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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.057 Thursday, 9 February 2012
Date: Thursday, February 9, 2012
Subject: Shakespearean Productions
I have been exchanging emails with SHAKSPERean Alexander Huang and the subject of Shakespearean productions in the Washington, DC, area came up. Well, I raised it.
I began to think that the specific differences between the house styles for productions of Shakespeare at the Shakespeare Theater and at the American Shakespeare Center are perhaps emblematic of larger issues about house styles.
My older daughter, Melissa, wrote her senior thesis in acting contrasting the house styles of the two when the American Shakespeare Center was still the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. The issues she raised and she and her husband Bill and her sister Becca and I have talked about endlessly are at the heart of this posting.
Until this season, I had subscribed to STC continuously since the mid-1970s, when it was still at the Folger before Michael Kahn arrived on the scene. In the past decade, I have generally liked the STC’s non-Shakespearean productions, like the recent Jonsons and some of the Restoration comedies. I just saw Krapp's Last Tape, one of my favorite Beckett’s, and loved it.
However, for the most part, I find the Shakespeare productions to my tastes overproduced. I also intensely dislike of the cavernous and impersonal Sidney Harmon Center as a theater space, whereas I love the Lansburgh and consider it the finest theater space in DC. But what I have come to dislike most about the STC is the house style of overly enunciating and painfully slowly and sing-songly delivering the language. I also find the overly elaborate stagings and sets as intentionally playing to one segment of audience, who subsidize productions.
I have gotten rather spoiled by the American Shakespeare Center, formerly the SSC, a troupe I have followed since its 1990 appearance at the SAA in Philly. To badly paraphrase Stephen Booth: I saw the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express the other evening, I am shall never be able to think the same about Shakespearean production again. The so-called original production values at the American Shakespeare Center privilege the language over and above any of the other aspects of the productions. That language is delivered quickly and distinctly in a manner suggesting normal speech rhythms. The fast pace to me presents Shakespeare in a completely accessible manner, open to everyone and not going for the bucks over great productions.
I may have over stated my case above, but if I have, I have purposely done so to be provocative and to challenge others to consider Shakespeare in production, perhaps using my dialectical model as a starting point for discussion.