Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are You ShakesBEERienced?

Well, I'm not.

The 7 Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, NH are the geniuses behind ShakesBEERience. Who can say no to free Shakespeare presented at a brewery?

They're doing Love's Labour's Lost in May, but Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen are in their fall lineup so it's not like they're phoning it in by doing the easy/popular ones, either!

Has anybody been? Last time I ran across their link they were off season and I forgot all about it. I think I'm only about 45 minutes away, I've got to figure out a way to get up there and see the show.

Gambling on The Gambler (and losing :))

Normally I wouldn't give a second thought to a Mark Wahlberg movie like The Gambler. It's just not the kind of thing that interests me. But then I learned that he plays a Shakespeare professor with a gambling problem. Ok, that's more interesting. Still, though, if that's just character development then we've all seen it before - cut to a scene of him dismissing a classroom full of students and telling them there's a quiz on Romeo and Juliet tomorrow. Bam, you've just established him as a Shakespeare professor.

Only...not this time.  The clip I found actually opens with him talking about
Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, if you can believe it!  There's a reference that the typical "took Shakespeare in high school" audience is not going to get.

Even better! A student makes a joke that Greene's "beautified with our feathers" line is actually because he knew that Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere.

First of all, what?  I'm not even sure where the connection lies between those two thoughts.

But it gets better, because Wahlberg doesn't have any patience with the anti-Stratfordian argument. "The Earl of Oxford wrote poetry," he responds. "Badly."

I have not finished the movie yet, so perhaps someone can tell me -- is that it? Does Shakespeare, either his words or his themes, play a larger role in the movie? Having just completed The Humbling I'm left a bit disappointed. If somebody tells me that's it for interesting Shakespeare content, I probably won't finish this one.

"Performing Shakespeare" at UMass Amherst

My friend Keri and her Rebels have done so much for Shakespeare that when she asks me to help spread the word about what her alumni are up to, I'm only happy to oblige!

He [Matteo Pangallo] is a professor out there, but had his start at rebel and is a great guy. He is running the first Shakespeare program for high schoolers at UMass this summer.... he's a fantastic guy, a Shakespeare expert and someone you'd really enjoy, if you don't already know him. ... Participants live on campus for 2 weeks and get college credit. 
Here's more details, directly from the Professor, courtesy his Facebook page. Sounds like a great opportunity!

The deadline approaches to enroll in the summer "pre-college" course Performing Shakespeare that I'll be teaching at UMass Amherst's Commonwealth Honors College from July 26-August 8. There are still eight spots open if you know of any high school students who would be interested in a fun and engaging theatrical approach to mastering Shakespeare's plays. 
Tuition covers room and board (students from anywhere in the country or the world are welcome!), organized social activities with the students in all of the CHC's pre-college courses, and, of course, the class itself. As with all the pre-college courses, this class does provide college credit, if students are interested in getting a jump on progress toward their undergraduate degree! 
Information about the course, CHC's pre-college program, and enrollment can be found at I'd also be happy to answer any questions interested students might have (they can reach me at

The Happiest Day of My Year

I almost missed Shakespeare Day this year.  When I heard the news, I immediately sent a curse-filled rant to my closest Shakespeare friend, one Bardfilm by name, because I knew he would understand.  Again, Bardfilm, I apologize for using so many F-words on Easter Sunday. :)

Here's what I realized, when I almost lost my day.  Today might very well be the happiest day of the year for me.  I'm not counting anniversaries and children's birthdays and such, those are happy on a whole different level.  But they are small.  How many people will celebrate my son's birthday with me?  His friends, sure, and his parents, and various grandparents and cousins. But still, we're talking about a couple of dozen people?  Who are there for my son.  It's not really my day. I'm happy for *him*, but that's not what I'm talking about.

Shakespeare Day is the one day of the year when I feel a kindred spirit with literally thousands (millions?) of like-minded people all around the world. It is a day where I can tell, hear and repeat Shakespeare jokes with people who actually get them. No, not who just get them - anybody with a high school English education can "get" them. I'm talking about all you good folks out there who, like me, are made fundamentally happier because we get to do this. And we get to do this all day long.

My wife doesn't fully get my Shakespeare addiction, but she tries. She's learned over the years that on April 23, my thoughts are in another place. When I am not writing about Shakespeare I'll want to be reading about him, and when I'm doing neither I'll be thinking about him. She tries, and my kids try (my daughter suggested that I "paint my face and shave my head like Shakespeare"), but they know that these things work at a much bigger and deeper level than that.

Most of today's posts, including this one, have been written ahead of time and scheduled, because I will be wrapped up with the day job responsibilities. But I'll be with you in spirit!  Thanks for sharing the day with me over the years. There's nothing else quite like it.

Pacino as King Lear? Why else would I watch The Humbling?

I would never have heard of "The Humbling" if Google news alerts didn't pop it up for a Shakespeare reference. It stars Al Pacino and is based on the Philip Roth novel, which I have not read.

The play opens with Pacino, dressed in a trenchcoat and looking like something out of Death of a Salesman, practicing the ages of man speech from As You Like It. It looks at first like he's trying to remember his lines, but we soon see that he is trying to decide how he's supposed to deliver them. The line between his acting and his reality is becoming a blur, and he's having trouble differentiating between what he feels and what he's only pretending to feel. After an event at the performance sends him to the hospital there's a funny scene where he's moaning in pain and asks the nurse, "Do you believe that? That I'm in pain?"  When she says she does he says, "I could do that better. Let me try it again," and tries a different delivery. It's not that he's faking. He just can't escape analyzing his own performance, even when it is reality.

Now we get to what I like to call the "not Shakespeare" part of the movie. He goes to rehab and meets a crazy stalker lady who wants him to kill her husband because as an actor he's got experience. Then he comes home and starts a relationship with the daughter of some old friends of his, who happens to be a lesbian. He's then quickly introduced to the past loves of her life, including the department head who she slept with to get her job, and a post-op transgender man who still wants her.

Or maybe not. Scenes often play out, only to reset as if they'd never happened. It becomes obvious that Pacino's character is losing his mind, and some if not all of the above may not have ever happened. Throughout the film he engages in regular videoconference updates with his therapist, who also has trouble distinguishing what's actually happening from what Pacino thinks is happening.

Now, back to the Shakespeare. After vowing never to get on stage again, Pacino is ultimately pulled back for a performance of King Lear. I mean sure, why not, a guy has a nervous breakdown during As You Like It, goes to rehab, swears off acting, of course you want to just throw him right into Shakespeare's Mount Everest.  I'm ok with that, though, because it means we get to watch Al Pacino perform some of King Lear.

It's an interesting movie, but it's not a Shakespeare movie. It's mostly Pacino, but in a way that I would have liked even more Pacino, if that makes sense? He's surrounded by this crazy cast of characters that are all trying to take the focus away from his character and I found them more of an annoyance than anything else. It might be interesting if you've read the book, I suppose. Or if you're a "see everything" Al Pacino fan. But other than that it didn't do much for me.

The Shakespeare Imitation Game

As a lifelong computer geek I've always known the story of Alan Turing, and was pleased to see it brought to the big screen as The Imitation Game (starring Benedict Cumberbatch).  Turing contributed so much to the world of computer science it's hard to tell it all -- from his codebreaking skills in World War 2 to his "universal machine" theory that led to the programmable computers we all take for granted today. In fact that's a weakness of the movie, that they try to jam too much into the story.

The contribution that famously carries his name, however, is The Turing Test (which he originally called the imitation game, hence the movie title). In the game he proposes, a human witness would ask questions, through a computer terminal, to a human player and to an "intelligent" computer player. The witness must determine which is the computer. The computer is trying to convince the witness that it is human. Being Turing, he even put numbers on the probability of winning the test,
writing that "an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning."  

Ever since, people have been making "chat bots" that are good at changing the topic and avoiding the question. Apparently nobody else reads the rest of Turing's paper, because he gave a great example about the kind of conversation he expected the computer to have:

Interrogator In the first line of your sonnet which reads 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day', would not 'a spring day' do as well or better? 
Computer It wouldn't scan. 
Interrogator How about 'a winter's day'? That would scan all right. 
Computer Yes, but nobody wants to be compared to a winter's day. 
Interrogator Would you say Mr. Pickwick reminded you of Christmas? 
Computer In a way. 
Interrogator Yet Christmas is a winter's day, and I do not think Mr Pickwick would mind the comparison 
Computer I don't think you're serious. By a winter's day one means a typical winter's day, rather than a special one like Christmas. 
 I love when the computer science people use Shakespeare as their test content. Makes my day. I do the same thing :).  Consider how much intelligence is in this small example, beyond the ability to form grammatically correct sentences.  It needs to understand what sonnet 18 is, first of all, and what it means to compare someone to a summer's day. It needs to understand the relationship between spring and summer, as well as the purpose of meter in poetry. It needs to understand why you compare someone to a summer's day but not a winter's day. It needs to recognize who Mr. Pickwick is, and why you might associate him with Christmas. It needs to understand what Christmas is, and why it is a special day.

In June 2014 there was a big story in the computer science world that a bot has "passed" the Turing Test.  Here's a transcript.  You be the judge.  Personally I think we're still a long way away - but imagine how exciting it would be if we ever get there!

The War is Coming. Oh, and I am Psychic.

Back in November, 2011 I reviewed a graphic novel called Romeo and Juliet : The War. I remember that I quite liked it.  It's overly violent, and there's a weirdly gratuitous nude scene that may have been inserted to appease the teenage boy demographic but completely ruled out the chance of me showing it to my kids, but overall I was happy with the effort. It looked very nice, and stayed consistent with the world they'd built.

I even said:

You know what? I said that it looks like a movie. I think that if somebody tried to tell this version of the story as a movie, it could be pretty awesome.
Well, look what I found?  Romeo and Juliet : The War is coming in 2017. It's one of those "only accessible with IMDB Pro" deals so I can't get all the scoop, maybe one of the readers out there can see it?  We definitely know it's the same source material, though, because in the "People who liked this also liked..." section I can see a Stan Lee movie :).

I'll keep watching for more news about this one!

Time Enough for Shakespeare

A funny thing almost happened on the way to Shakespeare Day this year. The day job has been very, very busy on a number of fronts.  There's actually a big all day meeting scheduled today at the home office. Most of my April has been spent building up to that.

On top of that, I'm having work done on my house, which means that my living situation's been in disarray for the last two weeks.  As in, no beds for the children, who are sleeping in sleeping bags on various couches around the house.  Since my most productive time is typically late at night after everybody's gone to bed, this has made it quite a challenge, especially when you factor in all the day job work that's been going on.

But I couldn't miss it. I would never forgive myself if a Shakespeare Day came and went and I failed to celebrate it.

So my many apologies that this is something of a mini celebration compared to previous years. We definitely won't be breaking my marathon record (which I believe is 26 posts, or something like that?)  But I shall do what I can.

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare.

Happy Shakespeare Day!

Welcome once again to another Shakespeare Day celebration! It's not going to be a big one this year (for reasons to be explained in coming posts), but I couldn't miss it.

Those who have been following over the years (and for that I thank you for your loyalty) you may have noticed a certain tradition. I like tradition. It's a quote that comes from Ben Jonson, to the memory of his (and our) beloved. It's a simple line from a larger work, but I don't know, to me it feels like more. It's more of an incantation, a plea for the Master to return to us if just for a single day. I say it over and over again in my mind, and I imagine myself as Prospero on his island, opening one particular grave, waking one particular sleeper and letting him forth, by my most humble art. Thank you, Shakespeare, and Happy Birthday.

Here we go, and I'll see you on the other side. I therefore will begin.

Soul of the age!
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
My Shakespeare, RISE!