The fool doth think he is wise

News & Other Fun Stuff

First Ira Glass, now Julian Fellowes.

There’s a new movie version of Romeo and Juliet out this week, adapted for the screen by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame*. I say “adapted” because Mr. Fellowes has “taken liberties with the original text,” according to the New York Times review of the movie. The way I hear it, he uses less than half the original text and even adds some new scenes. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so perhaps it’s unfair of me to judge. But then again…

Regarding why he changed the text, Fellowes told the BBC,

When people say we should have filmed the original, I don’t attack them for that point of view, but to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearean scholarship, and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on.

I can do that because I had a very expensive education; I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that, and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare’s language choices.

Well la-dee-dah, Mr. Fellowes.  It strikes me as unbelievably condescending to suggest that people who do not share your fancy educational background are therefore too stupid to understand Shakespeare, no matter how “perfectly intelligent” they may be.

Last summer I directed Romeo and Juliet for Midsommer Flight, a free Shakespeare in the park production in two Chicago neighborhood parks. I cut the script down for time to run about 100 minutes, but our version was still 100% Shakespeare’s words. Plenty of small children came to the see the show, and totally loved it. Plenty of neighborhood residents (most of whom probably didn’t attend Cambridge) came to the show and told us it was one of the best things they had ever seen. We made our audiences laugh, cry, and cheer. The phenomenal cast did their job as actors, to communicate the story with clarity and passion. And audiences had no trouble understanding it.

Maybe Mr. Fellowes himself doesn’t understand how universal Shakespeare’s plays can be when good actors communicate the story. Maybe he doesn’t know how to pull those kinds of performances from his actors, or doesn’t trust that his actors are capable of doing so. Whatever the case, he’s just plain wrong.

This piece in The Guardian quotes several folks who pretty much nail my point of view on the subject. I’ll give one of them the last word:

Fiona Banks, head of learning at Globe Education, said his comments risked alienating potential audiences. She told the BBC: “To see Shakespeare in the original, in its absolutely unchanged form, we need nothing more than a performance space and a company of actors who are able to share his stories in a way that engages their audience.” She added: “It would be very worrying if anyone read [Fellowes’s comments] and felt excluded from Shakespeare’s original language because of their level of education.”

*Disclosure: I confess I do love Downton Abbey, this post notwithstanding.

Director’s Nightmare

Life in the Theatre

Most of us are familiar with the Actor’s Nightmare: that horrible dream in which you are going onstage for a play that you have never rehearsed (and immortalized in a play by Christopher Durang).

Last night I woke up at 2 AM from a goofy variation of that dream that I’m calling the Director’s Nightmare. It was final dress rehearsal for a show (I don’t know what) at some theatre (I don’t know where) with a huge cast (I don’t know who, except for two specific actors). At the beginning of the dream, I had the sinking realization that we had not worked, drilled, or polished any of the physical staging – not the blocking, nor choreography (there were dance numbers), nor stage combat.

I gave a pep talk to the actors. “I know we haven’t drilled everything like we should have. I suppose that’s partly my fault and I’m sorry. But we still have tonight, so let’s do as much as we can. Let’s get to work.” Then, as we broke to get ready to begin, an actress (who is actually in my current production of Much Ado) came up to me and asked if she could go get a sandwich.

Then we drilled the opening number, a huge piece of choreography with actors paired up to dance together. My two leads, playing a bride and a groom, couldn’t get the timing of a lift right, and were conspicuously off beat from the rest of the cast. The groom, by the way, was being played by a fight designer that I’ve worked with a lot, which I noted was odd. We drilled it over and over and they weren’t getting it and we were running out of time to rehearse and it was only the first number out of this whole big show that we had to work on.

Also, in a nice throwback to the early-90s, in order to keep running the dance I had to keep rewinding the music track on a boombox and pressing play, over and over again. Come to think of it, why was I doing that? There was no crew, no stage management, just me and the actors.

Anyway, then I woke up. And thankfully I laughed instead of cried. Ah, life in the theatre!

Currently Running: Much Ado About Nothing

Show Information

My Shakespeare in the park production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 24, on Saturdays at 6pm and Sundays at 2pm. You can visit the Midsommer Flight website for details about park locations, pre-show musical guests, and more.

I’m delighted that we have received great critical response to the show.

A rollicking, high-energy Much Ado About Nothing! Ashlee Edgemon [as Beatrice] and Martel Manning [as Benedick] offer us convincingly zesty, bawdy versions of the two lovers….Midsommer Flight gives us the meat of a marvelous play in a form that all can enjoy, for one evening turning a nothing scrap of city park into an imaginative something to behold. -Hugh Iglarsh, Newcity Stage. Read the whole review.

Beth Wolf and Midsommer Flight’s Much Ado About Nothing is highly entertaining… people should flock to it to see the magic that is created by this talented group through poetic language, superb story-telling, and strong direction and acting. -James Murray, Showbiz Chicago. Read the whole review.

hysterical! …a tightly packed comedy… the action clips. The barbs fly. The love grows. It’s time to fall in love with Shakespeare’s unlikely couple. -Katy Walsh of The Fourth Walsh. Read the whole review.

Amazing production….a delightful performance, accessible and involving. -Barbara Keer of Splash Chicago. Read the whole review.

The show is presented free to the public. Come early with a picnic to enjoy free Shakespeare in the park!

Blog, Resurrected. Part 2.

Life in the Theatre

So my previous post would have been better titled Blog, Interrupted, since my daughter woke up from her nap about a minute after I started writing.

Nevertheless: blog resurrected, now with a shiny new layout.

I’ll write about creating theatre, seeing theatre, and balancing theatre with the rest of life. I’ll also post updates about my own theatre projects as they unfold, links to articles/websites/news that I find interesting, and anything else that I feel like sharing. Allons-y!

Blog, Resurrected.

Life in the Theatre

So, I’ve been away for awhile.

In my defense, I was doing important things: directing plays, getting a new theatre company off the ground, having a baby. Time-consuming, energy-sucking, life-altering kinds of things.

Speaking of, I hear the baby waking up from her nap. So, pontificating about the intersection of life and theatre will have to wait.

But, I think I’m back. I hope.