  Recent stories of their financial difficulty have made me wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.

So it is with great optimism that I link this project by Kevin Sprague, who has compiled a book of some of the best photography he’s done for them over the years. I can’t tell from the writeup whether this is a personal project of his, or a for-profit opportunity for the group as a whole, but I’m hoping for the latter:

I’ve created an exciting new book called “Imagining Shakespeare” that shows a comprehensive look at all of the award-winning photography, design, advertising and illustration work that I have done for Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass for the last 15 years. It is 284 pages, 8.5×11 softcover, with luscious full color throughout.

So if you’ve got money left over this gift giving season(*) and you’re left wondering how to support Shakespeare, perhaps a nice coffee table book for someone?

(*) Given the circumstances I expect these will not exist for this Christmas.  Just saying.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

README : Bring Anya Home

Pardon the interruption folks, but kindly bear with me.

I’ve often mentioned my friends over at Rebel Shakespeare, in particular the founder Keri Cahill who’s already spent a large part of her life dedicated to giving children a gift few people can give.

Well, she’s got something straight out of a Shakespeare play going on in her own life, and it’s taken a nasty turn.

Keri’s got a daughter, Nastia, adopted from Russia.  So far so good.  But, dig this – Nastia finds out that she’s got an older sister Anya that she never knew she had, stuck in a different orphanage.  Keri immediately sets about trying to reunite the sisters, bring Anya to the US and give her a home as well, flying over to Russia to make it happen.  Out from under her Russia essentially changes the rules, declaring Anya to be an adult and pretty much kicking her out on her own.  In the process, making her ineligible for the same sort of adoption that Keri was able to make happen for Nastia.  (At least I think I’ve got the details right.)  The orphanage that Keri’d been working with essentially just disappeared out from under her, years of money and paperwork vanished.

Keri’s been working for years to get Anya an education visa, and had everything so close to complete that she was literally days away, after all this time.  Seriously.  All of her friends have been watching her count down the hours on her Facebook status.  That is, until the US Embassy denied the visa at the last minute.  Why?  Nobody knows.

They’re looking to get some attention, any attention, on the story.  It’s on the local news (NECN, as linked) and will be a live story at 9PM tonight as well.

They’ve got a Facebook group going, too, to get the word out about what’s going on.

It seems like half Keri’s life has been dedicated to Shakespeare.  I think it’s only right that if there’s anything we Shakespeare geeks can do to support her in this heartbreaking part, that we do it.  Post the story on your own blogs.  Forward.  Link.  Repeat.   We’re talking a mother whose kid is stuck in a foreign country, and she can’t do anything about it.  I can’t imagine it.

No Words, No Words … No Words.

When I saw a story about somebody doing Hamlet “without a single one of Shakespeare’s words” I assumed a modern translation, and was all set to lay in some snarky comment about making sure they don’t use any of the words Shakespeare invented, either, if they’re gonna play that game.

Well, umm, no.  The play’s got no words at all.  He’s doing Hamlet entirely as a dumb show.

I'd been thinking about how to do a play that can travel anywhere in the world, without worrying about language barriers. Someone told me that Charlie Chaplin was a huge star in non-English-speaking countries. I started thinking about how to sustain full-length comic narratives without dialogue. I was going to write an original play - something along the lines of satirizing/apologizing for foul American foreign policy - but decided I didn't want my first experiment in the non-verbal medium to also have the pressure of perfecting a new story. I started thinking about stories that I could hang this concept on, and "Hamlet" came to mind pretty quickly. First I thought of the dumbshow, then about how I could establish so many of the characters with body language. It flowed pretty easily after that.

I’m far more interested in it now.  I’m not sure as a modern audience I could sit still for 2+ hours of silence (even Charlie Chaplin movies had background music, didn’t they?) but the idea of making it universal by taking language out of it is neat.  We can say Shakespeare’s universal all we want, but when you get right down to it that means “…to the English speaking world.”  As soon as you translate it, you don’t have Shakespeare’s words anymore.  So why not a project that just gets rid of the words altogether?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

No, I’m the Shakespeare Geek!

Somebody down in Orlando steals my intellectual property :)

I do not dress like that.

Realistic Expectations?

At some point or another in their careers, I expect that all young actors and actresses will consider Shakespeare, in order to be taken seriously.  Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes not.  For every Jude Law there’s an Ethan Hawke.

I think the ladies have it even tougher.  Shakespeare didn’t write many Daisy Duke / blonde bombshell roles, so once an actress is stereotyped as eye candy it’s that much harder for her to be taken seriously.

I was a little worried, then, when I saw this article about country star Carrie Underwood being "more than just blonde hair and a pretty dress", especially when it came up in my Shakespeare filters.  Ugg.

But surprise surprise:

"I don't have an acting "bug." It's not something that is on my bucket list," Underwood said. "But if the right thing came up and we were approached and told 'hey, this would be something cool for you, something small.' I'm not looking to do any Shakespeare or anything major. Something small, something fun and it sounds like it would be a good time then I'd be in."

Maybe she could write a song about Shakespeare instead?  It worked for Taylor Swift.

Memory in Motion

Tips for Memorizing Shakespeare is one of my more popular posts.  So I was happy to see this updated article in my local paper, interviewing professional actors on their own best tips for remembering lines (and what happens when you don’t!):

I had a blooper when I was doing "King Lear." I was playing Regan, and I came walking out onstage and I had to give a bunch of orders, and I started saying . . . something from "Much Ado About Nothing." At that time, I was doing "Much Ado" by day and "Lear" by night, while also learning a new play. But it didn't matter. I said it with such conviction that people bought it.

Digging Up New Place

Archaeologists plan to dig up Shakespeare’s home, known as New Place, some time next year.  This is not the church, this is not his bones.  We’re talking about his house.  Just to get that out of the way.

It seems like an interesting project, not the sort you often hear about.  It’s not like there’s much mystery.  They’re not picking a spot and saying “I wonder if we’ll find anything.”  They known what’s there – at least, generally.  They’re trying to get enough information to create a modern recreation of the place.

I’m all for learning more factual evidence about Shakespeare’s life.  You just know it’ll turn into the same sort of tourist attraction everything else about his life has.  Oh, well.