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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
"It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0637  Tuesday, 9 March 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Mar 2004 07:58:13 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"

[2]     From:   Kathryn Jackson <
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        Date:   Monday, 8 Mar 2004 13:43:16 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"

[3]     From:   Dan Smith <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Mar 2004 09:26:10 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Mar 2004 07:58:13 -0600
Subject: 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"

A propos of this subject, in Houston's Alley Theater's current
production of "Twelfth Night" - generally a most excellent one by the
way - the costuming and stage props are from a hodge-podge of periods,
to what purpose I cannot guess - except for the romantic, "Arabian
Nights" clothes of Orsino.

L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathryn Jackson <
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Date:           Monday, 8 Mar 2004 13:43:16 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"

Some when, a dozen or so years ago, I attended the Stratford RSC's
production of Merchant which had been modernized right down to the
Sharper Image scale to weigh the bond. As my experience was largely
"magical" I had to re-evaluate my then-position:  something toeing the
line that "There ought to be a law against..." I recall now, I thought
of myself as a bit of a purist, but I have since discovered that in
this, as with most things, I did not seek purity, as I thought, but
simplicity. There needed to be some rules and conventions with which one
did not, well... you know.... screw with.

On my bravest days I assert that ANY production of Shakespeare is an
essentially perfect celebration of good taste.

Poor scholarship (reflected in incohesive production values and the lack
of any unifying theme) is an entirely different subject.

I recently took the "inter" out of "mission" forgoing the second half of
an odd little "interpretive dancy aren't we clever perhaps this is all
too deep for you" prod. of MND. I've re-read, re-seen, and performed the
show, so I consider myself "pretty familiar" with the text, always eager
to increase that familiarity.

At my most nervous, I would want to rescue the "first-timers" from what
is -imo- an alienating representation, not at all the better forward
foot of the work, but...that's just my opinion. As I said, I walked out
at intermission. The show was doing nothing to increase my understanding
of the text. It increased my appreciation as the material was still fine
to listen to. The local Rep had my money; I simply withheld my time. I
suppose it might be interesting to hear WHATONEARTH they were thinking.
Part of me thinks it was a budgetary decision. They only had to pay
seven actors, and there was only one "set piece" so to speak. This went
beyond minimalist. Absurd, but not in the good way. Exists a school or
movement characterized by "obtuse and reductive art for the sake of
saying I'm an artist?"

Now I'm just being snotty.

"Because we had the costumes," is a better justification than "Because
we could."

"The show must go on," IS a personal favorite.

But the positive experience with Merchant did allow me to consider the
timelessness of "conflict," and ultimately --like the radio play of MND
to which I treated myself by blocking my own sightlines-- reinforced my
respect for the literature itself.

I disagree with the idea that even bad sex or pizza is better than none,
but when I really think about it, any decision to produce Shakespeare is
good.

Although I would never suggest that the R&J (w/ DiCaprio) is a
reasonable substitute for reading the play for oneself (and hopefully
attending a *traditional* production - if not a few) there is an
inescapable virtue to any revival and/or variation on Shakespeare... but
that's the liberal-hearted theater-geek in me speaking.

In fact, I might go so far to suggest that a "lousy" production is a
pretty effective teaching tool. But I'm interpreting "modern" to mean
"not so likely to have discussed much Shakespeare beyond R&J, and JC in
high school."

But modern does not mean "average." Or does it?

Anything that puts Shakespeare in front of people is okay with me, and
any opportunity.

For some reason I'm thinking of the Uncle Tom's Cabin production in The
King & I.

Translations. Modernizations. Adaptations.

Who's to say?  You are perfectly intelligent and have perfectly
intelligent friends. You go to a movie and sit in the dark next to one
another, confident, friendly, intelligent. And then, over coffee, you
discover your friend opposite not only at the table, but from what you
had held and praised. This is not your intelligent friend. You are
sharing coffee with an idiot the likes of which you'd never tolerate who
has somehow ENJOYED the movie and is just ridiculous enough to intend to
explain what about it was so satisfying, as if you were possibly fool
enough to believe what is obviously going to be a flimsy fillip because
you saw the movie and it was, quite simply dumb. Obviously this is a
highly concentrated version of the classic model for "Differing Tastes."

I have mentioned how I imagine presenting material to teenagers, and
because I can not convince them to enjoy something, but I do know that
everybody enjoys having an opinion, particularly the defensible kind. A
defensible position is one that has been explored for its faults.
Disappointment Exposes Expectation.

Relevance. Topicality.

Justification.

Whenever I meet someone who has never seen Shakespeare, I always want to
take them, right away, but usually end up suggesting that they watch a
movie because that will be more accessible. Fewer than five dollars,
privacy and comfort of home. Pause and rewind capabilities....

Accessible means "can get to it." Doesn't mean it's gonna be good, but
ours is a world of range between opposites...

Okay - now even I can tell I'm babbling.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,
~kj

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Smith <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Mar 2004 09:26:10 -0000
Subject: 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0618 "It makes it more accessible to a modern audience"

If we turn this problem on its head, surely the crux of the issue is
that the plays were originally staged in modern dress. If they are
staged in Elizabethan dress or dress appropriate to the historical
setting of the play (something Shakespeare's audience would never have
seen) then it is bound to raise irrelevant associations in the mind of
the audience e.g. these are "olde worlde people who do not resemble me
in any way". Furthermore, the audience, since TV and the colour
supplements are not full of Elizabethan dress (Trinny has probably not
pronounced on cross-gartering as a deadly fashion faux pas), do not
necessarily pick up cues that indicate someone is a puritan (and what
that means), is wealthy, is a soldier (or is not a soldier even though
wearing a sword) etc. Skilful modern settings can give dress cues to a
contemporary audience that might come close to matching the cues that
Elizabethan audiences recognised, many of which are probably lost.

Conversely it is great to stand in the yard at the Globe and see Feste
say "I am resolved on two points" and see that if both fail his gaskins
will indeed fall down. Elizabethan dress productions are wonderful when
they are done with such dazzling attention to detail. Seeing Malvolio in
puritan dress instantly labelled him for me (as an enemy of playgoing
and hence the audience)in a way I couldn't imagine a modern dress
production doing - I suppose you could dress him as a traffic warden
(ticketing and clamping cars on Olivia's estate perhaps). I tend to feel
most disappointed with productions that set the plays with a mish mash
of costumes from some never place and never time.

Dan Smith

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