Fall is a time for revisiting traditions, from football and Pumpkin Spiced Everything to trick-or-treat and turkey. This time of year, we cherish old favorites and reinvent them in new ways, and that certainly extends to the world of Shakespeare, where actors, directors, scholars, and teachers are all invested in broadening both the scope and the audience of classic plays.
The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival‘s 12th season features a one-hour adaptation of Macbeth traveling to schools around the Big Island this fall. The four actors in the touring company will give a free performance at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu tomorrow, October 16, at 5 pm, followed by a discussion with Festival director Tony Pisculli. The adaptation uses Shakespeare’s language and highlights the relationship between Macbeth, who remains on stage for the duration of the show, and the witches. In the Spring, the Festival will repeat the process with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The flexible, minimalist approach allows the company to offer performances affordably without substantial demands on school resources like space, lighting, and time.
In a similar vein, I am especially excited about this ninth season of CPS Shakespeare! This initiative, led by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s education team, matched 26 students from ten Chicago public schools with New York based director Kirsten Kelley, CPS English teacher Sandra Shimon, and Chicago-based movement and voice director Matt Hawkins to create a “unique and personal vision” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They have rehearsed for over 100 hours and will perform November 7th and 8th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s courtyard theater. The project also involves professional development opportunities for teachers within the city district and additional outreach to area schools. Education director Marilyn Halperin explains: ” CPS Shakespeare! at its core is an agent of change, a “defy-er” of boundaries. Of racial and cultural boundaries that demarcate one neighborhood from the next. Of the perceived boundaries swirling around complex texts, words, language and thought.”
Harlem is a neighborhood with a long tradition of questioning literary and cultural boundaries. Langston Hughes wrote a short play Shakespeare in Harlem in 1942. While the text has been lost, you can get a sense of the series of vignettes from this contemporary review of a 1960 performance. Last summer, the Classical Theater of Harlem performed Romeo N Juliet in Marcus Garvey Park. You can get a sense of the issues and tension around adaptation from this fairly mixed New York Times review, which praises the production’s energy while questioning revealing costumes and an “incessant soundtrack.” A new independent film, Romeo and Juliet in Harlem, will screen at the Big Apple Film Festival on Saturday, November 8, 2014. This adaptation mixes Shakespeare’s language with an interracial representation of the star-crossed lovers. The Capulets, led by the most well-known member of the cast, stage and film star Harry Lennix as the patriarch, are African American, the Montagues Latino. You can see the trailer here. Aleta Chappelle, a Hollywood casting director who has done other projects focusing on theater in Harlem, directs.
Shakespeare in Detroit’s artistic director Sam White is another African American woman creating new visions of Shakespeare. She spoke at TEDx Detroit a couple of weeks ago about the evolution of her passion for Shakespeare and her commitment to developing a world-class Shakespeare company in a financially beleaguered city. The group announced today that they will present King Lear in the Spring, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for more details and development.
Are there exciting adaptations and outreach projects happening in your area? Keep us posted and we’ll help spread the word.