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Day #11: “The heart wants what it wants”

Day #11: June 5, 2019

“The heart wants what it wants,” actor Sathya Sridharan (Demetrius) talking about Helena from Midsummer Night’s Dream

Gee, I wish I were in the scaffolding rental business. There doesn’t seem to be a street in NY that doesn’t have something going on. I realize that the weather is nice, and therefore, this is the time of year for repairs. In Northern Ohio, where I was raised, there are two seasons: winter and pothole repair.

Today I took a left instead of a right as I emerged out from my apartment building. I keep trying to find a path to the East River, and no matter which way I turn, I’m constantly being detoured around construction sites.

I made the turn onto the pathway at 23rd street, and I looked up and saw this boat that had “Life is but a dream” painted on the side of it. Today is the day that Mr. Jeff Whitty and his MIDSUMMER translation comes into the house, and somehow seeing this today made sense.

I listen to the radio when I walk. I have this old school headset that I wear. I like classical music and I knew that NY was going to have a solid classical music station. And it does. This morning, as I was looking at the Art Boat (which is how it is advertising itself – I’m not exactly sure what that means?) the music that was being played was a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I kid you not. And I started to well up, and I couldn’t quite figure out why until the announcer said that he too welled up because of the nostalgia of the piece.

But I realized that it wasn’t just nostalgia, as powerful a tear-weller-up motivator as there is. Some people hear music; some people hear lyrics; few people hear both. I hear music (which perhaps explains my challenge with Shakespeare’s language. Hm…) And this was a music-only rendition but I found myself singing the words. And it’s when I got to the chorus, “if every little bird….why oh why can’t i?” that’s when the tears came. I was taught that Shakespeare is universal. His themes deal with the human condition. And I tried hard to accept that but I’ve always had a hard time connecting with the general human conditions in the plays. Goodness knows I’ve tried to learn the language. I spent 24 years at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I know what is being said at 16 rpms. But I can’t keep up at 78.

And I cried this morning thinking that maybe, just maybe, this simple (but apparently radical and threatening) examination of Shakespeare’s language which is designed to get me to the themes easier might work for others too.  I’m jealous of those of you who can hear the language in the moment it is spoken. I cannot. And I’m super mad that I can’t feel the depth of the consequences because I can’t get past the first layer of language. I want to be a part of the human condition too!

I don’t think Shakespeare is the only way to get to the end of that rainbow journey, by the way, but if we could get to the deep emotional hook of these stories which end in forgiveness for all the stupid stuff human beings do to one another, perhaps, it’s a start.

Today is our first full company breakfast. When we put together the rehearsal schedule, which I have attached here, we saw that Wednesdays were going to have the most actors in the building. Five plays in rehearsal, plus a sixth that would be in the reading that night. As it happens one of those plays gets to have CSC as its rehearsal space during the day, so there are only four plays in rehearsal at 440. But still….that’s a lot of actors running around on the two floors!

The hospitality suite has become a gathering place for the actors when they are on breaks. Often, the breaks take place around the same time and it’s great fun to watch the cast of King John mingling with the casts of Midsummer and R&J.

So we thought it would be fun to invite everyone on Wednesday mornings for a chance to socialize and have a small nosh before heading to separate rehearsal rooms. And by everyone, I don’t just mean those who are called on that day. We invited everyone, which amounts to something like 165 people.

9:15 is a wee bit early for those of us in the theater business, true, but by 9:45 we had quite the quorum. It’s always nerve-wracking to calculate food amount. But long-suffering Hannah (I say that because you know how I have been hounding her about snacks!) ordered just the right amount of food. Including some vegan and gluten-free options. (NY, being the carbohydrate capital of the world, hasn’t quite figured out the gluten-free thing yet. I also keep forgetting that when you say “regular coffee” it translates to milk and sugar.)

I don’t believe that 400 years ago everyone understand every word that was being said. I do think, however, that they understood more than most of us do today. And I also think they may have been able to understand what the plays are going to work faster. What do I mean by this? This is basic playwriting 101: the job of the playwright is to get my attention and to maintain (or, even better, increase) it until the play ends. This is something I got from George Pierce Baker, who was one of the first playwrighting teachers in the US way back in the early 1900s. There were few successful playwrights in the first 25 years of the 20th century who didn’t study with him at Harvard and Yale. His book DRAMATIC TECHNIQUE is still revelatory. He uses examples from contemporary plays at the time, most of which are not known today. So don’t get hung up about the examples. But read the principles.

I need to know what’s being worked out early on or I’m going to get bored and just wait for the clowns to show up and amuse me. One of the greatest gifts that the playwrights involved in this project have done for me is that they have made the problem very clear. Thanks to Jeff, I can follow what the issue is about that damn changeling boy that Titania and Oberon are fighting about. Oh, is that the issue? And is that caused the cosmic upset that the play works out? Huh.

Brighde Mullins has translated “commodity” into “self-interest.” And suddenly, I understand everyone’s motivation in KING JOHN. Self-interest. Hm. That sounds rather relevant doesn’t it. “Commodity” doesn’t land on me quickly. I think of a noun, stocks, not an action. But somehow just hearing “self-interest” leads me to think of the cost of the pursuit of what one wants. Perhaps every character in every play is pursing their own wants, but I do think this is the underlying action of KJ.

I seem to have this crazy luck about when I slip into these rooms. I managed to catch the big crown passing scene in R2. Talk about cutting tension with a knife! Whoa! It is partisan politics at its best (worst?) going on in that play. And everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to tell everyone how to behave in this rare moment. It’s not like you change kings every four years.

I happened to slip into the MIDSUMMER room as Titania and Oberon were fighting over the changeling boy. I’ve always just chalked it up to a symbol of the tension between the two of them, but suddenly Titania talks about the boy’s mother means to her and why she is so dedicated to keeping him. Suddenly there is personal stake in the matter which moves me greatly.

And I watched the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio. “Until Mercutio dies, everything is possible,” Hansol reminds us. It is a comedy until then. And her translation really points up that contrast beautifully. There is a discussion about some of Hansol’s word choices. “Boy” and “faggot” are hurled between then young men. I think Hansol’s point is that the language they would have hurled should be hurtful.

The last event of the day was attending the reading of LLL. Like the COE’s room, there were a lot of knitted brows whenever I popped by. I’m sure that I didn’t help anyone by asking “Is it funny?” whenever I came in. Nothing like the pressure to be funny to deflate the funny!

I specifically wanted playwright Josh Wilder to take on LLL. First of all, I was literally matching early career writers together. And also, the language in his other plays has a cadence to it that appeals to me. Lastly, he always has this twinkle in his eye and I wanted that spirit to be in this translation.

There is a lot of poetry as subject matter in this play. I have wondered if it isn’t structured like a sonnet. And some of the sonnets are good, and some of them are doggerel. And for the first time, I could hear the difference. Longaville seems to have actually written a good one. It was a deliciously unexpected tender moment amidst all the hilarity of the situation. Things that are unexpected solicit laughter as a autonomic response. That’s partially why I never think laughter is inappropriate in the theater. It’s a physical response to something. And like breathing, you suppress at your peril.

Director Nelson Eusebio was coming off the high of the success of the reading of H6.3 in which there were no music stands. I asked Nelson to put a bit more formality on this play, as it is more formal, in a weird way. And then when they can’t stand the formality anymore, perhaps that’s when the music stands would be tossed aside.

It’s a long foreplay play to get to the huge turning point which happens very late in the play. And as it always does, it was a chilling moment learning about the death of the Princess’s father. When the shenanigan’s had gotten out of control, like tease Malvolio out of control, that’s when Shakespeare pulls the rug. It’s so effective dramatically!

And suddenly the tone shifted, and everyone had to grow up really really quickly. Which is how it is sometimes in real life.

The clowns in this play are really clear, and those actors who embodied them just went for broke. And when they crashed, it was so moving too. I could distinguish between the four pairs as I’ve never been able to before. And when Holofernes screamed at them for not being kind, it was both hilarious and heartbreaking. We are not kind when we are young. And perhaps the moral of this story is that you need to grow out of that. Otherwise, you are not a full human being.

Tomorrow: Merchant of Venice comes into the house. And we’re reading Ed 3 and R2. Yowza, that’s a lot of historical names to keep track of!

Headshot Image for Lue Morgan Douthit

Lue Morgan Douthit

Executive Director / Dramaturg, Timon of Athens

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a...

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a full service literary department as Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy. Play on! began in 2012 as a pilot program under her supervision. She was the Production Dramaturg for more than 50 productions, including 15 world premieres including: Hannah and the Dread Gazebo; Head Over Heels; Family Album; The Unfortunates; Throne of Blood;  and Equivocation.. She has also worked on over two dozen Shakespeare productions. She is the co-adapter of a six-actor Macbeth and seven-actor Measure for Measure, which were both produced at OSF and elsewhere. She was the co-producer of the Black Swan Lab in 2009, going on to produce the lab from 2010 to 2016. Douthit is the recipient of the 1999 Literary Manager & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) Prize in Dramaturgy: The Elliott Hayes Award. She received a PhD at the University of Washington, an MFA from Trinity University, and an MA from University of Arizona.

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