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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: May ::
Alms for Oblivion
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0321  Thursday, 3 May 2007

[1] 	From: 	Robert Projansky <
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 	Date: 	Friday, 20 Apr 2007 01:05:26 -0700
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion

[2] 	From: 	Terence Hawkes <
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 	Date: 	Friday, 20 Apr 2007 10:41:04 +0100
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0276 Alms for Oblivion

[3] 	From: 	Connie Geller <
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 	Date: 	Saturday, 21 Apr 2007 08:37:52 -0500
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion

[4] 	From: 	Robert Projansky <
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 	Date: 	Saturday, 21 Apr 2007 23:59:33 -0700
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0269 Alms for Oblivion

[5] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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 	Date: 	Monday, 23 Apr 2007 10:45:58 -0700 (PDT)
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Robert Projansky <
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Date: 		Friday, 20 Apr 2007 01:05:26 -0700
Subject: 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion

Joseph Egert writes:

>Robert Projansky writes:
>
>  "There is no artist more abused by novelty than WS."
>
>In the year 2007, or 56 AD (Anno Derridi), a man about fifty,
>intimately familiar with Shakespeare's works, both paged and
>staged, buys a ticket to the Stratford Doran production of
>"CORIOLANUS by William Shakespeare." There he witnesses, as
>described by Charles Weinstein, "an intermittent androphilia/
>gynophobia", an "unforgivably" changed penultimate line, and the
>title character's self-impalement on Aufidius' sword and Pieta
>cradling in his enemy's arms. Furious, the patron tracks down the
>theater owner and complains, "This play, as performed, is not by
>William Shakespeare, as advertised. This is outright cozenage! I
>demand my money back!" The owner refuses, at which point the patron
>warns, "I Will not rest until I am reimbursed."
>
>Who should decide who gets the money? What is the optimal legal
>mechanism?
>
>  Perplexed,
>  Joe Egert

Dear Perplexed,

I don't know if I am being invited to respond to this message, which 
perplexes me too. My answers: I have no idea.

I am not sure I understand the connection between my quoted words and the 
exam question that follows or even if we are having an argument.  You do 
seem to say that the production has ruined Shakespeare's play, and that's 
a squawk I have made myself about many productions. You also see 
"borrowed" things in it as emblematic of artistic bankruptcy. I haven't 
seen this production but I do not object to "borrowing". I infer that you 
prefer to see new stuff when you go to the theater, not the same old 
stuff.

  I want to see Shakespeare presented imaginatively, fresh, with lots of 
creativity to admire and ooh and aah at, but I would rather see the most 
pedestrian (but intelligible) production imaginable than to see a 
production that does violence to the play. When I say there is no artist 
more abused by novelty than WS I certainly am not condemning innovation in 
Shakespeare performance. But I know from experience there are many 
directors out there -- all of whom want some WS on their resums -- who 
neither care nor know anything about Shakespeare, who find him boring. 
Such directors always want to mess  with the play, cut it to under two 
hours, use a lot of inappropriate  music (can you imagine Eartha Kitt's 
"Santa, Baby" sung in Act IV of  Titus Andronicus? Alas, I don't have to 
imagine it), and set it in some period and place that will mean snazzier 
costumes. They don't know or care about verse technique, they jam their 
period/place round peg into history's square hole, and they hew their way 
through the text with a bloody axe. To get the job they come with a 
"concept" - like a MAAN set in Texas with the soldiers returning from WW 
II and everyone drawling unintelligibly as if they were in "The Last 
Picture Show". Worse: Duncan as a godfather mafioso and Mac and all the 
other thanes his mob. That's what I mean by abused by novelty. In 
Portland, OR, a few years ago, a MOV by that city's leading company was 
set in a brothel/ disco (no hautboys in that show). What the hell can that 
do for MOV? The director was a Hungarian who spoke no English and had to 
communicate with his actors through an interpreter. What does that tell 
you about respect for the language? And this company with a budget of 
millions. The justification for the damage done is always "making the play 
more accessible to the audience" which is a crock; how is the verse more 
accessible if it's spoken by cowboys or surfers or Nazis who can't even 
scan it? No, "making the play more accessible to the audience" is code 
for: "I myself wouldn't pay to see this 400- year-old turkey, and unless I 
jazz up the play we won't be able to get the public's backsides into these 
seats." Most productions that serve up such a concept twist the play away 
from what WS wrote and get nothing whatsoever in return. Except those 
Gosford Park costumes.

Sorry this is so long. Best to all.

Bob Projansky

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Terence Hawkes <
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Date: 		Friday, 20 Apr 2007 10:41:04 +0100
Subject: 18.0276 Alms for Oblivion
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0276 Alms for Oblivion

I repeat. Charles Weinstein says that, in Coriolanus, William Houston 
'unforgivably changes his penultimate line to "...like an eagle in a 
dove's-cote, I/Fluttered all your Volscians in Corioles." '  Could he be 
more specific?

T. Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Connie Geller <
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Date: 		Saturday, 21 Apr 2007 08:37:52 -0500
Subject: 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion

I don't mind deciding myself. The jerk doesn't get his money back.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Robert Projansky <
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Date: 		Saturday, 21 Apr 2007 23:59:33 -0700
Subject: 18.0269 Alms for Oblivion
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0269 Alms for Oblivion

Charles Weinstein writes:

>Obviously, transmuted influence is one thing while unacknowledged
>borrowings are another.  In that regard, theatrical plagiarism is
>every bit as fraudulent and aesthetically bankrupt as literary
>plagiarism. Listmembers who condemn the latter should really think
>twice before condoning the former.

I think this overstates the offense, if it is one at all.  Does re- using 
some uncopyrighted thing that's been done onstage before rise (or sink) to 
"plagiarism"? If some director wants to use video  monitors onstage in his 
next play, is he or she obliged by the law or  civilized standards of 
decency to acknowledge that he is "borrowing"  this gimmick from someone? 
If it's borrowed, there's an owner. Must he acknowledge the owner from 
whom he borrowed it? Must he get that owner's permission?

I know an actor who admired a particular gesture he saw Ralph Richardson 
do in a film, and he has used that same distinctive gesture himself a few 
times, without permission of Ralph Richardson or his estate. Must he 
really confess this plagiarism? If he is going to do it onstage must he 
acknowledge it in his bio in the program?  And how would he know whether 
or not RR was its actual author and owner? Maybe Ralph Richardson 
"borrowed" it himself.

Charles Weinstein's own personal standard as a critic or audience member 
may be one of strict liability, but I don't think it is the  standard in 
the theater, where actors' and directors' choices are not  held quite as 
closely as, say, George Harrison's lyrics. I grant that duplicating a 
director's entire production would be plagiarism and malfeasance, but I 
don't think actors and directors think of themselves as owners of a 
particular line reading or scene blocking or gesture or stage business. 
The very few times I have heard complaints about being copied it sounded 
to me like camouflaged bragging.

Bob Projansky

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Monday, 23 Apr 2007 10:45:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0295 Alms for Oblivion

Here, with his permission, is Dan Venning's reply to my query:

>Dear Joe:
>
>A few rambling thoughts in response to your closing question:
>
>There is absolutely no way the patron in question would win a case that
>actually went to trial, although if s/he were seriously irate enough,
>threatening legal action would possibly, but probably not, be enough to
>frighten or annoy the theater into refunding the ticket.
>
>The reason it might work: theatres are poor, in general. They're afraid 
of
>anything that would cost them money (of course, this makes one ticket 
price
>valuable to them).
>
>The reason it probably wouldn't work: Principle. Theatre managers will 
not
>want to start a precedent of refunding tickets when patrons aren't happy
>with the production.
>
>Why wouldn't legal action work? Because the theatres have a plethora of
>arguments in their favor: Traditionally, one is not allowed to get one's
>money back after a production because one didn't like it, for whatever
>reason. Shakespeare's texts are not fixed, stable entities, and are not
>under copyright, so directors have the freedom to adapt them. There is a
>tradition of liberal adaptation in staging Shakespearean plays, so an
>audience member should always be prepared for the possibility of a
>nontraditional performance, even a radically nontraditional one. If the
>audience member had read Weinstein's review beforehand, this would be 
even
>more problematic, because s/he had essentially been warned.
>
>That last reason is why the "false advertising" argument wouldn't work,
>either. Saying, "CORIOLANUS, by William Shakespeare," is not the same as
>advertising "CORIOLANUS, exactly as written by William Shakespeare, 
without
>alteration whatsoever." Perhaps it would have been more honest, in this
>case, to say "CORIOLANUS, adapted from William Shakespeare," but even the
>Wooster Group's HAMLET had the line, "by William Shakespeare," and every
>audience member knew that the play was HAMLET by The Wooster Group (&
>Shakespeare). When attending a production of one of Shakespeare's plays, 
one
>has to take the "by William Shakespeare" with a grain of salt until
>evaluating the production.
>
>On the other hand, if the patron was seriously offended and really wanted 
to
>hit the theatre where it hurt, instead of demanding his/her money back, 
s/he
>should write an eloquent letter to the theatre explaining exactly why 
s/he
>will NEVER return to this particular venue (especially powerful if the
>patron has been a subscriber). Theatres pay attention to such letters,
>because every patron counts.
>
>Hope these rambling thoughts are of interest to you,
>
>Dan Venning


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