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Shakespearean Productions

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.065  Monday, 13 February 2012

 

[1] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         February 11, 2012 9:10:23 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

[2] From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         February 11, 2012 12:26:00 PM EST

     Subject:     Shakespearean productions

 

[3] From:        Paul Barry < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         February 11, 2012 4:08:34 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

[4] From:        Jemma Alix Levy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         February 11, 2012 8:38:36 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

[5] From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         Friday, February 10, 2012

     Subject:     Shakespearean Productions

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         February 11, 2012 9:10:23 AM EST

Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

I agree with everything Hardy has said.  I also agree with Paul Barry that much depends on the variant visions of Ralph Cohen and Michael Kahn.  But not enough has been said about the companies themselves.  The ASC is blessed with a resident company of highly professional actors whose dedication to their craft and to Shakespeare and other Renaissance drama borders (nay, it crosses into) sacrifice.  They work with each other in almost every performance and to a large extent live in close proximity to each other.  Despite that, it seems they genuinely like and respect each other and have no observable professional jealousy.  I have to believe that this close-knit familial relationship is a significant factor contributing to the uniformly excellent productions they mount.

 

The ASC has my complete support and I hope we can all do what we can for them.

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Anthony Burton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         February 11, 2012 12:26:00 PM EST

Subject:     Shakespearean productions

 

Hardy,

 

The same concerns as your own have been much on my mind since writing the essay on unrecognized asides in Merchant that found its way into Laury Magnus’ and William Cannon’s “Who Hears in Shakespeare?” followed by seeing One Man Two Gov’nors in the “Live from London” series at out local theater some months ago and then two days ago, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III in the very large Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM to us New Yorkers).  

 

It seems to me that Shakespeare regularly made extensive use of asides to and involving the audience, such as one sees with wonderful skill and comic effect in Two Gov’nors.  It also seems that the proscenium stage strongly invites operatic declamation and a consequent loss of both the intimacy required for asides to work best and also the ironic or ambivalent subtlety that is catnip to academics and other attentive readers.  It also invites conventionalized, ill-considered and undramatic performances of the more familiar “favorites,” many of which I believe to be gross misreadings inherited from the narrow tastes of the post-Garrick years of Shakespeare’s deification—which more modern historical scholarship is very, very slowly correcting.  The small thrust stage, in contrast, invites interaction with an audience who may be as nearby as other actors on stage, and consequently a rediscovery of the need for such things as asides and other vehicles that lend themselves to the outsiders’ perspective and thus to ironic commentary and other breaches of the fourth wall. My essay on the asides in Merchant leads to an entirely new imagination of the rôle of Shylock, the trial scene and consequently the whole thrust of the play.    

 

And it seems that without noticing it, I’ve been on this wavelength for many years.  I wrote an essay for June Schleutter’s and Paul Nelson’s 2006 Acts of Criticism that argued for a new understanding of Gertrude based on my own view that there is a three-part choreography to her characteristic actions consisting of (a) perception of potential discord (b) physical intervention by her between the parties involved and (c) a completely false reimagination and restatement of the immediate situation that serves to mollify feelings on both sides and preserve dignity all around.  One of my points there was that stage productions allow and rely on large movements across space, while film (and TV) productions are at their best with closeups that emphasize interiority—thought and emotion.  So I found that the four or five film versions of Hamlet which I dealt with all in my view diminished the role of Gertrude as indicated by the script itself.

 

All my best wishes,

Tony Burton

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Paul Barry < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         February 11, 2012 4:08:34 PM EST

Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

Dear Hardy:

 

We all tend to hire people who agree with us, and directors hire and re-hire actors who fit their ideas.  It makes sense.  Rehearsal time is short enough. Who wants to spend time convincing someone of your point of view?  I think you’ll find that directors who “specialize in Shakespeare” develop a style (for want of a better word) over the years and assemble acting companies that can make it work.  That’s both selfish and efficient.  I have the greatest respect for Ralph Cohen and his company, but I don’t agree with every thing they do.  Come to think of it, the only directors I ever completely agreed with were Angus Bowmer, Peter Brook, Michael Langham, and Robin Phillips.

 

If this be treason, make the most of it.

 

Love, 

Paul 

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Jemma Alix Levy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         February 11, 2012 8:38:36 PM EST

Subject:     Re: Shakespearean Productions

 

Dear Hardy,

 

As a student of Michael Kahn’s (from Juilliard) and Ralph Cohen’s (at Mary Baldwin in association with the American Shakespeare Center), I was a bit loathe to enter into this discussion for fear of upsetting either of my mentors.  However, after reading the responses of Mr. Costa and Mr. Barry, as well as your subsequent response to them, I feel that I need to say something.

 

I agree that these two theatres seem to have opposing styles (if one can say such a thing about theatre styles).  Yet I can assure you that, at least in their teaching, both Michael Kahn and Ralph Cohen are equally committed to Shakespeare’s language - just in different ways.  In my memory, Michael focused on how word choices fit into the world of the play and affected characters’ relationships and actions.  Ralph also had us look at language in relation to character and action, often leading us there through the poetry of the language and its rhetorical forms.  Both men, in their teaching, were (and I assume still are) absolutely clear that Shakespeare’s language is THE fundamental piece to understanding and producing his plays.  I recognize that this plays out very differently in each of their directing styles, but I have to agree with Mr. Barry on this one: Michael and Ralph have very different ideas about producing Shakespeare today, not about the importance of his words.

 

Jemma Alix Levy

Artistic Director

Muse of Fire Theatre Company

www.museoffire.webs.com

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Friday, February 10, 2012

Subject:     Shakespearean Productions

 

Dear All,

 

This will be writing on the fly since I want to get the digest out and to include a response, but I also am settling back after getting home, re-bonding with my Umbrella Cockatoo, who gets separation anxiety if I am not in view, and picking up my dogs from the vet’s where I was boarding them and having my high-maintenance, diabetic dog getting her glucose levels. 

 

Well, what do I say?

 

I hope that I have not given the impression that I strongly disapprove of the work of Michael Kahn and blindly favor that of Ralph Cohen. Obviously not. There have been productions from both companies that have knocked me out and others that have bored me to tears. I wrote about the reverse negative Othello with Patrick Stewart recently as a text opening production for me. Michael’s early Richard III with Stacy Keach while the company was still at the Folger Elizabethan Theater is THE Richard III that I will always think of first when I think back on productions of that play—it was SO much fun. The same goes for SSE/ASC productions.

 

However, I continue to rack up the numbers of Shakespeare productions I have seen, and they are at a virtually incalculable level, and run the gamut from Melissa’s community theater As You Like It when she was 8 to Peter Brook’s Dream to an amazing Richard II at the Other Place, and on and on. As my number of productions increases, I find I do have preferences. And what I was interested in when I started this thread was to explore matters of Shakespeare in performance today. 

 

I have alluded to my preferences regarding production values and matters of class and to theater spaces, but I would like to mention here involves what I see as issues related to language and acting styles. 

 

As one might imagine, I see Shakespeare’s language as being foremost in productions. I like it clear, fast-paced generally, and understandable to me and to the actors delivering it. Language is my foremost production value and influences the choice of space in which it is delivered.

 

Today, I would like to mention the relationship between language and acting. I prefer presentational acting to representational acting for Shakespeare. For this reason, I feel that actors should eschew the method for preforming Shakespeare. 

 

In this regard, I am reminded of the first season of Slings and Arrows, in which the film actor playing Hamlet, Jack Crew, does not want to do the text because then he would be acting Hamlet rather than emoting Hamlet.

 

In rehearsal of the closet scene, for example, we have the following:

 

Maria, the Stage Manager calls: “Polonius falls and dies.”

 

Ellen [as Gertrude]: O me, what hast thou done?

 

Jack [as Hamlet, improvising]: I don’t know. Who was it? Was it the king?

 

Ellen: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!

 

Jack: Yeah, right. Almost as bad as killing a king and marrying his brother, right?

 

Frank whispers to Cyril: Why is he allowed to do that?

 

Cyril: It’s the Method isn’t it, ducky. He’s making it his own. That’s how they do it in America.

 

Jack discovers Polonius: You IDIOT! You stupid idiot. I thought you were the King. Oh well, no great loss, ey?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W93QhEdo9E

 

 
 

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