Your first experience with a live Shakespeare performance may arouse such elementary memories of popcorn-littered aisles and squeaky seats in a darkened theatre. The crisp sound of pages being turned in the programmes echo among the orchestral coughs and sniffs from the swelling audience. You watch out for occasional billows of the curtain to check if the cast is still breathing. As last-minute muttering and throat-clearing cease, the curtains part at long last and in come those motley-garbed proctors of pentameter ready for a blissful two hours of tragedy, comedy and drama.
Whether you are part of the audience, an actor, a set participant, or all of the above, any stage adaptation of a Shakespeare play must be nothing short of an adventure. Before my December 7th viewing of Twelfthe Night comes under way, I sought out some likely candidates who would share their experiences with Shakespeare performances.
“The last Shakespeare play I’ve seen was Henry V about a year ago”, said Annabel (faantine). “The whole set was made of naked pine to represent
The Globe. The only colours were the coats of arms on the noblemen who fought at Agincourt on the top half of the back wall. There was a kind of ‘pyrotechnics’ in the form of two clappers and a shower of sparks coming down at the siege of Harfleur. The comedic aspects were really vamped up, like Henry his cloak on inside out when everyone came back in from the wooing scene, and Fluellen walking about with a leek in his hat because he was proud to be Welsh (he loses a bet with someone at some point and has to eat it at the end….I think.)”
Veronica Paredes, a Theatre graduate from Carroll University and a cast member of its 2013 production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, had unequivocal experiences with viewing plays as well as performing in them with her fellow cast mates.
“I think they’re both equal in that sometimes it’s hard understanding a play performance without the text in front of you”, said Paredes. “I like viewing and performing equally. I’ve seen Othello at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and it was amazing! The director used the concept of Othello being in a motorcycle gang, but the text was still Shakespearean. Another one I’ve seen was Measure for Measure at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, which was a bit harder to grasp on what it was about, but I somehow understood it.”
“I have performed in a somewhat Shakespearean play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. I didn’t really have lines in Shakespearean, but my cast mates who played Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did. Some of them grasped onto Shakespeare verse like it was modern day English and some of the others had a difficult time getting the gist of Shakespeare. I did perform monologues from As You Like It as Phoebe, A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Hermia, and in Cymbeline as Imogen. When I first started learning Shakespearean verse, it was extremely hard knowing if the verse was iambic pentameter or trochaic and where the stress was on the syllables of each word. But, there’s more to learning about the complexity of Shakespearean verse like prose, banter, and the punctuation that Shakespeare put it has a lot more meaning. Another thing that’s hard about acting in a Shakespeare play is that the blocking and movement is up to the director and actor since Shakespeare did not really write stage directions when he wrote his plays. After performing for a while, it becomes natural and to me it is a bit easier memorizing Shakespearean verse. I think that Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies still resonate within the Arts today because they’re classics, and performing the verse in a Shakespeare comedy or tragedy has to flow to the rhythm of the heartbeat. It takes a lot of practice to learn Shakespeare and sometimes the context of the lines is easy to pick up. Shakespeare was also somewhat ahead of his time (such as Hamlet being born by a c-section). Overall, reading and performing his plays do blow our minds.”