I’m directing a one-act of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  It consists of 16 sonnets, with accompanying scenes which show how the sonnets relate to real-life situations. At the reading I had a few weeks ago, the feedback was generally very positive, which I found affirming and encouraging.

However, one suggestion I received was that there be an introduction in order to explain to an audience which may not be familiar with Shakespeare, what was going to be going on. My reaction was that this was not necessary because:

  1. You don’t need to give an introduction to a play, you just do the play
  2. The audience would be pretty familiar with Shakespeare
  3. I didn’t have an introduction to do and I’m not a writer (clearly)

But I’ve given it more thought and the fact is that most people are not familiar with Shakespeare. Many have only learned that Shakespeare is irrelevant and indecipherable. They know from the outset that they won’t “get it” so they don’t put themselves through the misery of trying to understand – it’s so much easier to watch a sit-com on TV.

This one-act is for a competition but it’s also for a general audience. And, although the judges will be familiar with Shakespeare, the general audience will not. Most will especially be unfamilar with the sonnets. So, if I can create an atmosphere where the general audience will be more comfortable, I will be serving them well, although perhaps diminishing my chances with the judges by suggesting that the judges are dumber than they actually are.

I want to hit on three aspects of discomfort that, IMHO,  general audiences have with Shakespeare and with the sonnets specifically.

  1. Shakespeare wrote in unintelligible language that no one, not even the British, understand anymore.
  2. What was taught  in school about Shakespeare absolutely killed any interest there might have been.
  3. Poetry is for wimps and is almost as unintelligible as Shakespeare’s language. Put them together and you have a recipe for disaster.

So I must address these three strikes against enjoying the play I will present. I must face them and diffuse them.

It’s as if you are in a crowd listening to a stand-up comedian playing to a home town audience. All around you , you see people breaking down in laughter and you just don’t get what is so funny. Because the jokes are part of a different culture, you are at a loss. However, with a little information and encouragement you can become part of the audience enjoying the show.

I believe it is the same with Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his time. His audiences, even those dumb, uneducated “groundlings” who couldn’t afford a seat and paid to stand for the entire performance, got his jokes, felt his pain, understood the yearning, hopes and thoughts of his characters. We are not dumber than those groundlings, we’re just part of a different culture. With a little information and encouragement, we can be part of that  audience of 400 years ago and enjoy the same show.

My introduction will try to bridge the 400 year old gap, simply, in one minute or less, and will pick up the general audience which will be viewing my production. I will be like  Alice stepping through the looking-glass and holding out a hand to the viewer to come along. I will inform and encourage and will bring them to my side of the mirror. However, unlike Alice, I don’t have any absuridty to reveal, but the universal reality that travels through time and hits the mark in today’s world.

It’s a tall order and is going to take some thought. It’s probably grossly unrealistic. But I believe that Shakespeare well done is plain ol’ good theater and can grab the contemporary audience, if the audience can be convinced to relax, to not be afraid, and to let themselves be open for the experience.

 

 

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