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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
Updating Shakespeare's Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0431  Tuesday, 4 August 2009

[1] From:   Billy Houck <
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     Date:   Monday, 3 Aug 2009 13:05:08 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

[2] From:   Robert Projansky <
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     Date:   Monday, 3 Aug 2009 13:23:35 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Billy Houck <
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Date:       Monday, 3 Aug 2009 13:05:08 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

A playwright friend told me recently about a theatre company who 
produced his three-act play thusly:
act one was a staged reading, act two was a staged rehearsal, and act 
three was performed like an actual play for paying audiences.

When he asked them why they didn't ask his permission for this aberrant 
production style, they answered:

"But we were true to your words."

Billy Houck

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Robert Projansky <
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Date:       Monday, 3 Aug 2009 13:23:35 -0700
Subject: 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0426 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

Julie Sutherland says

 >I don't think, however, that these things are never done with more
 >recent plays. I do agree that we aren't typically as drastic as
 >putting "Death of a Salesman" in war-torn Kosovo, etc., but I would
 >argue we haven't YET because we're still too close to the period in
 >which Miller or Williams or Hellman wrote their plays. A time may
 >come when we will 'update' these plays, or transfer them to a
 >different period. In the mean time, we still interpret them, it
 >would seem, through an updated lens.

But Julie Sutherland is right for the wrong reason: we haven't seen 
these playwrights' work torn off the playwright's leash YET, however 
long or short that might be, but it's not because we're too close to 
them in time for directors to want to substitute their own ideas. It's 
because we're too close to them in time for the insistent playwright's 
or zealous successor's rights to have expired. When I said nobody thinks 
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" needs to be set in any updated 
time or place, it was not only because that play is so much about where 
and when it takes place. If you want to mess with Miller's work his 
estate will not let you do it. Edward Albee will famously not let you 
ignore his stage directions. If you disagree with Mr. Albee on how far 
downstage to put your actor you knuckle under or do some other play, 
period. When those rights expire and Miller and Albee are as defenseless 
as Shakespeare you will see "All My Sons" set after the end of the 
current Fifty Year Afghan War and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" 
transported to Baffin Island.

Of course, it is possible that the US Congress will continue to extend 
American copyright terms ad infinitum so the plays of Miller, Williams, 
and Hellman never fall into the public domain. I am told  Congress found 
the Disney interests very persuasive when they warned that unless their 
copyright term were extended -- again -- the national treasure that is 
Mickey Mouse would soon be up for grabs and  that the republic would 
totter when his first day in the public domain would surely find 
everybody's Mickey (remember, he started life as Steamboat Willie) a 
brand-new porn star.

Best,
Bob Projansky

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