The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1452  Monday, 19 July 2004

From:           Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 16 Jul 2004 11:08:25 -0700
Subject: 15.1434 Most Popular Shakespeare Plays
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1434 Most Popular Shakespeare Plays

I think Susan St. John as come closest to settling the question of which
plays are the most popular to produce: it's the same old high-school war
horses that everyone thought of as favorites in the 1950's, The
Crucible, Our Town, You Can't Take it With You, Arsenic and Old Lace,
The Man Who Came to Dinner, plus Midsummer Night's Dream.  Why not more
Shakespeare?  Kids find him boring? Forget it, they don't. Not enough
female roles? Could well be, though that's almost as fixable today with
females playing male roles as it was in Shakespeare's time when males
played female roles.

Susan's reference was to surveys of 700 high schools, out of over 25,000
in the US.  They are probably representative of the larger group, which
far outnumbers the 3,000+ colleges and junior colleges in the country.
Even if Waiting for Godot were more popular than Arsenic and Old Lace in
colleges, which is not self-evident to me, it would be far surpassed by
the much greater numbers in high school.  Could Arsenic and Old Lace, in
turn, be swamped by grade school productions of plays like Mr. Popper's
Penguins, since there are four or five times as many grade schools as
high schools?  I doubt it, since "play groups" have quite a different
meaning for 4th graders than for 11th graders, but who knows?  At the
five Claremont Colleges, where I teach, at least two or three of the
15-20 major and minor productions put on each year are Shakespeare,
evenly spread out among his major plays.  If there have slight local
favorites over the last 36 years, I would guess they would be Macbeth
and As You Like It.  As far as I can recall, Hamlet was performed only
once, in a 4-hour almost uncut marathon at Scripps, our only woman's
college, with a wiry, athletic Scripps senior playing the lead, and
playing it very well.

Ward Elliott

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