PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

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The latest edition of Audi magazine is out and our Shakespeare Pro app is featured as the must-have app for every Audi owner. Award-winning Audi magazine delivers more than the latest Audi news and vehicle information. It is an immersive dive into the products, the technologies, the lifestyle and the vision of one of the world's top luxury brands....and Shakespeare is at the top of their list!

 

 

Tagged in: audi shakespeare app

The proliferation of digital editions of Shakespeare's works is no doubt a great thing. Just 10 years ago when this site started, it was difficult to find them—primarily because there were really only two or three editions in the public domain. Now there is a larger selection (including the PlayShakespeare.com editions used on this site) and it's enabling students, teachers, scholars, theatre professionals, computer programmers and even the average fan to rework the bard in new ways.

At PlayShakespeare.com, we believe strongly in the philosophy of open source. When intellectual property is released to the world using an open source license, it fosters creativity and innovation in building upon those ideas, create new works, and make them better. When open source is supported, everyone benefits. That combined with creating a high quality digital edition was a driving principal in 2005 when the first version of our editions was created. It had to be free because existing editions (Arden, Riverside, Folger, etc.) were all proprietary.

What's the difference between "free" and "free"? This is a point of confusion for most people. Often the word "free" is used when promoting open source material. But free can mean several things and it's very important to distinguish the difference:

  1. "Free of charge" means you don't have to pay for it. You can download it with no cost to you at all.
  2. "Freedom to use" means you can do whatever you want with it—adapt it, give it away, sell it, etc.

Just because you have #1 doesn't automatically mean you have #2 (and vice-versa). The definition of "open source" is defined by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and the Freedom Software Foundation (FSF). In short, the definition of open source doesn't mean the source code is freely available to download. This is a common misconception. Open source defines the conditions of usage of that source code. If that usage is restricted (especially commercially), it's not open source. 

There are a few "free" editions of Shakespeare's works available on the Internet. Here are the three most popular:

  • The Globe Edition was published in 1866 and based on Cambridge texts from the same decade. While groundbreaking in its time, Shakespeare scholarship has evolved leaps and bounds in the last 150 years so now this edition is sorely outdated with many errors.
  • The Moby Edition (icon.shef.ac.uk/Moby/mshak.html), created by The Moby Project, is essentially a minor deriviative of the Globe Edition with even more errors. It was available online until the project was later absorbed into Project Gutenberg.
  • The Oxford Shakespeare (www.bartleby.com/70) was published in 1914 by W. J. Craig for Oxford University Press. It is a somewhat improved edition over the Globe and Moby editions, but definitely shows its age at 100 years old.

These editions are in the public domain and are still freely available. Technically, they are not "open source" by definition, but since they are "free of charge" and "free to use", they are used all over the world in spite of their age and textual errors. They are not maintained in any way and are essentially "snapshots" of the time in which they were written 100-150 years ago.

To further illustrate the point, there likewise are other sources which claim to have either "free" and/or "open source" editions available:

  • MIT (shakespeare.mit.edu) This site uses the public domain Moby Edition. Ironically, MIT is the creator the popular MIT license for many kinds of open source software, but these texts are not released under it.

  • Folger Digital Texts (www.folgerdigitaltexts.org) The well-respected Folger Shakespeare Library launched their digital texts in December 2012 under the CC-ANC 3.0 license. Their site says:

    "The full source code of the texts may be downloaded by researchers and developers at no cost for noncommercial use."

    According to the definition of open source, the texts should be unencumbered to use in any project, commercial or not. No Creative Commons licenses currently qualify as open source since they come with restrictions that go against the spirit of it. So while the texts are being called "free", they are "free of charge", not free to use as you wish.

  • Open Source Shakespeare (www.opensourceshakespeare.org) This site uses the public domain Globe Edition. The license page doesn't state any particular open source license, but states:

    "You may download the OSS code and/or the database and use them in your personal, non-commercial projects without charge, as long as you give us credit and provide a link somewhere to www.opensourceshakespeare.org. Commercial use is not authorized without the permission from George Mason University."

    According to the definition of open source, users should be able to use the content in any project, for commericial use or not. In open source, no special permission is needed because it is, by default, open. So like the Folger Digital Texts, Open Source Shakespeare is "free of charge", not "free to use". Therefore, neither the site software nor the content are actually open source as the name of the website implies.

These are just three examples of digital editions in use by many people who are unfamiliar they might be breaking the law because the terms are unclear. What is a "non-commerical project"? Isn't a theatrical performance where I charge an admission fee considered a commerical project? There are many questions like these when an open source license isn't used. I question whether George Mason University or The Folger is going to send the "Shakespeare Police" after anyone, but are you sure? In some cases, you could be violating their copyright and not even know it.

The same issues also apply when it comes to the First Folio. Libraries usually claim ownership over their scans of the book and forbid any copying or distribution—for scanned copies of a book almost 400 years old! Obviously, the book content itself is in the public domain, but the scanned images of it are kept proprietary and copyrighted by the library or university. It's a shameful practice they should immediately halt (especially publicly funded ones).

In part because of this, in 2010 we set out to create an open source edition of the First Folio. It took us almost two years and we completed the project in 2012. We found that Jon Bosak created a public domain version of the First Folio in XML in 1998 (www.ibiblio.org/xml/examples/shakespeare) under the auspices of the Moby Project. It was a great FF project for its time, but very rudimentary and more of an exercise in technology than achieving a quality edition in XML. So we had to create our editions from scratch. 

A few months after we released the First Folio in XML, the Bodleian First Folio project at Oxford University (firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk) started a First Folio digitalization project, but it was specific to that edition and released under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0) so it doesn't qualify as open source. It doesn't contain the original spelling and a few other things like our First Folio edition, but it is available on GitHub (github.com/pipwillcox/BodleianFirstFolio).

We continue to publicly maintain our editions on GitHub and encourage feedback and contributions. We are proud to have created the first truly open source editions of Shakespeare's plays and the First Folio with an emphasis on quality. To us, the term "open source" isn't just a buzzword to use to attract people looking for free stuff. It's a different way of looking at copyright with the goal of fostering innovation and free thinking. We would love for others to contribute to that effort in any way they can. 

 

Why are the line numbers different?

Posted by on in General
We get asked this a lot and the answer may seem simple, but can sometimes be complicated to understand. So I put together a sample comparison between a few editions and some key points to consider.
 
Paper books gave us a durable medium which has lasted for centuries. It’s a fixed size, from small to large, and fits into a pocket or a bag. In Shakespeare’s day, this portability factor was key to making literature accessible to the masses.
 
In 2014, we have truly gone beyond the traditional paper book with eBooks and the Internet. Text no longer takes the form of a fixed layout on a page of predetermined size. Web pages flow continuously and you scroll to read. If you’re reading the NY Times on your computer, the pages and text flow will look different when viewed on your mobile phone or tablet device. Instead of content being predetermined by the author or publisher, it’s adapting to the context where it’s being displayed. The text may get larger when viewed on a mobile phone vs. what’s displayed on a big computer screen. If your eyes are bad, there might be a button to make the text larger, smaller, or change color to suit your preference.
 
Shakespeare’s texts have been studied in great detail over the years and a handy way to reference specific lines in each scene is by line numbers. This works great, but as publishers, editors, and scholars developed their own editions, line numbers varied due to editorial decisions—some editors preferred the quarto version over the folio version or vice-versa. This caused line numbers to be off by sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.
 
When Shakespeare’s text become electronic, line numbering became problematic because blank verse has defined line breaks, but prose doesn’t. This didn’t matter so much when we had print books because the columns were laid out by the book designer and prose line numbers could be adjusted to match a previous or alternate edition. But when the columns are different widths (or when there are no predefined columns at all), prose line numbers can be completely inconsistent.
 
If the plays were written entirely in blank verse, complete with hard line breaks for each line, the problem of prose line numbers wouldn’t exist. But that’s not the case. There are only five plays that are 100% verse:
 
Edward 3
Henry 6.1
Henry 6.3
King John
Richard 2
 
There are five plays that are mostly verse with a small percentage of prose:
 
Antony & Cleopatra (92%)
Julius Caesar (94%)
Macbeth (92%)
Titus Andronicus (98%)
Two Noble Kinsmen (95%)
 
And there are no plays that are 100% prose—Merry Wives of Windsor (87%) is the highest followed by Much Ado About Nothing (72%) and Twelfth Night (61%).
 
The spreadsheet below shows the line counts for Hamlet (72% verse) across a variety of editions, including the edition on this website the same edition used in our Shakespeare app.
 

line_numbers.png

 
As you can see, differences in print editions can vary by up to a few hundred lines. When it comes to digital editions, that variance can be even more depending on the screen size of the device (and font size) you’re using to view the texts because of how prose text reflows and editorial differences. The PlayShakespeare.com and Shakespeare app editions are identical, but they will reflow differently by as much as 100 lines over the course of a play. Plays with more prose will have more variance than plays with less. The 28% prose within Hamlet means the play could have large variance.
 
In my opinion, line numbers should never be dogmatic. Actors and directors rehearsing a modern play today would never use line numbers to find their place in the text (they estimate or navigating by act and scene numbers or page numbers). So I’ve always taken the tack that line numbers are a guide to get the reader in the ballpark, if not the exact line. If the line number is used in rehearsal, discussion, or study, its accompanied by a note or comment of some kind to give context.
 
So the next time someone insists that all editions are alike when it comes to line numbering, you can tell them that’s not at all true. Even the same edition viewed on multiple digital devices will also be different.
 

A Tiny Tempest

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Tact will be performing A Tiny Tempest, a fast paced 55 minute version of The Tempest at this years Edinburgh Fringe. If you are going to be there like our facebook page or contact me for special offers.

It has taken a (very) long time, but PlayShakespeare is proud to announce its first review of Two Gentlemen of Verona, performed in Shona (native to Zimbabwe), no less. London reviewer Craig Melson caught the production, which is part of the Globe-to-Globe festival hosted by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. You can read his review here.


Reviewing 'lesser done' Shakespeare is a key goal for the site. We have reviewed twenty-nine Midsummer Night's Dream productions, twenty-seven Hamlets, and twenty-two Macbeths. By contrast, for example, there are only two King John reviews--a fact we'd like to change over the coming year. Additionally, we are still looking to review a production of Two Noble Kinsmen, Sir Thomas Moore, and Edward III. If you are putting on a 'lesser done' Shakespeare in the near future, please be in contact with me or the staff reviewer in your area, as we are keen on reviewing your show.

NEW YORK, NY  - The Shakespeare's Sister Company  is raising funds for our all-female theatrical production William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"  to premiere Valentine's Day, 2012 in New York City's East Village. Our film noir version features chicks with guns during the 1929 St. Valentines Day Massacre.  The production is being presented as the Shakespeare's Sister Company's on-going mission in women's empowerment and social change for women's rights.

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The Need
In 23 days, we will need to raise a minimum of $8000 to get the show up and running for a solid production run.

In Our Production
This epic tragedy will be set in the roaring 1920's of Chicago when gang rivalries between the Italian and Irish sprung up over power struggles within the underworld culture. Emulating the Al Capone vs. Bugs Malone rivalry, the Capulet's will represent the Italian south side and the Montague's will claim the Irish north side.

Underground Speakeasies, playing jazz and rag time music, provide a mysterious setting to escape from the strict laws of prohibition. With a high unemployment rate leading toward the great depression, desperate people take desperate measures to maintain jobs and keep friends. The Capulet's host a masked ball where they invite policemen to drink from their illegal alcohol stock and seal the deal to keep their bootlegging anonymous. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet's masquerade party to spy on their transactions and falls into forbidden love with the fair Juliet. The Capulet's domination of bootlegging infuriates the Irish and sets up the tension leading to murderous fights between the two groups akin to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929.

Women have just gained the right to vote, but there is still much to fight for in this patriarchal and dangerous society. Juliet will test the waters of exploring women's new found freedom by dating a boy from the wrong side of town. She journeys from a young woman forced to have a constant guard (her nurse) to a cultured flapper who visits speakeasies, has male sleepovers, and is allowed to decide her own fate.

With an all female cast, this show will create opportunities for women to play both female and male roles in a divided society. Women will play the men as men allowing females to explore the violent nature of gangsters adjacent to women playing females trying to find the strength to fight for their right to rise up in society.

About the Shakespeare's Sister Company
Formed in 2008, the Shakespeare's Sister Company is a not-for-profit theater organization which supports women in the arts. Our commitment is to produce great new plays and established theatrical works by female authors. Our mission is to address global change through the theater, including women empowerment workshops and literacy for youth.

For more information, please visit our webpage at Shakespeare's Sister Company at http://www.shakespearessister.org and our kickstarter campaign on http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/546154532/romeo-and-juliet-st-valentines-day-massacre-of-192

New Five-Part Series

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PlayShakespeare is about to begin publishing a five-part series covering filmed versions of the Bard's works. Writer Matthew Henerson has written a magisterial account of major Shakespearean films, resulting in a "top five" recommendation list. Each installment will cover a review of one film and Henerson's reasons for including it in the list. Images and, where possible, video clips will accompany the stories. Look out for a new installment every week, and leave your comments on the message boards.

I'd like to draw attention to what I expect must be a first for PlayShakespeare (I haven't checked all the archive reviews, so I may be wrong): two reviews of the same show. In December, I reviewed the Donmar Warehouse's production of King Lear (you can read the review here) in London. After a highly successful run, Lear was broadcast live and then went on tour throughout the UK. Recently, Lear (featuring Derek Jacobi in the title role) made its way across the pond, where New York reviewer Roseanne Wells saw it. (You can read her review here.)

Sometimes productions can be divisive, but I think it's pretty clear that this Lear is fantastic. Both Roseanne and I rated it very well and highlighted Jacobi's performance as the work of a true artist. Michael Grandage's direction also received high marks.

If you're interested on two different takes of the same production, check out the Lear reviews.

I have recently posted Michael Meigs's review of Measure for Measure, performed by the touring company of the American Shakespeare Center (based in Staunton, VA). Michael is the PlayShakespeare Austin, TX correspondent, and saw the show last week when it came to UT-Austin. His perceptive review contextualizes MM as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays' and points out the text's many seemingly contradictory currents. In the review, Michael indicates his appreciation of the actors for their solid performances, but takes issue with the direction, feeling that it oversimplifies a complex text. The production's overly-humorous emphasis glosses over important themes.

It is a commonplace to say that every age, every generation, has its preferred Shakespearean plays. The 19th century was apparently enthralled by King John, but the history play is now rarely performed (the only review on PlayShakespeare is here). Other plays, however, are being 'rediscovered' as occasion demands--Troilus and Cressida with the beginning of the Iraq war and Timon of Athens with the start of the financial crisis. Even traditional standards of the repertoire have seen a darkening in tone, as witnessed by the Midsummer Night's Dream from director James Rutherford. Shakespeare's canon is large enough, and his writing insightful enough, to remain topical, it would seem, 'for all time'.

What Michael's review uncovers, however,  is a production that resists (whether through deliberate choice or good-natured obliviousness is unclear) the 'problem' of this 'problem play'. His review brings up the question, 'Must we respond to the "problem plays" as "problems"'? Is an interpretation that ignores the more serious elements of the text a legitimate interpretation? In this day and age, can productions of MM (or T&C, WT, Tempest etc.) get away with a purely lighthearted tone? 

Questions, questions, questions...

Tobacco Factory, Bristol

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So begins my four-day, five-play and one interview tour of England's Shakespearean scene. I am currently sitting in the cafe/bar area of the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. I left London by train in the afternoon, and after an unremarkable journey, arrived in Bristol an hour and a half later. It was a ten-minute (and clearly signposted, thankfully) walk to the Youth Hostel, followed by a longer, more languid trek to the Tobacco Factory, outside the city center.

The Tobacco Factory is one of those re-claimed, re-constituted spaces, now trendy and housing a flourishing arts scene along with a sizable bar/cafe. Speaking of which, the spicy (curried) carrot soup + a portion of homemade bread has just arrived. Tasty. The cafe/bar is large and open, with a small raised stage area on its far left side. A series of red beanbags line the stage, in addition to painted warnings: 'No kids on the stage'. How are they supposed to resist? [Having just set down my laptop to collect my tea from the bar, I catch the woman sitting next to me reading what I've written so far. Sorry, lady, no points for subtlety.]

Tonight's performance is Richard II -- a play I feel in love with the first time I read it in an introductory Shakespeare class in college. I am eager to see it performed, and early buzz on the Twitterverse has complimentary things to say. As I walked down the long Bristol streets to the Tobacco Factory, I felt the anticipation one feels for a satisfying event: there's something deeply settling about witnessing what you know to be a strong play performed by (what will hopefully be) a strong cast.

Tomorrow is a train ride back to London, a short Tube journey to an east London train station, followed by a train ride to Norwich.

Review of Richard II  forthcoming!

 

 

Shakespeare for All Seasons

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If the on-line newspapers are to be believed (or many of my friends' g-chat status updates), the US east coast is drenched in snow. Here in London, gray skies and rain make for a dismal February. But the weather has not prevented some counter-seasonal productions. In the last week, PlayShakespeare has posted two reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream, one staged in California, and another in New York City.

As a way of shaking off the mid-winter doldrums, I am arranging a mini-Shakespeare tour of England. On Wednesday (February 17) I leave London and head westward to Bristol to see Richard II at the Tobacco Factory. Though Richard II is one of my favorite plays to read, I have never seen it in performance (live performance, that is). The next day, I need to be on a train by 8 am to head back to London where I hop on another train and go straight to Norwich. Hopefully arriving before the 2 pm start time, I'll see Propeller's Comedy of Errors and, later in the evening, Richard III. The all-male company has been receiving strong reviews, and I'm excited to see what they do with the plays. Between the afternoon and evening shows, I'll be interviewing members of the company to ask what it's like working in an all-male performance group. If you have any questions you want asked/answered, send them along to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Friday sees me on another train, headed to Bury St Edmunds to see a production of Much Ado. Saturday is a drive to Guildford for the Guildford Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, staged in an old church. I'm told the first fifteen minutes are going to be frightening -- looking forward to a production that makes the ghost a fearful presence. Possibly early next week (before leaving for Bristol) expect an interview with the GSC and the show's director Caroline Devlin. 

On my trip, I'll be blogging about my experience (when I'm not typing up reviews). If you have questions or issues you'd like me to address, send me an e-mail, or tweet -- @beijingcoma.

Up-coming on PlayShakespeare will be more book reviews, including Contested Will and 1599

Cheers

Chris

Introductions

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Hello PlayShakespeare community!

My name is Christopher Adams, and I am the new editor for PlayShakespeare. I am excited about the opportunity to work with PlayShakespeare as it enters the new year and looks forward to expanding its scope, both in the US and elsewhere.

In 2011, PlayShakespeare hopes to add reviewers in several cities throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, helping to generate a greater number of reviews and creating a deeper understanding of Shakespearean performance. In the more distant future, the site seeks to become, truly, the place of record for global Shakespearean performance, first focusing on the English-speaking world and then branching into areas further afield. So be on the look-out for reviewer postings in your city.

Additionally, the site is looking to have its finger on the pulse of Shakespearean/Shakespeare-related events by offering book, film, and exhibition reviews.

Already in January our reviewers are scheduled to cover shows in California (Hamlet Has No Legs), New York (Cymbeline, Midsummer Night's Dream), and London. Ron Severdia has already offered his take on the Julie Taymor-directed Tempest  (starring Helen Mirren) and Mary Maher's book Actors Talk About Shakespeare.

My schedule is set to become quite busy, covering the RSC's winter London season (with Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and King Lear left to see). At the end of the month, I'll be attending Comedy of Errors by Sell A Door productions at the Greenwich Playhouse, followed by Richard II, Richard III, and another Comedy of Errors in February (the last two by the all-male company Propeller--they will be featured in an up-coming interview). Indeed, I'm toying with the idea of going on a two-week Shakespeare binge in the latter half of February, since so many productions are set to open. 

The winter is only just the beginning--a warm-up to the full-on extravaganza that is spring/summer Shakespeare. And, at least in the UK, it's looking like it will be a spectacular season. Kevin Spacey (who needs no introduction) is set to star in Richard III at the Old Vic, Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) in Hamlet at the Young Vic, and David Tennant and Katherine Tate (Doctor Who) are scheduled for Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado at the Wyndham. The RSC has announced the plays for its up-coming season, making use of its new (and impressive) performance facility in Stratford. The Globe has chosen to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible with its 'The Word is God' season, featuring, among other plays, Hamlet, Doctor Faustus, and a modern play entitled The God of Soho

All in all, it looks to be a busy season.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Chris

 

Please tell your friends. Almost finished with our Hamlet based docudrama. Thx.Our Link: http://kck.st/hozRMI

It's my last full day in Boulder, and this will be my last post for this blog. It has been an amazing summer, and I've been impressed and touched by the interest in my summer project and in the completion of my Shakespeare canon. But it's time to say goodbye to this season and to all the new friends I've made, and get back to my home and my cats and more familiar routines.

My wife Jannie flew out from the Bay Area last Friday, and has seen both of the shows I'm in; we'll go together this afternoon to see Woody Guthrie, which I know she will love. Tomorrow we'll set off across the mountains for home; we still haven't determined our exact route, but it will probably take us through southwest Colorado and across southern Utah. We've traveled extensively in the Four Corners area in recent years and we always enjoy it greatly.

We closed Henry last night, going out on a high note. There was no performance in the Rippon last night, so many of the company who are in the three outdoor shows, and who had been unable to see Henry before, took in the closing performance. They were a clued-in, responsive audience, closely following the subtleties of the plot and giving us a standing ovation at the end; it put the cap on the feeling of achievement we've experienced, a sense of taking a little-known, seldom-performed work and demonstrating that it can be not only a viable play in performance, but a dynamic and involving evening in the theatre even for those unfamiliar with its history. Personally, I was happy with where Wolsey has taken me as a performer, and felt I had grown as an actor through the process of rehearsing and performing it. You can't ask more than that of a production.

We close Three Musketeers tonight, and then the season wraps up with final performances of the other three plays Friday and Saturday. The company will scatter to the four winds, and each of us will be going on to new projects and fresh challenges. For myself, I start next Tuesday teaching two classes (Shakespeare language and theatre history) at Solano College, and understudying Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll at ACT. By this time next week, all that will be left of this season is a few pictures and a lot of valued memories, and the distinction of achieving something unusual in the professional theatre. I would like to thank all those readers who have followed my journey, taken notice of what we've accomplished and shared with me my excitement at bringing the circle of my Shakespeare career to its close. I hope it's been of interest to you.
The season will close in two weeks now, and there's a pervasive sense in the company of the end getting nearer. For the largeish group of us doing Henry and Musketeers, in fact, we have only ten days to go; we close those two shows on the twelfth and the thirteenth. Then we'll scatter to our various destinations around the country and the season will be only a memory. There's nothing quite so "over" as a summer festival, a group of people who had never worked before (at least not in that exact configuration) and never will again.

The company is dancing as fast as it can on the edge of the world, to steal some metaphors from other sources. Drinks at the Sink after each evening's show, and get-togethers in the apartments at the Townhouses into the wee hours, are pretty much a nightly occurrence now. No one has daytime rehearsals any more, so except for the few that have day jobs in the area the last vestiges of responsibility have dissipated and all we have to be concerned about are the evening performances (and an occasional weekend matinee). Most of us can sleep in mornings, and into the afternoon if need be. So we're partying diligently and with purpose, trying to hang onto the moment as long as we possibly can.

The challenge for us as performers now comes from the length of time between performances. Many of the shows, this late in the season, may perform as seldom as once a week; we did Henry twice this week, on Thursday and last night (Saturday), but we don't do another show for a full week, until next Saturday. It's not necessarily that we go rusty, or are liable to forget our lines (although it's always a good idea to run through them the day of a show, which I do), but that the tightness, the rhythm, what I've referred to earlier as the "flow" seems to need consecutive performances, or at least two or three close together, to fall into place. Until last night, the best show for me personally had been a couple of Sundays ago, when we did a 7:30 show following a 2:00 matinee. For that evening show we felt well warmed up, comfortable with one another, and ready to enter that special space where we are really playing together. Fortunately, we end the run next Saturday-to-Tuesday with four shows in four days, so we expect to go out on a high note. Sean proposed last night that the cast should get together voluntarily a couple of hours before the performance next weekend, to run lightly through the show together, and I expect most of the actors to show up for that. We have a pretty good esprit de corps and most of us are very committed to giving the best performance we're capable of.

Last night was the fiftieth anniversary of the first CSF performance of (Hamlet) on August 2, 1958. Philip presided over a little ceremony from the stage following the curtain call for Macbeth. I had a feeling of pride that my own participation had stretched back into the Fesival's first decade, and that I'd worked with many of the people responsible for its creation. I was already in a nostalgic mood because Larry Gallegos, who had played Shylock in my first season in 1966, had come to see me in Henry last night; and then who should I see after the ceremony but Ed Stafford, the fight director from those first seasons, who had driven up from his home in La Junta for the weekend. Three or four former actors from the company in the 60's have come to the stage door after seeing shows over the past weeks, and it's always been special, even when my memories of them were a little vague. It pleases me that they remember me fondly and share something of my feeling of closure in my summer project.

My old friend Robert Sicular has been visiting here from California this week, with his friend Tim Orr, seeing the shows and their friends from the Tahoe Shakespeare years. It's been good to hear their input on our performances and to have a jolt of fresh energy in our party scene, now running out of steam a little in the July heat and the routine of nightly performances.

Yesterday being everyone's day off, we got a party together to drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park, about 90 minutes' distance from Boulder, and do some high-altitude hiking. Sean (King Henry), Philip (Artistic Director), Robert, Tim and I all piled into Phil's Subaru-- a tight fit, most of us being six-footers-plus-- and drove through Estes Park and up the old dirt road to the visitor center near the summit. We then found a good trail from Milner Pass, a few miles down the western side of the park, back up to the visitor center, a nice hike of four-plus miles rising from about 10,760' to 11,800'. The cool weather was a real relief after two weeks of temperatures in the nineties in Boulder, and there were still big patches of snow on the ground. But the main pleasure was finally to get up to the high country after weeks of glimpsing the mountains so tantalizingly close, but never having free time enough to get up among them. A particular thrill was to climb up past the tree line and-- pretty abruptly-- find ourselves in the alpine tundra that covers all the mountaintops above eleven-five or so. It was well worth the discomforts of getting there, and an exhilarating experience to share with old and new friends.



The view of the tundra



Sean, Tim, Phil, Robert near the timberline



Rocky Mountain columbine



Indian paintbrush

I've been meaning to write about Seth.

Seth Maisel is an actor in the company; he's in all three of the outdoor shows. He's one of the two or three best fighters in the company, small and compact (five-foot-five, 180) but fast and very agile. He catches your eye onstage, especially in action sequences, by his shock of sandy hair, his quickness, and his native flamboyance-- he has that watch-this quality that makes him stand out.



Seth as a Cardinal's Guard

As I watched Seth in rehearsals, especially for Three Musketeers-- where he appears in almost all the fights, seven in all-- it occurred to me that he's always fighting (often brilliantly) but seemingly never winning. This has to do with his casting. In Macbeth, he's playing messengers, murderers and kerns-- Gaelic GI's-- and the early battles are mostly a showcase for what ruthlessly efficient killing machines Macbeth and Banquo are, so anyone who gets in their way is likely not going to come off looking too good. Murderers-- not to denigrate their important function in Shakespeare plays, but well, they generally prefer the sneak-up-behind-and-stick-'em tactic to the fair-fight showdown (unless things go wrong, as they sometimes do), and messengers are usually unarmed and can be mauled and manhandled at will, as they often will be if their reports include prophecy-fulfilling mobile forests. (I remember hauling poor Kate Heasley, my Birnam Wood messenger, all over the stage, and I once dropped her more or less on her head. Accidentally. Really.)

Then in Love's Labours, Seth plays Moth, page to Don Armado. This of course is not a play one associates much with stage violence, but Moth does need to "present" baby Hercules in the Pageant of the Nine Worthies, so he gets to tussle with Cerberus ("that three-headed canis," a stuffed puppy-dog) and the (yes, stuffed) snake that tries to bite the young hero in his cradle. Even here, it must be sadly reported, the results for Seth are-- to put it charitably-- mixed.

But it's in Musketeers that his talents for coming off second best in a fight are really on display. And again, it's really not his fault. Seth is cast as Jussac, the captain of the Cardinal's Guard; and anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Dumas story knows that, just as Richelieu himself serves as a foil for D'Artagnan, the Cardinal's Guard are basically there to lose to the Musketeers. Whether it's a bar fight, a street brawl, an aborted abduction or a raid on a convent, there's Seth in the forefront, attacking valiantly, picking out the most challenging opponents, showing off his dazzling swordplay skills... and getting tripped up, disarmed, befuddled, knocked out or kicked in the family jewels one more time. If it were me, I'm sure I'd have developed a raging complex about it before the summer was half over. But Seth, he just keep comin' back for more.

So I asked Seth to break down the list of all his fights over the three shows so I could run a little statistical analysis. We put together a chart that classifies his combat by play, by what character he is, who he's fighting for and against, the outcome of the fight, and wounds or injuries, if there are any (and there usually are). The results, run through a sophisticated data-analysis program I have devised (mostly involving counting on fingers, and quite a few toes), revealed the following results:

Seth is involved in sixteen episodes of onstage violence.

Of these, ten are clear-cut losses. The outcomes for our hero include (a random selection):

* Being knocked down and hamstrung by the Thane of Glamis

* Thrown face-first to the deck by an angry King McB.

* Chased offstage by Malcolm

* Disarmed, hand cut by ill-advisedly catching an airborne rapier

* Knocked out by a baguette broken over his head

* Head slammed into wall

* Head slammed into table

* Head slammed on stairs

* Fallen on by two other guards (one of whom, Earl, is-- um, large), and then

* Stepped on by them as they run away

* Hip-checked (Duke of Buckingham) to the face

* Double-kicked in groin by Planchet and Athos

* Clotheslined by Athos

* Elbowed in face by Athos

* Slashed in butt by Athos (you really should learn to avoid this guy, Seth)

* (eventually) Run through by Athos...

But wait. We're being unfair to Seth here. He has his moments of glory too-- those brief, shining moments when he rises above the cruel fate of his casting and he triumphs-- if only temporarily. He gets to slash Athos-- once, not fatally. He does very well, on balance, in his contests with the plushies. (You should see him go to work on that snake.) He actually knocks out Old Siward with a shield-bash. And he does a very nice job on the Macduff baby (after its mother has nearly scratched his eyes out) with a battleaxe. Yes, I think we can say that, on balance, he wins that one. Maybe not the most stellar of victories, but-- when you're a kern... well, you take 'em where you can get 'em.

Here's to you, Seth. The season would be a lot less fun without you.

Well, we now have five shows up and running. Musketeers opened Saturday night, miraculously with only minor hitches. Director, cast and our redoubtable stage managers Amy and Shannon somehow pulled it all together and we got it on stage in all its raggedy splendor. I'll write more about the show next week; in the meantime, here's a link to four pages of great photographs, a mix of rehearsal and full-dress shots, from our company member Zach Andrews:

http://shinyscale.jalbum.net/musketeers

Henry played three times in the week just past, including a double shot Sunday-- matinee and evening, with a talk-back after the afternoon show-- and many of us, tired as we were, welcomed the opportunity to perform the show back-to-back. It's difficult to generate momentum and "flow" in your performance when several days elapse between shows, though it gets easier as you get more performances under your belt. By the Sunday night show, I was feeling loose and relaxed, more confident in the first scenes of Act I and with a freedom to try some new things-- different emphases, new colors, some fresher line readings-- in the big downfall scene of III, 2. A couple of reviews of Henry came out during the week; they're good, and fair to the show I think, though the Denver Post critic seems to be in some confusion over the play's date of composition-- it was probably written around 1613, ten years too late to curry any significant favor with Elizabeth (who had died, as he correctly notes, in 1603). Here are links to that piece and to the Boulder Daily Camera review as well:

http://www.denverpost.com/theater/ci_9901426

(this one has a fairly good picture of your hard-working correspondent)

http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2008/jul/18/csfs-henry-the-eighth-engrosses/

(and this one even spells my name right.)

It's Saturday morning, and The Three Musketeers opens tonight. In defiance of all probability and logic, it has come together over the past couple of days with amazing swiftness. Our tech time was severely cut into by the delays in finishing the set; the lighting designer, as of last night, was still improvising cues on the fly; the sixty-five or so costumes are still getting their finishing touches, and the music is being integrated at the very last possible minute, but last night we performed for a thousand preview patrons and actually delivered a nearly polished and rather exciting show. It's still a bit wild and wooly; many of the acting scenes are underrehearsed, so much of the rehearsal time having gone to the fights; the fighters are banged up in a myriad of minor ways (although the only semi-serious injury is to Athos, with a puncture wound to his hand), and we're all having to keep our wits about us at all times; but by golly, it feels like we have a show. It's the perfectly normal and quotidian miracle that is live theatre, in action again-- we all know that somehow it's all going to work out, but we have a superstitious fear that if we count on it, this is the one time that the magic won't happen. So we worry, and fret, and wring our hands at the impossibility of putting together something so big and so complex in the woefully inadequate time we have; and yet our faith is rewarded, our doubts rebuked, our complaints forgotten in the whirl of performance. I'm reminded of an exchange that occurs two or three times in Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love (I may be paraphrasing): "It will be all right." "How??" "No one knows. It's a mystery."

There's something I haven't explained till now, concerning how much the Festival has changed in the years since I was here last (and most radically in the past couple of seasons, since Phil Sneed took over and expanded the season to five plays). In the early years of the CSF, we produced a three-play season; all three productions rehearsed simultaneously, nearly the whole company was in all three shows, and we opened them on three successive nights in July and ran them in a strict rotation for three or four weeks. This was not all that hard to do, as there were very nearly no sets at all. We performed on the grass of the Mary Rippon stage; there was temporary forestage built to bring the action closer to the audience (though it was made permanent, and built of the local sandstone, I think for the 1967 season), and in some seasons a curving staircase up to one of the towers, which Edgar Reynolds dubbed "the Treppen" (German word for "stairs"). There were two permanent stone benches stage left and right, and for a backdrop the walkway in front of the museum building behind the stage, and the doors of the museum itself. This was in perfect consonance with the values of Shakespeare production preached by Jim Sandoe and Jack Crouch, which was rooted in the bare-stage simplicity of the Elizabethan playhouse, where scenery was likely at a minimum and scene succeeded scene with no more than a piece or two of furniture being moved on and off stage.

Modern "conceptual" Shakespeare production is far more ambitious in scope, and the theatre has extended its reach to reflect the change. Directors and designers want to transform the entire space to provide a visual correlative to their ideas about the world of the play; and greatly increased production budgets and a much larger staff allow us to have three individual sets, almost totally different from one another. I've previously posted pictures from the two other outdoor shows; now here is the just-completed (all but a few details being finished up today) set for Musketeers:



A comparison of the three pictures will reveal how little overlap there is between one show's set and another. Even the diamond-shaped thrust that is a basic element in both Macbeth and Musketeers is eschewed completely for Love's Labours. Clearly, the amount of platforming in the former two shows requires that the construction be solid and reliable; actors have to be confident that the upper levels on which they're running around, emoting and killing one another are safe and secure. Much of the framing is actually done in steel. So we need a substantial shift crew (eight or ten strong, I think) that can change over from one set to another, even if they have to work all through the night, following a performance, to do it-- I know they fully expect to see the sun rise on Sunday morning, which is their first changeover out of Musketeers and into LLL. We owe our personal safety, as well as the credibility of the illusion we're creating, to them-- the proverbial unsung heroes.

My next posting will deal with the next three performances of Henry after opening-- we do both a matinee and evening tomorrow-- but in the meantime, here's a link to the review in yesterday's Denver Post. Not a bad review, though the critic is clearly fuzzy about the play's date-- it was written about 1612, nine years or so after the accession of James I and therefore a little late to hope to curry favor with Queen Bess...

http://www.denverpost.com/theater/ci_9901426

Well, the object of the quest has been attained, and now it's time to settle down and just perform the thing. I often feel-- and many other actors feel this way, it seems-- that opening nights, with their parties, hype, cards and gifts, friendly audiences and critics in attendance, are more trying than exciting; that the evening is to an extent something to be got through and put behind you so you can focus on the real work of recreating the play afresh for a new audience every evening. The opening night has so many added distractions that it can distort the actual creation of the art, and though sometimes the crucible of pressure is so intense that it can produce something rich and strange, I'm usually relieved to get it over with and settle into the calmer rhythm of the run.

In rep, however, that's a luxury we don't always have. After Saturday night's opening, Henry goes dark for five days; we don't perform it again till this Thursday, and then not again until Sunday. It will be a different challenge, to create the show anew after such a gap, and without a brush-up rehearsal to get our heads back into the world of the play. So it's each actor's personal responsibility to get him- or herself ready to go again. I'm looking forward to it; I think this is a well-disciplined company, most of whom have been working this way all summer long, and they know pretty well what's required of them.

I felt okay about my own performance, but only okay. I'm still feeling a bit tentative in the first act of the show, and don't really feel in the flow until somewhere in Shakespeare's Act II, which culminates in Katherine's trial scene-- and is more than halfway through Wolsey's own character arc. The big downfall scene, Act III scene 2, which people would probably take to be the single greatest challenge of the role, is paradoxically where I've come to feel most confident and at home, so that I look forward to it each night; but I feel I haven't quite nailed the powerful, manipulative, cosmopolitan and utterly self-assured Wolsey of Act I. That's my immediate goal for the next couple of performances.

In the meantime, we're all (no, not the whole company, but there are 33 of us in the cast) dealing with the challenges of The Three Musketeers. Some of the fears I expressed earlier about the ambitious scope of the season are threatening to be well-founded. The scene, costume and prop shops have met the challenge of putting up four different shows on four successive Saturdays, but the technical demands of Musketeers are huge, the tech staff probably exhausted, and we're several days behind as we move into what is supposed to be a first dress rehearsal tonight. We have yet to rehearse on the set, which is still under construction, and much of our blocking only will make sense when we can work with the levels-- there's a whole upper gallery stretching across the rear of the entire stage, and there's sometimes simultaneous action upstairs and down. So I expect a fair amount of chaos and confusion tonight as we try to integrate scene changes, furniture moves, light and music cues in with the swordfights, brawls and dances, all in clothes we've never worn before and in a space some of us have never worked in before (I have, but it's been exactly 34 years and eleven months since the last time). We'll get through it all and pull it off somehow. But it's going to be stressful, and there's not enough time.

Opening!

Posted by on in Complete the Canon

Well, tonight's the night. We felt good as a company about last night's preview; the house was full and the response was all that could be asked for. I felt a little shaky in the first act-- I dropped four or five lines in my first scene with Cardinal Campeius-- but the big scenes went well for the most part and I feel ready to strut my stuff for friends and critics. It's hard to know how the show can be expected to do critically-- and I'm far from the most objective observer. I'll write another posting in a couple of days, after the excitement has died down.

I'm indebted to my friend Zachary Andrews (who plays a calm, impressive Archbishop Cranmer) for these photos taken at final dress. A wider selection can be seen at http://shinyscale.jalbum.net/CSF.


Preview

Posted by on in Complete the Canon

We do our one and only preview of Henry tonight, prior to Saturday night's opening. One often feels the need for more previews, especially for a comedy where audience response is a big part of the rhythm of the show-- ACT and Berkeley Rep typically have a full week of previews before the opening. But it feels as though we'll be fine. The rehearsal process has taken five and a half weeks, though the scheduling has been irregular, and I think everyone feels pretty confident of what they're doing, considering we've only been working on the set for about four days. The costumes, of course, have added a new dimension (as well as an additional challenge-- I'm having to learn to clear my three-foot train so I don't walk back over it), and the show feels ready for an audience.

The set is quite simple and unadorned, its starkness relieved only by a few furniture pieces (thrones, benches, one large screen for Katherine's apartments) and two or three "flown" pieces (lowered from the flies, that is) that add some color-- I open the show with a Prologue excerpted from Wolsey's final scene, while being ceremoniously robed by two monks behind a scrim, painted with the royal arms, which becomes transparent when we are lit behind it. I'm told the image is very effective. The costumes are the single element in the production which approaches high concept, and I'm not sure how effective they will be. The designer was impressed by some unfinished portraits he saw by Hans Holbein (in effect the Tudors' house artist) in which the head and shoulders were fully detailed but the bottom of the canvas remained unpainted. He has transferred this to a look in which all the costumes are made of off-white fabrics (pretty uniform in color, although with a wonderful range of fabric textures) and then hand-painted and appliqued so that every figure on stage is neutral from mid-chest tp the floor, with all the color and detail (fur collars, chaplets, chains of office) concentrated above the sternum. The idea is to direct the viewer's focus onto the faces, consistent with the director's emphasis on character interplay over spectacle; I worry only that all those near-white tones may be a little overwhelming and actually achieve the opposite effect. We'll see. Here are some of the sketches to give an idea of the effect:




My other concern is with the pace of the show, especially in the second half. The play reminds me of Julius Caesar in that after two of the three main characters-- Wolsey and Katherine-- pass from the scene, the most dramatic actions of the play have run their course, leaving to Act V the plotting of the King's Council to dislodge Archbishop Cranmer, and the birth of the baby Elizabeth (with the attending encomiums and golden-hindsight prophecies of her future greatness. At the moment, it seems to me that the last few scenes are a little lacking in dramatic drive, and even in the earlier acts, I could wish that scene followed scene with more energy and pace-- the action tends to stop, the stage darkens and music (well-chosen, evocative music-- I will say that) plays while furniture is moved and the scene prepared for the next group of characters. I fear that we lose some momentum and energy that way-- I've always been of the opinion (fostered, as so many of my tastes in Shakespeare are, by my early work under Jim Sandoe) that one scene should follow another with as little break as possible, with the initial line of the new scene following the final line of the previous one on word cue, if possible. The effect of our current style in Henry I would call stately rather than dynamic.

Into tech

Posted by on in Complete the Canon

We start technical rehearsals on Henry today-- what we call a "10-out-of-12," two five-hour sessions separated by a two-hour supper break-- and the show feels ready to take the next step. Last week we were able to get onto the stage for one session to do a runthrough, but only about half the platforming was in place, so the rehearsal wasn't as useful as it could have been; and then Sunday night, for our last run, we were back in the rehearsal room, with the set taped out on the floor. I look forward to working today on what should be essentially a finished set (except for detail work), with the big staircase leading up-center that will make many of the entrances and exits work. At the same time, we'll be fitting in the sound and lighting cues, some stage effects (a scrim behind which Wolsey is robed at the top of the show, doors that open or close to give the space a different look) and maybe some costume elements; we should be in full costume for the first dress tomorrow night. The cast is confident; runthroughs have gone smoothly, with only occasional glitches, and the character-on-character interactions are sharp and dramatic.

Henry VIII, over its long stage history, has been known for its pageantry. It's unique among the plays in the Folio for its elaborate stage directions, describing in detail (much of it taken directly from Holinshed and other sources) processions, visions and set-pieces that must have showed off the full capacity of the King's Men to dazzle their audiences with sumptuous visual displays. This reputation accounts at least in part, I think, for the play's being seldom produced. When fans of the Bard think of the play at all, they associate it with court intrigue, maneuvering for power among obscure factions surrounding the throne of England and the Papacy, and with that elaborate pageantry; their expectations are not so much for stirring scenes of personal conflict.

Jim Symons, our director has taken a different approach, downplaying rich visuals in favor of a simpler, more unadorned look and trying to place greater emphasis on the three major characters, Henry, Katherine and Wolsey, and their individual arcs of action. The hope is that the story will thus be easier to follow, with less detail that's extraneous to the central story, and that the interplay of character will thus be sharper and more compelling. We'll see how the strategy works. I think it promises well: the small minority of our audience that's acquainted with the play even just by reading it (and I remind myself that I'd never read it through until last fall, much less seen it on stage) may miss the expected spectacle, but most should be happy to focus on the interactions of a few important characters and to fill in the rest with their imaginations-- inspired by the many versions of the story that have flooded popular culture, from the old "Six Wives" BBC series and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons to the recent The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors series on Showtime.

In other news: the Festival opened its second outdoor show, Love's Labour's Lost, over the weekend. It should be an audience-pleaser, with some gifted comic actors taking Shakespeare's eccentric characters and running with them. Again, as with Macbeth, I had some problems with how much the director has chosen to cut and change. The action has been transferred to an Edwardian garden, with topiary hedges, a sundial and a fountain that punctuates the action with unpredictable spurts, and with an ending that seems to presage the World War ("Keep the Home Fires Burning" replaces both the Cuckoo and the Owl songs) in a way that I didn't find pertinent. The royal references ("King" of Navarre, "Princess" of France) are virtually all removed, and that, along with a breezy insouciance among the four young men in their venture into Academe, seemed to me to render the issue of their oaths and oathbreaking, and the political dimensions of the Princess' mission, less than consequential. So I felt the absence of an underlying seriousness beneath all the horseplay.



The set for Love's Labour's Lost

I've been thinking, though, about my attitudes toward cutting in Shakespeare production. I'm always ready to pronounce (usually critically) on directors' excising of material to which I have a personal attachment. Back in the day, as they say, Jim Sandoe almost always delivered his productions uncut, typically in uncorrected Folio versions (though I remember an editing session on Pericles in 1973, going laboriously through the text to bring our readings into line with the 1609 Quarto, including a number of what had to be typos!), and that instilled me with a primitive belief that just about every word that Shakespeare wrote could be made to work on stage. But I probably need to remind myself that modern audiences are not necessarily prepared to sit still and listen for three-hours-plus, much as I may think they should be. It gives me a pang when a favorite line, speech or even scene is left out of a production I'm watching; but how much of that is just pride in how well I, Julian, know the play? There's quite a lot of cutting in Henry too, but because it's a play I don't know well, and have no previous experience of performing, I haven't formed attachments to particular parts of the text, so I'm prepared to see them go without too much regret. My own ox, as it were, is ungored.

Last weekend the Festival opened its second show-- Woody Guthrie's American Song-- and it's a knockout. I'd seen the show more than a decade ago at Berkeley Rep-- its adapter/director, Peter Glazer, is a Berkeley resident-- and I had looked forward to the opening with some anticipation. It's done with a cast of five and a four-person band, and apart from a couple of dozen great songs, tells a story that resonates with any American with a sense of the country's history, and with Californians in particular, since a good-sized section deals with the "Okie" Dust Bowl refugees who flooded into the Golden State in the 1930s, and the hardships and outright hostility they encountered. I've become very good friends with Sam Misner and Megan Smith in particular, the two cast members who are also in Henry, and who have Bay Area roots-- we share many mutual friends in California, though we'd never personally met before. But the other three actor/singers-- Lisa , Matt and Daver-- are all terrific performers too, and they constitute a tight and upbeat ensemble. It's taking some time for me to get used to the idea of the Festival producing non-Shakespeare plays-- Three Musketeers is even being performed on the Mary Rippon stage, which seemed strange at first-- but I may need to adjust to the thought that the season's most complete and satisfying show may turn out to be performed indoors, and not Shakespeare at all.
Something I've been meaning to write about is a phenomenon that was particularly powerful in the first week or so, though it's losing some of its novelty now. Those who know me well will be aware that I've spent much of my professional life acting and directing Shakespeare; one of the results has been, after doing all of the plays and some five or six times over, that I know the canon almost too well. That is to say, ever since directing Timon of Athens twenty years ago-- the last time that I engaged with a Shakespeare play I hadn't done before-- the thirty or more Shakespeare productions I've been involved in have all been familiar territory to a greater or lesser degree. My perceptions and interpretations of each of those plays are set to some extent-- not set in stone, because I try to keep my mind open to fresh perspectives on the texts; but my mind is made up to a point on what a play is about, who the characters are, and how to make it all work in performance. It was a revelation, then, in the first few rehearsals of Henry, to hear lines spoken for the first time and to know that they were Shakespeare-- yet to have them fall on my ear fresh, with no "baggage" of remembered interpretations from ten or thirty years ago, and no preconceptions as to where the action of the play was taking us. It's difficult to describe the excitement that this generated in me. I was suddenly on the same footing with nearly everyone else in the cast (alone among the actors, I think, Anne Sandoe has done the play before, having appeared in the 1971 production here), and the feeling was strangely exhilarating. I didn't feel that I had a head start on the rest of the cast, as I so often do, and thus we all seem to be on the same voyage of discovery together.

We did another full runthrough of the show two days ago, and everyone is feeling more comfortable; there's momentum and "flow" starting to happen, and the scenes are beginning to have that feeling of give-and-take that promises to make them dramatically compelling. (This is a normal part of the process, as actors' concentration, which has been inward and focused on the words as they struggle to master their text, opens out to include their scene partners as they become more confident with the lines.) A curious thing happened in III, 2, the scene of Wolsey's great fall. It's actually a sequence of four or five mini-scenes, confrontations with different characters separated by a couple of soliloquies. With the confidence of being solid on the lines, I indulged myself in some exploration of alternative ways of playing the moments-- playing against the surface meaning of the lines in places, taking pauses to enrich the subtextual action, playing some moments with a sense of their theatricality instead of only focusing on what emotional truth I felt secure with-- and the results were interesting. Several actors approached me after the runthrough to express how moved and impressed they were with how the scene had been played. It's difficult to write about this without sounding conceited, and I really believe that what success I've enjoyed as an actor has been grounded in a transcendence of self, an immersion of the actor's ego into the task of playing the language and the character. But the feeling that arose from playing Wolsey's fall with the scope and audacity of what we think of as a "star turn" was-- for lack of a better word-- masterful, and made me think twice about the whole question of artistic modesty. Looking back on times that I've experienced this feeling before-- in playing Macbeth, Lear, Prospero-- I realize that I associate that freedom to cut loose and try anything with great roles like these-- roles for which you don't just use some part of your personality and cut off others (as is so often the actor's task) because they are so demanding, so comprehensive, that they demand everything that the actor has to give. You just bundle up everything that you have learned as an artist and a human being and throw it at the character, hoping that all you have to offer will be, even barely, sufficient to fill the outlines of so great a dramatic creation. And the perception that Wolsey may be such a character, if I have the courage to take it in both hands and run with it as far as I can go-- without worrying whether I may be taking it too far, without limiting myself to what feels safe-- is exciting and liberating.
 
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