Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shakespeare lives?

Had a fun discussion last week with a local theater director. We accidentally pushed one of his buttons and mentioned Shakespeare. He's intensely irritated when people want to do a play on contemporary issues and choose work by Teh Bard. His thinking is that if you want to do a piece on racism, pick something by a contemporary playwright. Sure, it's not a new issue and Othello covers some ground there. But it's not exactly current. If you want to do a play about racism, you've got lots and lots of choices -- all of which are arguably more applicable to modern life than Shakespeare, by virtue of being written less than 400 years ago.

He's also on the borderline between intensely irritated and intensely amused when people riff on Shakespeare: "It's just like Romeo and Juliet, but set in Prohibition-era Chicago". I did fight choreography for one of these a few years ago, a post-apocalyptic Hamlet. Think Shakespeare meets Mad Max. They hired me to choreograph the spiked baseball bat fight between Hamlet and Laertes (which ended up being a staff fight -- you can't do spiked baseball bats without either being dangerous or looking goofy).

The funny thing is, the director in question is completely okay with making a business decision to do Shakespeare. It's like a ballet company doing Nutcracker every year or a theater doing their annual A Christmas Carol. Your Nutcracker helps pay for your cool, original, artistic production of Interzone. He treats it like doing a show in rep, but on a 12-month repertory cycle.

If a theater's going to start updating Shakespeare, I'd prefer they update the language as well as the scenery and costumes. It's public domain; you can do that. You can even still call it "Romeo and Juliet" without getting in trouble (and I have to admit I liked the Baz Luhrmann version of R&J). But nobody ever does a direct line-for-line update, because once you put it in modern language you realize just how trite and overused Shakespeare is. The ideal is to write a new story around the bones of one of Shakespeare's plots. Doing this, you end up with West Side Story and Ten Things I Hate About You: stories that are only easily recognizable as Shakespeare-based to people who do professional criticism. This is also where a lot of non-Shakespeare theater and fiction comes from: non-obvious theft of existing material. :-)

1 comment:

Ashley said...

that is also where a lot of Shakespeare comes from: he was a good plagarist.