Shakespeare Saturday: On the Import of Good Directing

Man, guess who got lucky and gets to continue writing about Shakespeare for another week? It’s like I got extra time to get over Stratford. Go me.

I confess…and I never thought I’d say this, guys, but Stratford ruined my writing game. It wasn’t until last night that I was finally able to churn out something halfway decent. It’s like my mind went into a completely passive place where all I wanted to do was take in beautiful stories and not create any of my own. This isn’t a bad thing, mind, so don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Every single creative endeavor is a two way street; it’s not just the actual creation, but taking every opportunity for rejuvenation you can.

Now…perhaps Stratford was better for A given her actress-y nature, but I definitely took something away from it, too. After all, words are my thing. I may not deliver them as various characters or anything like that, but I wring them from the firmament for others to read and to deliver, so I like to think I may claim a small piece of the creative pie for myself. And I don’t think I took anything less away from going to the theater simply because that is not my world in the same way it is for A; I just took away different things. For example, I have a new solo project I’m going to develop (solo in the sense that I still totally plan on running everything by A, but I genuinely enjoy the research I get to put into this, so it’s immensely personal for me) that is, in fact, about as writerly as theater can get. Two parts, each of them a famous writer, talking about writing and their influence on the world of theater. OK, so it doesn’t sound that exciting when I put it that way, but it’s good, believe me.

But I digress. I’m always digressing. This is how I speak, too, by the way, so it inevitably takes me forever to make my point but the listener gets at least four other anecdotes for their trouble, so I think it works out. What I want to write about today is something I took away from Stratford that I haven’t said before:

Let the work speak for itself. 

This, of course, is not limited to plays, but since today is Shakespeare Saturday (and I really should *stop* talking about Stratford at some point), I thought I’d take this last opportunity to say it.

As you, our delightful readers, are no doubt aware, I have recently become a huge fan of The Taming of the Shrew. In fact, fresh on the heels of that epiphany, that was the show I was most excited to see up in Canada. I wanted to see it live because that love was new and exciting; my relationship with Shrew was in that glowy phase where everything is good and there are no worries. Alas…I walked away somewhat disappointed. And I am really, really sad about that.

It wasn’t a bad performance. All the actors were superb and did their jobs excellent well, but the whole thing felt…off to me. I didn’t like the characterization of Petruchio because he really was just an asshole. I didn’t like the fact that people were leaping around for no reason and everything was so big and so farcical that it took away from what Shakespeare put down on the page. Shrew was already a farce; it didn’t need any help pointing that out. I did love the addition of music, because good music makes anything better and never detracts (good being the operative word here, and the music was good), but I felt like the whole thing was just…wrong. I was not the only person to feel this way, either; everyone else at the B&B felt the same way.

And then I found out the same director had done A Midsummer Night’s Dream the year before, and it had also felt wrong to a bunch of people. In fact, reading some of the reviews for Stratford, the 1 stars (which we read simply because we were boggled as to how someone could rate this little hugenormous piece of awesome pie 1 star) were all directed at this director and his interpretation of Midsummer. So obviously something is up. I don’t mean to speak ill of anyone, of course; this is the only production of his I have ever seen and he is obviously talented or he would not be working, so I can’t really judge. All I know is that his interpretation of Shrew did not sit well with me. (And, of course, that Midsummer did not sit well with others.)

It wasn’t until I sat down and thought about it that I realized the director had committed one of the hugest no-nos of storytelling: covering up the words. Never cover up the words. Especially not with someone like Shakespeare. Let the story breathe; let the story live. Believe me, a good story doesn’t need frills to be enjoyable. When it comes to someone like Shakespeare, just let him guide you. This is not to say that there isn’t room for interpretation–all productions of a play are an interpretation, after all–but edit. Always edit. Edit until everything is a beautifully composed performance/story/painting/musical score (whatever) and the narrative isn’t hidden behind shiny bits and doo-dads. That’s when you know you have a good piece of art.

And, yes, I should probably take my own advice when it comes to this blog, but I like to think I’ve developed a narrative style here, so don’t go breaking my bubble. It’s nice in here. Trust me, I edit my novels et al much more strenuously.

Also, that piece that finally got me writing? Someone challenged me to combine Hamlet and Alice in Wonderland. So I suppose I took more away from Stratford than I thought. Even if I had no idea what a gobo was.

Well, this has been me writing to you on what is now Shakespeare Sunday. I really must keep better track of time. Until tomorrow, when we get silly!

C

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