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Shakespeare Thoughts

Last night we went to go see 2 Henry IV. They only did two performances of that one this year because they were practicing original constraints, which is apparently an increasing trend with Shakespearian performances--to try to perform them as closely as the Elizabethan actors would have done. So, they kept the house lights up for the whole thing (because plays would have been done during the day); they did away with mics; the actors interacted with the audience a lot.

In some ways that was the most interesting part because audiences aren't used to interacting with performed Shakespeare--it's not done because High Art, so the audience didn't always recognize cues, which led to actors kind of forcing audience participation. In the first half, one of the actors went into the audience and the audience member had no idea what to *do*, so in the second half the actor had some cards with some words for the random audience member to say. It was pretty great. But the interaction thing mostly reminded me of doing Ren Faire plays.

The other interesting thing to me was the prep work the actors had done. So for instance in Elizabethan times, they told us, there were no directors etc., all of the choices were left up to the actors. They waited to do these shows towards the end of the run because now the actors all know each other and could play on that comfort. So they got to pick their own costumes and props, which were a mixture of things. In one great scene, Lady Westmoreland (huzzah genderswap!) rolls a line of caution tape to separate out the space for the sides to parley. The other thing they told us was that, per Elizabethan standards (they said), the actors had only rehearsed the play about 20 hours, versus the 130 hours of the other productions (and apparently that's tight by industry standards). So some actors carried their sheets with only their lines (which would have been done in period) or could request a line from the prompter. So you know how in movies people always ask for a line in a sort of sour, demanding way? Here the actors would say "line" as they naturally performed the rest of their speech, so you would only catch what was happening when you heard the prompter's voice.

All in all, it was a really great performance. (I note they didn't do original time constraints--as I recall from... somewhere... they would have done the whole play straight in about 80 minutes. Here there was an intermission and they did I think the whole play in nearly three hours.) I really am struck by that Ren Faire like aspect to the performance--heavily audience dependent with lots of interaction, vs. our traditional high art expectations.I'd really like to see more Shakespeare performed that way; at first it unsettled the audience and then people relaxed and enjoyed it. For instance at the end the audience was charged to yell "Long live the king!" at Hal and then at his end procession to cheer a lot up until Falstaff.


( 5 comments — Add your .02 )
Jul. 28th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
I love the Henry IV/Henry V plays, and I would so love to see them live someday. (I've seen Henry V, but it wasn't such a great production - though we had a pretty good Henry.) Audience participation makes me uncomfortable, so I try to avoid it. I don't mind if other people want to get involved, so long as it doesn't hold up the show, but the thought of getting drafted, as it were, makes me squirm.
Aug. 2nd, 2014 06:51 am (UTC)
*reads delightedly*
Aug. 23rd, 2014 11:17 am (UTC)
Fascinating clip here about experiments with performing Shakespeare in the original pronunciation. The plays run a lot quicker and double entendres appear where none were obvious in modern English. Elderly natives of Sussex, where I live, sound a lot like this.

Aug. 23rd, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
YES! I saw that a while back and thought it was utterly fascinating. I'd love to see a play done in original pronunciations!
Aug. 23rd, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Me too! He's got an interesting website and answers questions in full. I'll ask him about the Sussex accent. http://originalpronunciation.com
( 5 comments — Add your .02 )

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