Shakespeare on the Road » Expert Podcasts celebrate William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday on a road trip to 14 Shakespeare festivals all around North America in one remarkable summer Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:09:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Interview with Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:27:44 +0000 Our visit to the Stratford Festival could not be complete without interviewing Antoni. He presides artistically over what is basically the national theatre of Canada. We saw five shows while we were there, all of them distinctive in their own way: Antony and Cleopatra and King John (in the Tom Patterson Theatre), Antoni’s own King Lear in the Festival Theatre, where we also saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And then we saw Peter Sellar’s Chamber Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The love and the affection which the town has for the festival is palpable. Here Antoni talks about how deeply intertwined the theatre and its surrounding community are; what makes Canadian acting distinctive; and how, although he sees the theatre itself as non-party-political, one its important intentions is to upset everybody equally…

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Dennis Krausnick talks about their approach to acting and training Sun, 24 Aug 2014 14:45:52 +0000 Dennis Krausnick, Head of Actor Training for Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, Massachusetts, has worked their for many years and is married to the founder and visionary of the company, Tina Packer. He is a dedicated teacher of Kristin Linklater‘s approach to truth in relation to the natural voice. In this extract from our interview with him he talks about the underlying principles of Shakespeare and Company, their approach to acting, why they do what they do, how they do it, and touches on Shakespeare’s popularity in the festival culture, and why we need his stories more than ever.

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Amerinda Shakespeare Ensemble Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:05:15 +0000 On the evening of Wednesday 13th August, we were privileged to attend a one-off workshop by the Amerinda Shakespeare Ensemble at Theatre Row on 42nd St. After the workshop, we talked with Diane Fraher, founder and director of Amerinda, the only organisation of its kind for native people, and Madeline Sayet, resident director and director of the Amerinda Shakespeare Ensemble. Here they discuss the dilemmas posed by working with Shakespeare, the overlaps between the oral culture of native Americans and that of early modern England, and – with an eye to the Wooster Group’s current production of Troilus and Cressida – how far there is still to go in terms of white culture’s representation of native Americans…

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Debra Ann Byrd Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:13:35 +0000 The Harlem Shakespeare Festival is now celebrating its second anniversary but would not exist at all if it weren’t for the energy, passion and vision of Debra Ann Byrd, its Artistic Director. I once heard Lisa Wolpe describe Debra Ann as a thing of ‘fabulosity’ – for some sense of what that might mean, listen to the interview we captured earlier this week in Harlem…

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Voza Rivers Fri, 15 Aug 2014 11:30:06 +0000 The great Voza Rivers, award-winning music and theatre producer and director of the New Heritage Theatre Group, NYC, tells us how he first became involved with producing Shakespeare and of his collaboration with Debra Ann Byrd, artistic director of the Harlem Shakespeare Festival…

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Judith Shakespeare – a New York tradition Thu, 14 Aug 2014 22:54:33 +0000 We’ve been painfully aware throughout this trip of all the great work we haven’t been able to see and are always happy when companies share new information with us. Below, JOANNE ZIPAY, Founder and Artistic Director of JUDITH SHAKESPEARE (based here in NYC) describes the company’s history and ethos…

Judith Shakespeare 2010 Proteus (Sheila Joon) -Valentine (Rachael Hip-Flores) - photographer  Deborah Failla

(Judith Shakespeare 2010 Proteus (Sheila Joon) – Valentine (Rachael Hip-Flores) – photographer Deborah Failla)

When I was in my 20s I decided that acting Shakespeare was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I was in my 30s and finished with grad school and well-taught in acting Shakespeare, I started going on auditions in NYC. I was soon heartily discouraged by the lack of imagination which directors had for casting women non-traditionally in Shakespeare roles. All of us fantastically-passionate trained women’s voices and bodies out there wandering around looking for work that was exciting and challenging, yet coming up against weak hearts and minds, unreceptive to all the talent going to waste right before their very eyes and ears.

So, I started Judith Shakespeare Company. This was the 90’s in NYC, and there wasn’t at that time very much Shakespeare in the Off-Broadway scene, so we were bringing strong text- and actor- based work to the community, and we were also giving women opportunities. This brought new perspective to the work, causing us to think about Shakespeare differently. We were conservative at first, and then got bolder as we went along and saw the possibilities.

From several women playing men’s roles in Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, to completely reversing genders in Julius Caesar, to recreating Prospero as a woman and mother in a man’s world but on a woman’s island – These plays began to speak in different ways to us. Our audiences saw that women playing men in the history plays didn’t make the stories any less bloody or necessarily any softer. A gender-blind History Cycle culminating with a gender-bending sex-drugs-rock-and-roll Richard 3 was just as ugly, violent, and fun with women playing many of the men’s roles (and men playing women’s roles too). From moment-to-moment the plays changed before our eyes, but they didn’t lose their essence. Why hadn’t this been done before?

Now hitting the 20-year mark, some of our dreams are coming true: More and more theatre companies world-over are casting women in roles traditionally played by men. Each day we have to ask ourselves if we still need to exist. One thing we’ve discovered is that we’re aging, so now we’re looking not just for more roles for women to do, but for more roles for older women to do.

Almost ten years ago, we began our new play program, RESURGENCE, focused on finding and producing contemporary plays written in verse and other forms of heightened language. These plays are required to have significant roles for women, and interestingly, many of them also do have roles for older women. These plays, unlike Shakespeare’s, won’t go back on the shelves with the roles we played reverting back to men’s roles. These plays have roles for women firmly in place, written in the poetic, heightened styles we love and long to play. And so we continue our work.

We’ve been called radical – and sometimes it seems we’re tamely conventional. I guess it all depends on who’s looking at us and listening to us. But people believe in what we’re doing and follow our work, and we’re always trying to bring what we do to new kinds of audiences. I know we have opened some eyes and some minds, and helped people to see and hear Shakespeare’s language more clearly. We have a deep commitment to bringing the language to life by taking the time to really understand it on a deep level. Dramaturgy, physical training, vocal training, cross-gender work (for both men and women), text work, stage combat – these are all a part of how we train ourselves on an ongoing basis to dig into the work and understand it better.

One of the most interesting things to me is discovering why Shakespeare wrote a character as a male or as a female – What did he want to reveal about human behavior by making that person one gender or the other? When we ask this question and factor our observations into the work, we learn about the play and we learn about ourselves and our world. And more questions pop up.

Interestingly and predictably, there are varying reactions to the work. Perspective and life experience have an awful lot to do with how an audience member will react. When we did our reverse-gender Julius Caesar in 1999 and again in 2000, we asked audiences what they thought of the men playing women and the women playing men. Older men seemed to become obsessed with the Brutus-Portia scene because what they SAW was a man kneeling to a woman, but the male actor was actually playing a woman. The submissiveness was disturbing when demonstrated by a man. Women actors pointed out that they had always thought of Portia as a strong woman, but when they saw a man kneeling in that way they realized she was not as strong as they thought. Kneeling by a man to a woman: not at all the same as a woman kneeling to a man. By reversing the genders we can SEE what we take for granted in the gender-specific behaviors of men and women. What’s so fascinating is that it is often the little things that turn out to be huge button-pushers, because we don’t notice them from day to day.

On the other hand, when we asked high school audiences about the gender-reversed casting, they seemed surprised that we even asked the question. It didn’t matter to them, and it didn’t change the play so drastically for them that they couldn’t follow the story and the emotional journeys of the characters. “What was the big deal,” they wanted to know, “about this cross-gender thing?” Over the years, people have reacted less and less extremely. I think the questions around gender have been asked now for several decades and our newer generations are not as worked up about it.

In 2001, before we did The Tempest, we produced an event called The Tempest Project, in which we presented various scenes from the play which centered on power and authority (master/servant, parent/child), cast in a variety of ways with regard to gender, race, and age. Then we asked the audience to tell us honestly how it affected them. It was a fascinating experiment, we learned a lot, and we’ve taken what we’ve learned and incorporated it into our work. Once again, school audiences reacted differently than the older audiences, in this case quite passionately – about race especially.

And the constant “cross-training” our company members are doing – playing men in one show, women in another – brings information from one experience directly into another. In The Tempest Project we learned a lot watching one of our male actors play Miranda – she was more dynamic, more demanding, even angry about being denied her birthright – something we had somehow missed as women, learning we can be caught in many of the same gender-expectations as men. Humbling. And so eye-opening.

Shakespeare always played with gender and gender-disguises, so his plays are wonderful opportunities for continuing a centuries-long conversation about gender politics – how gender restricts us and how it frees us. What we enjoy continuing to do is placing these questions into bas relief so they can be seen and heard – recognition and awareness are the beginning of change of any kind. I think, in our small way, we are changing some things, and we’re having a blast doing it.

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Professor Miriam Gilbert Recalls a Golden Summer in Ashland Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:41:17 +0000

It’s 1971 and I’m on my first visit to Ashland, Oregon. I’ve been teaching Shakespeare at the University of Iowa for two years and on a west coast trip, I’ve driven up to Ashland for their well-known Shakespeare Festival. Around 6:30 on a summer evening, I’m sitting on a park bench, munching a sandwich, when I suddenly hear strange noises—clang, clang, clang—that feel distinctly out of place. What could be going on? I look around and finally glance up, towards the theatre and there, on what I later realize is the backstage area, are two men whacking away with broadswords—and then I remember that I’m about to see 1 Henry IV and that I must be hearing, if not exactly seeing, Hotspur and Prince Hal practicing for their Shrewsbury conflict.

That moment has stayed with me, perhaps because it epitomizes the close contact between the stage and the town, between performers and audience. I returned to Ashland twice more, in 1973 and 1975, to teach high school teachers through workshops run by the Festival. There is now an extensive education department, but even in the early 70s, these workshops, as well as public lectures, offered ways in which the theatre reached out to the general public. And sometimes, excitingly, the public reached back. I still remember the discussion in 1975 of the fight scene in Romeo and Juliet when Tybalt stabbed Mercutio in the side, in a move that left no visible wound, but must have punctured a lung, since Mercutio didn’t discover that he was injured until blood started pouring from his mouth.

In talking about the production, we focused on this moment which was both surprising and shocking—and also on a textual problem that it seemed to solve, namely, why does Tybalt, after leaving the stage, return almost immediately. And then we talked with Eric Booth Miller, playing Tybalt, and asked him what was happening. He wasn’t sure—he knew that the text required him to come back, but he hadn’t really thought of why. But we could see the wheels turning and after that discussion, several of us rushed to the box office to buy a ticket for that night’s performance. Sure enough, our questions and comments had struck a nerve; this evening, Tybalt didn’t come back as “the furious Tybalt” or “in triumph” but more gingerly, as if trying to see what he had done. And then he was visibly shocked to find out that Mercutio was dead—all conveyed through body language. Our workshop group was thrilled to see how our questions had clearly spurred some rethinking and restaging of this moment.

Stage to audience and back to the stage. And in that season’s most memorable production, Audrey Stanley’s The Winter’s Tale, the last moments of the play also involved that relationship. The moving strains of Pachelbel’s Canon in D underscored the coming to life of Hermione and then continued through the final speeches. All of the characters, now dressed in white, joined hands and moved downstage together—and, every time I saw that production, the audience rose, not only to applaud, but to share the happiness.

Miriam Gilbert is Professor Emerita of English, The University of Iowa.

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Novelist Jinny Webber talks about the origins of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:41:40 +0000 We’ve just arrived in Ashland, Orgeon, so here’s a little history of the place from an American novelist who is currently resident in England….

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is located in the town of Ashland, Oregon, not far north of the California border. The Festival began as a Fourth of July celebration in 1935, but the theatre itself dates back to 1893. A circular performance area was constructed in Ashland as part of the Chautauqua movement, a summer series of performers and lecturers who travelled through the rural United States. By the 1920’s Chautauqua had declined, but the outer walls of the Ashland structure remained.

Angus Bowmer, a young professor at the local teacher’s college (now Southern Oregon College), observed that the walls resembled those he’d seen in sketches of Elizabethan playing spaces. He obtained permission from the city of Ashland to stage Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice as a “festival” to be performed by members of the college over July 3, 4, and 5 of 1935.

The Ashland city council agreed, with expenses not to exceed $400. A Depression works project, the State Emergency Relief Administration, supplied the construction crew. This is my favorite part of the story. In order to guarantee a return on their investment, the council insisted that a boxing match be held the afternoon of the shows. Bowmer agreed: after all, bear baiting had been held in or near Bankside theatres in Shakespeare’s day.

The outcome? The play festival was a huge success and made enough money to offset the losses of the boxing matches!

So was born the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in what was once a gold-rush town set in a pretty valley adjacent to the Rogue River and the Oregon Coastal Range. Until World War II broke out, it was an annual Fourth of July event. It was suspended when Angus Bowmer enlisted in the U.S. Army. On his return, the city asked him to resume the Shakespeare Festival. In 1947 he became the first producing director, a paid position, and the OSF has been thriving ever since.
The outdoor Elizabethan theatre was redesigned in the 1950’s in a Tudor style roughly resembling the Globe. In 1970, the 600-seat indoor Bowmer theatre was built. A rehearsal space, formerly the Ashland Chevrolet car dealership, became the intimate Black Swan theatre in 1977. Seating only 130 people and hampered by a massive concrete support pillar which had to be included in set designs, a new small theatre was needed. Construction of the Thomas Theatre was completed in 2002 and seats around 200, depending on how the seating is configured.

Although the summer season at the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre runs only from early June to early October, the two indoor venues make a 10-month schedule possible, February through November, which is rare for festival theatres. The season usually includes 11 plays, at least 6 of them by Shakespeare. As it is based on the repertory system, even actors with major roles usually perform in one or two other plays. Classics and contemporary plays round out the schedule, and occasionally a new play premiers at the Festival. The NY Tony winner for best play of 21014, All the Way by Robert Schenkkan, premiered at Ashland, as did Bill Cain’s award-winning Equivocation.

Many school groups and audiences such as myself attend the Festival every year as a delightful theatrical holiday. Walk up through Lithia Park in the morning, attend plays in the afternoon and evening. There are Green shows before the summer evening performances as well as lectures and talks indoors and out, and the backstage tour is always a treat.

Jinny Webber www.jinnywebber.comis the author of The Shakespeare Actor Trilogy, volumes 1 and 2 now out: The Secret Player (2012) and Dark Venus (2014) See
She has been writing part of the trilogy as a writer in residence of The Hosking Houses Trust in Clifford Chambers, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Stephen H Grant on the Folgers as great American Shakespeareans Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:02:39 +0000

It has taken eighty-two years for a biography to be written about the founders of the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Library was dedicated on the Bard’s 368th birthday, April 23, 1932. COLLECTING SHAKESPEARE received rave reviews from the Washington Post and Washington Times when it was released on the Bard’s 450th birthday; after two months it went into a second printing.

Henry and Emily Folger were the first in their families to attend college, which each needed financial assistance to complete. They graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1879, he from Amherst College in Massachusetts and she from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He obtained a law degree at Columbia and she a masters in Shakespeare Studies at Vassar in 1896, when only 250 women in the United States obtained a degree at that level. Both would receive honorary doctorates in letters from Amherst.

Henry spent his entire career working for Standard Oil Company of New York (SOCONY), rising through ranks to become CEO from 1911 to 1928. SOCONY later became Mobil Oil Corporation. Lacking a college education, his boss, John D. Rockefeller Sr., found invaluable Folger’s skill in computing cost-benefit analyses of the firm’s oil refineries. Henry circulated over 4,500 memos to company brass. He was a beloved mentor to the firm’s younger executives.

A childless couple, Henry and Emily were devoted to each other, in love with Shakespeare, and smitten by the collecting bug. Henry corresponded with 600 booksellers, 150 in London alone. Emily read through 258 linear feet of book auction catalogues, turning over the corner of a page and writing in pencil a question mark in front of an item she thought they needed to have a complete Shakespeare collection, so Henry, at the end of his work day, could develop a bid list he dispatched the next day to his commission agents, chief among whom was Dr. Abraham Rosenbach, renown bookseller in Philadelphia and New York. When the books, manuscripts, engravings, playbills, and paintings arrived, Emily wrote thorough descriptions of the items in her card catalog and had them sent to storage warehouses and bank vaults under her name.

The Folgers devoted themselves single-mindedly and unashamedly to the Bard during the Gilded Age. They received family visitors only twice a year, at Thanksgiving and on New Years. They participated in no business luncheons or social events. Eschewing the executive dining room at the Standard Oil Company headquarters, Folger walked around the park munching on an apple and feeding the pigeons. The 92,000 volumes they acquired relating to Shakespeare and his age amount to six books a day. Chief among their treasures are eighty-two First Folios, printed in London in 1623, all different in some way.

With a successful combination of intelligence, devotion, and nerdiness, Folger went to the very top of two endeavors, the oil industry and antiquarian book collecting. It’s a great American story.

Stephen H Grant’s COLLECTING SHAKESPEARE: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger was published by Johns Hopkins Press in 2014.

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Ellen Geer on American Theatre, Shakespeare, and Politics Sat, 26 Jul 2014 20:34:15 +0000 Ellen Geer is the presiding genius of Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. We have all of us found this to be an astonishing place and we look forward to reflecting on our time here as part of the radio documentary we will be making and the book we will be compiling in light of our experiences.

For the time being, we believe this forty-minute interview with a great woman will explain why we find this place to be remarkable, essential, and life-giving.

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