Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0169. Tuesday, 5 March 1996.
Date: Tuesday, 5 Mar 1996 10:46:32 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Shrew in Performance
The African American Shakespeare Company is currently staging _Shrew_ in San
Francisco at the Next Stage Theatre, in rep with a multicultural _Merchant_
staged by Second Wind Productions. I haven't seen either yet, and they are
only running for a couple of more weeks, but _Shrew_ received a favorable
review in the Feb. 28 San Francisco Bay Guardian, which can be accessed
on-line, I believe, at http://www.sfbayguardian.com.
The reviewer, Dennis Harvey, raises an interesting question over and above his
admiration for this particular performance. "Ask what this area needs, theater
programming-wise, and 'more Shakespeare' would not likely appear at the top of
anyone's list.... The summertime Shakespeare glut [in the Bay Area] is so
thick by now that I groan whenever the Bard turns up 'off-season.'"
One worries whether the profusion of Shakespearean performances in the Bay Area
and elsewhere -- often by acting companies whose personnel are insufficiently
trained and experienced in Shakespeare, although that's another matter --
doesn't also mask the dearth of contemporary theater here and elsewhere. Not
that people in the theater aren't trying; but the economics of theater today
may such that the only way to encourage new playwrights and the performance of
new plays at the professional level, especially to provide new playwrights and
directors with the continued experience in the theater they would need in order
to perfect their skills, would be to provide considerably more government
funding than is likely to come forth these days. The performance of
Shakespeare, whether straight or in drag (as it were), may be to theater what
the performance of Mozart and Beethoven is to symphonic music. One doesn't
object to it; one encourages it; it seems to be necessary to the culture of
performers and performances. But one worries about our lack of support (in
places like the Bay Area at least) for new theater, in spite of the fact that
there is a lot of _desire_ for new theater, in spite of the many financial
sacrifices that people in the theater are often willing to make in order to
provide for it, and in spite of the many low-budget experiments that in fact
find their way into performance.
I'm wondering if people in academic and theater communities elsewhere would be
willing to comment on this situation. And P.S., when I refer to "new theater,"
I don't mean David Mamet or Tony Kushner, much as I admire the work of both
playwrights, and am happy to attend a performance of any of their plays
whenever I can. I mean precisely all those other playwrights who are not
breaking through to the professional stage, and who are not being given a
chance to develop their skills _in_ the theater. Is it perhaps the case that
we need "Shakespeare" these days (along with, say, Mamet and Stoppard and
Kushner) in order to garner the support of a theatergoing public and especially
the support of subsidies from private foundations and government agencies?
Just asking. But no, I will probably not be satisfied with answers concerning
how "vital" regional theater happens to in any particular Podunk, or how such
and such a place (e.g. Louisville) holds a two-week festival for new plays. If
these are exceptions to the rule, they also prove the rule. In the U.S. at
least, it seems to me, the real issue seems to me to be how we can do the
impossible, increase rather than decrease the funding of the National Endowment
for the Arts, and earmark increased funds for theatrical experimentation -- for
theater which doesn't rely on the Bard as an excuse for existing.