Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 292. Thursday, 7 Nov 1991.
Date: Wed, 06 Nov 91 10:43:04 EST
Subject: 2.0288 Cuts & Interpolations in Performance
Comment: Re: SHK 2.0288 Cuts & Interpolations in Performance
In response to Roy Flannagan--
Your points are well taken. Shakespeare's texts, when "messed with" lose
their timeless quality. I, too, find Olivier's Hamlet a bit dated, somewhat
like an obsession commercial. Although I had no problems with Zeffirelli's
R & J, I am sure certain things stick out as sixtiesish.
I do differ with you in some respects. First, can we claim Shakespeare's
works are really timeless? If directors feel the need to make changes, does
that not speak to a different outlook in the twentieth century? If not the
text, other theatrical conventions have been changed. Our theaters are shaped
differently, our actors have a twentieth century style, technology changed, etc
But more importantly, what does it matter if theater has a timeless nature?
Film is one thing; it is preserved intact. A movie is somewhere closer to
a painting, once it is complete it can be viewed over and over. The movie,
like the artwork, changes as the society which views it changes. But with the
movie, Shakespeare the screenwriter and Shakespeare the playwright have little
in common. Shakespeare's conventions of the stage can not hold for the screen.
Modern cinema must adapt any Shakespeare script, making it cinematic,
entertaining, otherwise you end up with BBC productions, which, while chocked
full of good acting, are boring to all ends.
But theater is different. Theater is not timeless. It is immediate. As a
student of the theater (director/actor/writer) the one thing I have learned
is the extent to which the play is influenced by the audience. Not only in
rehearsal, when we must consider sightlines or audience reaction or how long
the text can be before people in the front row begin to fall asleep, but in
performance, when the play takes on a life of its own each night and actors
respond to the energy of the audience, whether silent tension, laughter, or
boredom. There is no use for a play which can be reproduced exactly year
after year--It cannot be done night after night the same way and still be
interesting. Very few plays run for more than a year. Some musicals do,
but few plays. Texts stay around, old scripts are revived, and productions
are taken on the road. But the play lasts only from eight pm to ten thirty.
I don't know if I have made myself clear. One of the dangers American Theater
is prey to is losing its immediacy. This has little to do with Shakespeare
and yet is intricately tied to his work. Experimentation which goes on with
Julius Ceasar is often a dismal failure. But it is often an extreme success.
Even "traditional" productions are anything but that. If, somehow, we could
preserve the theatrical experience and replay it the next evening or the next
month or the next century, it would make no sense. Theater occurs at the
moment it occurs. That, not its beauty nor its timelessness, is where the