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TOPIC: Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan)

Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan) 10 years 4 months ago #23

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The best book available for directors who want to get deeper into Shakespeare.

One of Homan's most interesting subjects is also his biggest challenge: his cutting of the texts. Convinced that his audience will fidget and tune out if the production rims longer than two-and-a-half hours, Homan says he cuts to keep his audience returning to the theater. He discusses his rationale for cutting Hamlet, which has long set pieces that have to stay. You can't have a Hamlet without "To be or not to be."

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Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan) 8 years 4 months ago #2233

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I strongly disagree with Hoffman.

My company produces uncut Shakespeare (or mostly uncut Shakespeare), and we've never had any trouble keeping audiences interested and entertained. What's more, we don't pepper our productions with "spoons full of sugar to help the medicine go down." We perform on a bare stage in contemporary clothes.

Of course, my bias towards my own company may mislead me. Maybe I only think people aren't bored. But I'm pretty darn sensitive to sighs and restless motions. If I notice audience members figiting, I ALWAYS blame myself. I analyze my work to see how I've let the energy sag. And then I rework that scene or moment.

Length is rarely important UNLESS the work is bad to begin with. (Yes, it it's bad, the audience will be grateful if you keep it short.) If something is clear and exciting, most people will stick with it. If they're riveted, they won't even notice how long it is. A comment I've heard over and over is "that was three-and-a-half hours? Wow. It went by really fast."

I'm not religious about this. If you need to cut, cut. Sometimes a good cut can improve a production. It can make things clearer. What offends me is the idea -- going in -- that you HAVE to cut or you'll lose the audience. That shows lack-of-respect for the audience and lack-of-faith in the project and the text.

Now I live and work in New York City. Maybe audiences here are more sophisticated than in some other places. But if I was directing Shakespeare in a little backward town, I'd still aim for really doing the plays -- the whole plays. I'd respect my audience's capacity for growth. Maybe, in that situation, I'd start by producing cut versions. But my goal would be to gradually work towards more full productions. I have faith that audiences can grow and change.
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Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan) 8 years 4 months ago #2234

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Hi and welcome....

Yes, that's definitely a NY state of mind. :) I personally think it's a bit idealistic as well. I really think that as performers, directors, theatre professionals, we are here to awaken the text and make it accessible to our audiences. Without becoming too didactic, there are a number of factors that contribute to that: actors, choices, textual interpretations, etc., etc. All that gets thrown into a big boiling pot and served up to audiences. What's "bad" can be a question of taste. The performance of Othello I saw in Ashland last weekend was brilliant, but my mother would have been bored stiff. Taking the entire US into consideration (just as an example), a majority of people would be like my mother. Otherwise, there'd be a Shakespeare sitcom on TV every week.

Therefore, my personal goal has always making it more accessible. Which is not the same as dumbing a play down. That comes in many forms...I'd choose "solid" in Hamlet over other options primarily because it means more to the modern ear. Othello changed "Haply for I am black..." to "Perhaps for I am black..." in the production I just saw. Would that be crossing a line since the definitions are different?

Length must be considered because we live in the MTV generation of short attention spans and it's only getting worse. I saw a Hamlet a few years ago that was an hour and 55 minutes with no intermission. It was disjointed and messy and clearly shows how one can go way too far. But if one approaches the play with a strong sense of understanding and can cleverly dramaturg something so it flows (surely with a director's help), then why not?
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Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan) 8 years 4 months ago #2235

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Thanks for the welcome!

I hear what you're saying. My problem is when cutting becomes dogmatic. I've met so many directors who have just fallen into a pattern. "It can't be over 90 minutes!" or whatever. I understand the urge. Once you've found something that works, it's tempting to stick to it. It's a comfortable framework.

But I don't think theatre (or any art form) is about comfortable frameworks. Theatre is -- or should be (in my view, of course) -- about reinventing the wheel from scratch each time. Okay, you did a 90-minute "Hamlet" and it worked. (Are you sure a 110-minute "Hamlet" wouldn't have worked, too?) What does that have to do with "Taming of the Shrew"?

I'm directing "Cymbeline" right now. I will have to cut it, not because think the audience couldn't handle or enjoy the full length, but for economic reasons having to do with the length of time I'm allowed to rent the theatre. But I'm not going to say, "Okay, I'm cutting this, this and this!" We've only just had our first rehearsal. What if I naively cut something that is integral to the story? I've read the play about forty times and have done massive amounts of pre-production research. All of that is great, but in my experience, you don't really KNOW he play until you collaborate on it, in rehearsal, with actors. So we'll cut as we go.

Obviously, if I had a week-and-a-half to throw this together, I would just make cuts and accept them. But that would be about unfortunate necessity, not art. (The cuts I'll be forced to make will also be about necessity. Obviously, I will work to make them as "artful" as possible, but I'm not going to kid myself that they're organic.)

If the audience likes my "Cymbeline," the lesson won't be "See! Cuts work." The lesson will be that they worked in THIS production. If I remount "Cymbeline" next year (or some other play), I will evaluate whether or not to cut -- and what to cut -- all over again. Shortcuts kill art. Only take them if you absolutely have to!

I also think that if you go to a full-length "Hamlet," and you see the audience fidgeting, their restlessness MIGHT be due to the length. But I don't see why you'd jump to that conclusion. It might be due to something else. That's what I meant by "bad." I know it's subjective. I was just saying that restlessness doesn't necessarily have anything to do with length (though it can do). Most people don't hate a long vacation. They hate a long vacation that's somewhere too hot.

Assuming length is the problem is a band-aid solution. It will probably work, because most people will sit through anything -- good or bad -- if it's short enough. So if you just cut it and make that the solution, you'll never learn if the problem is something deeper.

Bottom-line, if you must cut, I'd hope that you'd gradually work towards producing more whole texts. If your first show is 90 minutes, why not try making your next show 100 minutes? I'm not advocating a formula. I'm just saying that even the MTV generation can grow new neural pathways. People can grow to appreciate things if you give them the chance!
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Directing Shakespeare (Sidney Homan) 8 years 3 months ago #2252

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I completely agree with you, Marcus. Length is not necessarily always to blame for a bored audience. It does have a lot to do with it though. When I'm watching a play, no matter how good, I often seem to feel the need for intermission after a little more than an hour. Not always, of course. I have been on the edge of my seat waiting for more, but it's just what an audience is generally used to. Some theatres I visit seem to have a subscriber base that's used to a certain length of show. Or maybe certain kinds of shows, but that's a different story. I actually like seeing uncut Shakespeare, as long as the time is filled with quality theatre. Every time I work with a cut text, I'm a little conflicted as to whether I should try to convey things that are in the cuts - is this character incomplete now?

What it interests me about cutting Shakespeare (or any other public domain script) is the trimming of small or large story elements. Every production tells a slightly different story and for a director cutting can be a luxury. Perhaps I want to give one character less to say so that another character has more stage time. Or I could move things around so that the story flows in such a way helping me emphasize such and such.

The endless possibilities that Shakespeare's texts give us are truly wonderful. Such freedom can inspire great art. What more could one ask for?


Back to the book: what else is appealing about the book besides the section on cutting texts? I'm intrigued, but there aren't any reviews on Amazon. Thanks!
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