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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Houston Shakespeare Festival & The Importance Of Outdoor Shakespeare




I love the review of the Houston Shakespeare Festival written by D.L. Groover, and I have to quote at length it's so good:


Watching the Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre is, somewhat, the closest we'll ever get to what it must have been like for those Londoners of yore when they went to the Globe to watch the immortal Bard in his own theater.
Although the entrance fee for Miller is free, unlike Shakespeare's "wooden O," there's much similarity. Patrons amble about, crossing in front of the stage no matter what scene is in progress; the smells of fried food and sweaty neighbors waft over us; far off noises, modern annoyances like helicopters and car sirens, or, closer, the whines of children, drown out the action at certain points; and while we're all sitting, unlike the Globe's groundling audience which stood throughout (unless you bought a seat and cushion in the upper rings), we feel close to the stage and very much part of the action.

Shakespeare comes alive in an outdoor setting, this is the venue he wrote for -- his plays had to compete with all sorts of distractions and quickly catch the attention of the audience. As soon as Hamlet begins, the audience at Miller quiets; I'm sure, just like they would have at the Globe. The magic that is Hamlet casts a spell.

This critic makes an excellent point which I emphasized in bold type. The theatres in Shakespeare's day, The Theatre in Shoreditch, The Globe, and even Blackfriars were not in the best neighborhoods.

They were in seedy areas, filled with taverns where people probably got as drunk and as rowdy as they do today.

There were cutpurses to contend with. Shoreditch was outside the city walls and was a lawless, unpoliced area where you travelled at your own risk.

Bedlam hospital was in Shoreditch, not that far from The Theatre and The Curtain. Is it possible that the cries of the sick, dying and mentally ill would be heard during a performance of Richard III?

There were butchers all over the city, and where there were butchers there was livestock to butcher. So, did the audiences have to contend with the squeals of pigs and clucking of chickens?

They were surrounded by prostitutes and brothels. I think the prostitutes were welcome to work in the theaters as well.  This was probably the greatest distraction from the play at hand. I would think that anyone who couldn't afford a prostitute and admission to a play, would probably choose sex over theatre, but maybe that's just me.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

As we know, there was also the matter of the plague, which could and did close the theatres often.

I am convinced that Shakespeare wrote his plays with a desperate urgency, like a man who didn't have long to live, and whose plays might not survive more than one performance.

Shakespeare didn't have the luxuries that writers enjoy today. He knew that plays and the theatres could vanish overnight, and never return. That was his reality.

Therefore, many of his plays are ruthlessly entertaining. I don't think many people see them like that, and would rather ponder them as literature, written with all the time and care in the world.

My adaptations are trying to bring the breathless vitality of the plays back, where every moment in his plays leaps off the stage and wakes up an audience otherwise eating, drinking and distracted by their surroundings.

My version of Hamlet shows what kind of impact the play had on Shakespeare's audience, and why it did cast a spell.

Cheers,

David