June 29, 2019
Day 35: “’Penultimate’ means second to last, right?,” I nervously ask my friend Kate Farrington, as I’m about to give my introductory remarks to the Tempest.
I actually got my act together tonight to write up remarks for the pre-reading intro. I have not been at my improv best doing these; yet I keep thinking that one of these times, I would actually make some sense. I think that’s the definition of insanity? That you keep doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result.
It occurred to me, at 5am this morning, that The Tempest would be the penultimate reading, and I really should be prepared. But when am I going to do that?
Because the first thing that happens today is that I taught this charting class. What was I thinking to cram one more thing on our schedule? (It was originally going to be tomorrow, during the Pride Parade – dear god, what a disaster that would have been!) Anyway, I’m trying to promote a way of working on texts. It’s a community exercise that results in a map of the play you are working on. I have no idea how to write it down, but I keep thinking that maybe one of these times when I am demonstrating the exercise, that “how to document the process” will come to me. Remember the insanity discussion above?
We are vacating the building just in time. This early heat wave has taken its toll on the central a/c system, and it’s starting to swelter again. Matt and the PAs set up the fans in the hallway to grab cool air from the lobby.
We discover that there are no coffee cups or coffee filters, and so Cameron is sent off for supplies. There are muffins, however. We do have our priorities!
We march through Macbeth, just noting the facts of the play. It’s the tedious part of the exercise – nice of me to cram two dozen people into a sweltering room on a Saturday morning! But I think people begin to get a sense for its potential. And blissfully, I don’t hold them in that room for long, because as it happened, I have double-booked myself this morning. (When I moved this class to Saturday morning, I forgot that I had brunch plans with friends who are camping out near Lincoln Center while their apartment is being fixed after a pipe burst. (The hazards of apartment living; after Taylor’s incident, I now worry every time I use my washer.)
Anyway, I dash uptown. And it’s like in the movies: the subways came right away. I mean, it was crazy karma. The brunch is lovely. Sharon Ruwart and her husband Tom Melcher are the geniuses behind Show Score, which is a fan-based theater review clipping service (gross simplicity here). Sharon also is a Shakespeare lover and months ago when they got wind of this festival, Tom bought Sharon two passes to all 39 readings. (That all-access pass had a great per reading rate!) She has heard all of them except for two, when she got food poisoning. Dave Hitz and I are the only ones who will have heard all of them (we think) but we consider her part of our small but mighty group.
Also in attendance is Bill Meehan and his wife Randi Zeller. I’ve known Bill for fifteen years and worship him. (He has a healthy ego so this isn’t going to help any, but there it is.) He has a dramaturg’s ability to crystalize complex ideas into simple (aka elegant) sentences. (He probably won’t love that analogy.) It is a skill that he has developed from his many years at McKenzie. How I met him, however, was during a summer program at Stanford when he came to share with us his thoughts about non-profit board development. I will go to ANY length to spend time with him. Randi and Carolyn (my partner) are graciously tolerant of this love I have for him.
He never wastes time, and so he starts in about what I am going to do with this material. He has come to hear two of these, so he has a better idea of what I have been talking about these past few years. And I’m just too tired to absorb what he is saying. I keep saying, “Can I just get through the weekend?” I am well aware, however, that once you set something on its path, you have to start thinking about the next thing. He and I had been in discussion already but the timing of this brunch is spot on. I assure him that I will be calling on him soon. After I get a big fat weeklong nap!
Sharon and I dash back to CSC for the afternoon reading of H8. And again, the subways are on time. This is a very out of body experience. As is H8. What an interesting political play it is! And Caridad’s translation makes those transactions really clear. It only takes one slip in a public setting for Henry to decide your fate. He’s not without his doubts, however, and that seems to be the personality quality that Shakespeare wants to infuse. He’s also not without his awareness of performing. We are not all just one thing all the time. Even kings. Or maybe, especially kings, as we see over and over again in Shakespeare’s history plays.
And here’s a fun fact: it just so happens that today is the anniversary of the production of H8 in 1613 that burned down the Globe Theater. They shot a cannon ball, it landed on the thatch roof, and that’s all she wrote. Staged readings are proving to be very safe and effective. (And I SWEAR that I didn’t know this when I planned the schedule.)
I see that the sky is threatening, which seems scarily appropriate as we are reading The Tempest tonight. I have this nagging feeling that I’m forgetting about someone, but I decide to dash home to get my umbrella. And to write my remarks for The Tempest.
As it happens, I did forget that I was going to meet Paige Allen in the CSC lobby at 6. She is a student of Jane Cox’s at Princeton and is interested in dramaturgy. It would have been a fun conversation to have but by the time I get her email at 6:30, I have missed that opportunity. My friend Kate, mentioned above, was the dramaturg at The Pearl Theater, and she and Paige have a nice conversation before the reading.
The reading is beautifully rendered by the actors. Kenneth’s translation is a perfect blend. You’d really have to know the play pretty well to catch where he may have shifted a few words. I remember during one of our early workshops that people swore that he had changed some of the famous lines. And he hadn’t. There were some lines that he just let be. And, yes, “moody” is in the Shakespeare.
I see this is going on too long, so I will end this penultimate blog with my opening remarks:
“There is a long list of people who said yes to get us to this point, and I’d just like to thank a few of them:
To 143 actors, of whom 78 have been with us for multiple weeks, and more than 60 of them for the entire run of the festival; to the 16 Festival stage managers, who held us together these past five weeks; to 34 directors, most of whom had never heard one of these translations before and still said yes;
To 33 playwrights and 36 dramaturgs who said yes four years ago, and to the 28 playwrights and 23 dramaturgs who carved out time to sit in the rehearsals and listen to the readings throughout this past month;
To CSC and John Doyle, who said yes to hosting this festival over a cup of Earl Grey tea;
To OSF and Bill Rauch, who said, “interesting” when Dave Hitz proposed the idea of translating Shakespeare (I knew Bill well enough to know that “interesting” translates to “yes”);
To Dave, the Play on Shakespeare Co-Founder, who said yes to this dream I had about a festival in which we would read all 39 commissions;
To Kenneth Cavander, who was the first person I asked to go on this adventure with me eight years ago;
And to Geoffrey Sherman, the first artistic director who saw the production potential for these translations and produced Kenneth’s TIMON at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2014, and subsequently, his TEMPEST in 2016. This reading is dedicated to him. The theater is not immune to the power of firsts, even we need convincing to take on something for the first time. His “grand slam” production of TIMON gave me the confidence to pursue this weird translation idea of Dave’s, and I believe that we wouldn’t be her tonight if Geoffrey hadn’t said yes.”
Choosing one syllable over another – yes versus no – has the power to change the direction of one’s life. We should think very carefully before we utter one or the other.