This is what the young American population - you know the types, the ones who want nothing but instant gratification, the ones who move to LA to star in movies having never been trained, the ones who would walk around with Starbucks IVs if the could - THE ONES WHO BLOG- do with The Bard. We swing the pendulum away from starched collars, where old white people stand and pontificate at each other for four hours. We live in a world where Romeo and Juliet is mandated fodder for (some good, some bad) Freshman high school English courses, where going to see a Shakespeare play means sitting in the dark and watching people do a lot of standing around, where we feel there aren't enough theatre companies interested in the vibrancy of a young cast. We took our freak flags and ran to the opposite end of the spectrum. The result is a new, trendy, anti-intellectualized Shakespeare, done in barrooms and parks, with drinks often included.
We've come a long way from the British Empire Shakespeare Society, founded in 1901 by Greta Morritt with its four objectives...
And here we see history being made. One generation uses a powerful cultural tool like Shakespeare for one thing, and the next generation either buys into that objective or flips it on its head in a messy act of teenage rebellion. We do this with music. We do this with visual art. We do this with everything.
I TOTALLY understand why, once you've invested so much time and often so much money into the study of something, you might get pissed off when a bunch of kids use it for an excuse to get drunk. I TOTALLY understand that, once you've been taught by some very very smart (often very very British) people that The Folio is a sacred text of magic spells that must be spoken Exactly Right or the magic fails, you find a bunch of slurring American kids stumbling and spitting on the stage appalling. I TOTALLY get that Shakespeare has lasted for 400 years because the words are so important, and we need to preserve them as judiciously as the Jews preserve the Torah. I get it. Whenever there's any kinds of reformation, there is backlash, there are generations shaking their fingers, there are inflamed (and beer-filled) post show discussions.
A sense of superiority I understand. (Why shouldn't you get something out of your extensive studies? And if you're not getting paid well for them, you might as well be a pretentious dick. That'll show 'em. This sounds facetious, but THIS IS HOW I ROLL, TOO.)
But what I don't understand is the fear.
The first time someone put me on stage with a prompt script and taught me Unrehearsed Shakespeare (a stepping stone over to Drunk Shakespeare I posted about earlier) I was terrified. I was also exhilarated, giddy, and astounded that there were new ways to challenge myself in a field that I had already studied SO MUCH. I walked away from the workshop with my mindgrapes totally blown, and I've used techniques from that workshop (and that book, and more workshops, and a couple shows) to engage young students in the text ever since.
When my friend approached me and asked me to be in Hamlet, and to do it drunk, I (and the rest of the cast) accepted the proposal with delight. Why? I've been asked this repeatedly since. The question is usually accompanied with a terrified look in a person's eyes. WHY. Why would you ruin Shakespeare like that? Why would you put yourself in that vulnerable position? And you're not SWORD FIGHTING drunk, are you?
No. Of course not. We're not idiots. (But thanks for assuming that I am.) We just happen to think that maybe, just maybe, if seeing a Shakespeare play seemed more like a party and less like an expensive nap time for the boomer generation, more people would get engaged with it. We don't freaking know, but why not try it? Why not band together in a group of supportive, intelligent, welcoming people and just PLAY? That's all we want to do. We crave playfulness, and audience interaction, because we have an overwhelming passion to translate the soulful, humanistic connection we feel with the text to an audience... We're all just trying to find the best way to do so.
I have had the delightful opportunity for the past few years to hold a sort of cultural dissertation in the Special Collections department of the UWM library every year on Shakespeare's birthday. We gather people to listen to a short lecture, a few scenes, a few soliloquies, and then we eat cake and have snacks. I spearheaded this celebration, this one day out of the year for the community to reflect on the new and old ways of using Shakespeare's texts, because I think it's fascinating, but more importantly, BECAUSE IT IS FUN. The people on their way to this event often stop by at the front desk and ask, "Where's the Shakespeare party?"
That's what I want. I want the Shakespeare party. And I want everyone to be invited. Bring that Folio that you clutch to like a life preserver. And bring your whiskey. But please, please leave your fear at home.
Let's just play.