On April 23rd, in two weeks time at the time of writing, it will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. How are you going to mark this significant event? We have a few suggestions.
The more one explore’s Shakespeare’s work, the deeper and richer one’s experience of it becomes. Its richness seems to be without end, and so what could be better than to spend some time exploring his plays again. What’s the best way of doing this? The classic approach has been to study the plays, but studying engages the intellect, whereas one of the depths of Shakespeare’s work is its emotional richness – best explored by playing! In our experience, there have been four key ways we have explored Shakespeare plays:
Direct a play:
The best way to explore a Shakespeare play is to direct it. You’ll have to study the text and cut it to suit your production. You’ll have to come to a view as to what the play is about. You’ll have to help the actors come to an understanding of the parts they’re playing. When it comes to the run, you’ll find that the play is no longer what you thought it was, but through the efforts of the cast and the back-stage crew, it has become something different – sometimes subtly different – sometimes completely different.
There’s a couple of snags about this approach: you have to find a group that will entrust you with their production; and there really isn’t enough time to get the production up and running by April 23rd, though that shouldn’t stop you if you get the opportunity.
Take part in a production:
If you can’t find anyone willing to let you direct a Shakespeare show, you can always take part in a show. If you’re not a professional actor, there are community theatre groups around the world devoted to putting on Shakespeare’s plays. Join one, and start playing.
Again, there is a major snag. If you play a part in a Shakespeare show, you get to know your part well, but not the play. The famous story of the minor actor asked to describe the plot of Romeo and Juliet comes to mind: “Well, you see, there was this apothecary….”
Still, taking part in a production of a Shakespeare play is very exciting, and if you’re not already hooked, we suggest you try it.
Take part in play-readings:
Now this is the most under-rated way of exploring Shakespeare’s plays. It used to popular in an earlier age, before television and cinema, but is no longer, now everyone has non-stop entertainment available at the touch of a TV remote.
We think it’s time for a revival of play-reading, in a similar way to how book clubs have become so popular. Getting a group together to read a Shakespeare play once a month is an enriching experience. In preparing for the reading, you’ll probably read the play a couple of times, imagining the characters coming to life. You’ll probably watch a couple of productions from the Globe, the RSC, NT-Live, or the BBC. This may well show you the depth of different interpretations of the same play. And finally, you come together with friends, and play your role(s) together, and the play comes alive. Afterwards you’ll probably talk about the play and be astonished, each time, by the variety of views about the play within the same group.
There are a few problems with play-reading which probably have contributed to its decline: it’s amazing the variations in Shakespeare play scripts, so if you all get together each bringing your own Shakespeare Complete Works, the reading is likely to fall apart due to script variations; there may be 30 characters in the play, but only 10 of you reading the play – how do you allocate the roles to different players, making things fair, and not having one player talking to themselves all through a scene? How do you encourage everyone to pay attention all the way through the play?
You’ll be pleased to hear our own version of Shakespeare’s plays, based on the First Folio, the scripts that The Lord Chamberlain’s Men / The King’s Men used, have reduced significantly all these problems. They’re available online, free, and you can see all those we’ve published on our Home Page: https://players-shakespeare.com/
Probably the biggest resistance to taking part in a play-reading is shyness about speaking lines out loud. If you get over that shyness, you’ll find yourself getting rich enjoyment from exploring Shakespeare’s plays. So if getting 8 – 10 people together for a play-reading is a bit of a big ask to start with, it might be better to start with a friend or two. You’ll find scenes from Shakespeare plays for 2-6 players on our Scenes page: https://players-shakespeare.com/published-mffev5-extracts/
Watch a show:
Of course the most popular way of exploring Shakespeare’s plays is to watch a production. It’s great fun, can move the audience enormously, but doesn’t have the same depth of experience as a play-reading, or taking part. But if you hit on a good show, you can have a wonderful experience. With DVDs and streaming, there is a wealth of choice of shows to watch, on your TV, at home!
The thing is to make sure you find a show worth watching. Even the best Shakespeare production companies sometimes foul up. To try and reduce this problem we have a page which rates the different available productions from the major UK production companies – and if you choose a Globe production,
you see the plays they way they were originally produced, on a replica Elizabethan stage. You can see our reviews at: https://players-shakespeare.com/great-shows-to-watch-at-home/
A TV showing of a play doesn’t always have the same impact as a live production, so its good to find a live show near you. We offer little help here – we don’t know all the shows in all the world. However, if you’re near the Scottish Borders sometime in early June (Wed 1st – Sat 4th or Wed 8th – Sat 11th) you have the opportunity to see a production of The Taming of the Shrew, by one of the most interesting community theatre groups that I know. They put on promenade performances (you walk around the gardens of a Scottish Royal Hunting Lodge seeing the show – outside – in Scotland!) with a mixed cast of adults and children. I had the pleasure of working with them for 10 years before starting Players-Shakespeare.com and had the most amazing experiences as actor, director, back-stage, and as audience). This may not be on April 23rd, but it’s pretty close. If you’re coming from abroad, try to fly to Edinburgh Airport!
So how are you going to mark Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary?
Practically, unless you’ve already made plans, it comes down to watching a show, or taking part in a scene / play-reading.
If you want to watch a show, there’s a wealth of high-quality Shakespeare shows on DVD and by streaming across the Internet. There’s also quite a few ‘Duds’. We think your starting point should be to check out our Rated Reviews Page. It’s not exhaustive, but there’s plenty of choice for most tastes, with a focus on productions from The Globe (a replica of the Elizabethan theatre), The RSC, NT-Live, and the BBC.
We hope some of you will try out play-reading, even if only in a small group. Since we launched our MFFEV5 ‘Shakespeare on the Cloud’ service at the New Year, we’ve been pleased to see that people around the world have started exploring our ‘scenes to play’, mostly in 1s and 2s, but increasingly in greater depth. You can find scenes to play for 1 – 6 players on our Scenes page, or if you go to our Home page you can access any of our published plays, and find scenes to play from a particular play, or ways of playing the play for 6 – 12 players. So, why not invite a couple of friends round, get some nibble in, open a bottle of wine, and play some Shakespeare? What better way to acknowledge the Bard! – and you don’t need to limit yourself to 23rd April. Our scripts are available, 24/7, free!
If you want to keep up-to-date with the reviews and plays and scenes we publish, ‘like’ our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/playersshakespeare/ and you’ll get regular updates on Facebook.
How are we going to mark Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary?
As well as going to see Shakespeare @ Traquair’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, we’re doing a couple of things to mark Shakespeare’s anniversary.
A group of professional actors want to explore how they might use our online Shakespeare scripts (‘Shakespeare on the Cloud’). On April 30th about 10 of them are coming together to explore play-reading different scenes from Shakespeare. I’ll be very interested to see how different this will be from our usual, non-professional play-readings.
Secondly, ‘playing Shakespeare’, as described in the play-reading section above, is a really powerful way of introducing Shakespeare to children. We’re going to take a dozen or so plays and publish them in such a way as to encourage children to explore the plays. We’ve provisionally selected the following plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; As You Like It; Julius Caeser; Macbeth; Much Ado About Nothing; Othello; Richard III; Romeo and Juliet; The Merchant of Venice; The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest; Twelfth Night. Three of these are already available (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night), we’re working on another two (As You Like It, Macbeth) which should be available by the end of this month, and we hope to have at least six available by September, with the rest coming in the rest of 2016. If your favourite play isn’t in the list, and you’d like it for the next academic year, let us know by leaving a comment after this post.
We’re hoping to introduce this to home school groups in the English-speaking world (at least USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and for school use as well. If you want to be involved in this initiative, please get in contact, by leaving a message after this article, or by emailing email@example.com
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