June 4, 2019
Day #10: “Lost in New Jersey”
Everybody has been waiting for the day when I wouldn’t show up and cause trouble. “Uhm, Lue, have you had a day off yet?” “Hey, what are you going to do on your day off?” “What are you doing on your day off tomorrow?” When these questions start to escalate, you know you’re past your shelf life.
I did manage to take the afternoon off. And my pal Tasso Feldman and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. We also did a quick turn around lower Manhattan, and we started at the Trinity Church graveyard where Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler is buried. It was a strangely moving sight.
We ended our adventure at Ice and Vice at the TimeOut Market in Brooklyn Heights. I had Corny, an ice cream made of chichi morada (a Peruvian drink made from purple corn) and popcorn bread in a blue corn cone. I seem to be in a matchy matchy mood these days. Or maybe it’s a corny one
It was not a day off for the Festival, however. We welcomed ROMEO AND JULIET into the house this morning. So I had to drop in there before taking the day off and I managed to catch the balcony scene – and it was sweet and moving in a cold read. Can’t wait to hear how it will feel when it’s fleshed out some more.
And I caught the opening moment in EDWARD III. Like any play, there is so much information that we are trying to grab as audience members. And when it comes to these history plays, it always seems to be who did what to whom. Just trying to keep the “who” straight is hard enough. Why do all the English royalty have the same four names? Henry, Richard, George, Edward. Sometimes I think James was put on the throne just to break up the monotony!
I had forgotten about the humidity on the east coast. Not only is my face breaking out, but somebody has to help me with the frizzy hair situation. Good thing Kiehl’s is down the street from CSC. I plan on throwing myself on their mercy.
No one knows what happened to the water order placed yesterday. And I arrived at Play on headquarters as Hannah was on the phone to the Home Depot in Secaucus. Why we are ordering our water from Secaucus and The Home Depot is one mystery to solve. (Although I suspect that has to do with budget.) But where in the world did the water get delivered? And, more to the point, when are we getting some more?
As we start the second week, we have been giving away t-shirts with our new Play on Shakespeare logo on them. Actor Stephanie Machado was so cold in room 3A that she used one of them as a skirt.
I’ve been thinking about the age of the original company of actors that Shakespeare was in. And wondering about the trajectory of the stories that he will tell over the course of 20 years. It seems logical to me that the stories were about young people in the 1590s because the actors were younger. And that as we follow through the chronology we will see more and more stories centering around mature characters. This follows both Shakespeare’s aging as well as his colleagues. We created a company as wide and diverse as we could reach out and grab. My theory about the doubling 400 years ago is that an actor would play four different kinds of characters. And that “Central casting” – which is our convention today – wouldn’t have mattered that much. By ‘central casting’ I mean two things: one actor, one role. (If your character dies early in a movie, you, the actor, are most likely not returning as another character in that movie.) And we work hard to match representation described in a particular play. Our current theater practice was formed in the 19th century when realism became the style of the day. And authenticity was the rage.
Authenticity matters very much still today, of course. But there are a lot of different kinds of plays these days, and not all of them have realism as their style of choice. We must be conscientious about casting because we are very much a visual society, and everything we see is a clue for something.
The act of making theater is an act of translation. For this project, I want to translate the immediacy of the experience between actors and audiences that I feel was the experience 400 years ago. And I don’t often feel it today. For many reasons. And one of which is because of the language barrier. Which is what Play on is directly addressing.
But in every Shakespeare production, directors, dramaturgs, designers, and producing teams have many factors to consider. There are three time periods in any play: when the play was written, when the play is set, and when the play is being produced. Television may be the closest to be able to align those three time periods. But a play in production is almost always anachronistic in that way.
With a classic play (and Shakespeare is in that category), there is a fourth time period potentially: where to set it? Often our contemporary productions set the plays in contemporary times. Or maybe they set them in the mid-19th century. Or in Italy during the rise of Fascism in the 1930.s These choices are not arbitrary (hey, we have some clothes left over from that musical set in the roaring 1920’s). Rather, there is much thought and consideration that goes into these productions. They become a kind of metaphor unto themselves. The thinking is that a more contemporary time frame will help us read the emotional codes between characters in the plays.
And sometimes it does.
And sometimes it doesn’t. It is odd, when you think about it, to have characters in contemporary clothes speaking Elizabethan English. It is such an assumed convention that we don’t even think of it as a convention. But it is.
I’m not saying that Shakespeare or other classic plays need to stay in their time period as far as the theatrical representation goes. My question is: what time period are you talking about? In Shakespeare’s KING JOHN, are we talking about the time period he wrote it in? Or the time period he set it in? Or the time period that we will be viewing it? There is more to it than you think. What I want to bring to your attention is that there are different kind of external time that productions must reconcile somehow.
Tomorrow: Another double day! And it’s our first company breakfast.