Why this Play?
[I’m back. I disconnected during my winter break from everything, including writing. The New Year has rushed in and I’m back at everything. I’ll post a few short pieces I started last month before launching into a big thought. Thank you for reading and your encouragement.]
I’ve seen and worked on many productions of Shakespeare. Still, I enjoy hearing the plays. Hearing Shakespeare always pays benefits. While I rarely have an epiphany, every production teaches me something or inspires me with a new thought about the play, my time or myself.
Walking out of the Shakespeare productions I heard last month, I was left with a question I often ask: “Why did these theatre artists want me to hear their play?” By putting on this production, I suppose they wanted to have a conversation with me as their audience. Why did they need me to be there? Why this play at this time?
Shakespeare’s plays are works of art that express the universal human experience. Even his weaker plays have their charms. Yes, not every Shakespeare play is a masterpiece. And, while there are a few I’m not fond of like Timon of Athens (to bleak) or Titus Andronicus (too much blood and cannibalism, makes me nauseous), there is a place and time to do any of the plays. Each one expresses something unique about the human experience and each one can potentially illuminate our experience.
So, why did these theatre artists pick this play out of the canon? Why did they want me to hear this play today? Was there something in this play that really connected with them? Was there a theme or situation? Does this play express something specific to our now?
If the role of the artist is to express what it is to live in our time, then the choice and production of a Shakespeare play must be specific to our now. A director or theater company should decide to do a Macbeth or a Much Ado because they have an idea or a point of view that they want to express.
Now, what I get might be something other than what they intend. That’s fine. I’m not looking to be told what to think. What I want is an argument presented with a point of view. By having a strong argument and reason for playing the play, it helps the audience have their own experience.
This is important. It is easier and more potent for me to form and understand my own argument when the theatre artists have a strong and committed argument. The more specific and committed to a thought and argument a production is the more it can open the audience to not only that point of view, but also to their own. Many productions seem to feel that the opposite is true, when they are general and open to all arguments it allows the audience to decide. This only disconnects and bores the audience. They need to make a strong argument, even a controversial tack on the play. Then, I can have my own point of view, my own experience.
I need to add this to my list of Paradoxes of Playing Shakespeare that I first developed many years ago at Shakespeare & Company. Shakespeare’s plays are revealed through paradox. The way you might think it works doesn’t. It actually works the opposite way. Here are my Paradoxes of Playing Shakespeare:
Shakespeare’s text will go where you go and will always get you where you need to go.
The text will support any feeling and thought the actor truthfully has in the moment. It will express that part of the actor that is present. And, if the actor stays open to the words of the text, the text will lead the actor to feel, think and speak the character’s journey through the play. The text will support and lead the actor’s journey through the play. This second part is as important as the first part. The actor must allow the text to play on her/him.
The text embraces your humanity while expressing your individuality.
In the text the actor will find his/her own humanity, how she/he is like, resembles all other human beings in our history. It embraces how we are the same. In addition, the actor can express his/her own individuality by speaking the text from a place of honesty. It allows the actor to express how he she is different than anyone else.
The more you focus on the minute parts of the text, the more you express the universal.
The more specifically and individually you play each word and syllable, the more the text will illuminate all of humanity.
Though the text seems old and of another time, it expresses the experiences of each new moment.
Though the text seems old, it retains the fire of its first igniting and will burn anew with each person’s utterance.
In the theater when you speak directly to one member of the audience, the rest of the audience feels included.
When an actor generally speaks to the audience, the audience members can often feel disconnected from each other and the whole. When the actor speaks directly to one audience member followed by speaking directly to another, all of the audience feels as if the actor was talking to them.
Now I can add:
The more a production commits to a point of view, the more the audience can have their own point of view.