The curtain is rising on the 2013 Shakespeare Festival season. I’m excited. Shakespeare inspires me and makes me think. His topics are universal and ageless, working on so many levels: the psychological, social, and spiritual. His staging is readily adaptable to address the zeitgeist of our time.
I am writing from Ashland, a quaint theater community in southern Oregon. Though I’ve also been to Shakespeare festivals in London, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Stratford, Ontario, I must say that the Bard plays just as well in the US.
Last night’s modern rendition of King Lear explored the issues of parenting—favoritism, the aging parent’s relationship to adult children, and sibling rivalry. What topics could be more timely?
As I left the theater I was compelled to examine my own parenting style. Do my kids find me fair? I hope I do better than Lear.
The genius of the staging fed my creative spirit. Played in the round, Lear resolved performance challenges with a trap door and clever illumination. The trap door allowed rapid scene changes and the symbolic transport of bad guys to damnation. The variations in lighting— spots, lamps, candles, flashlights, and lightening—symbolized ways to see the truth (or miss it).
Because Ashland is a small town nestled into the Rogue River Valley, you meet people, actors even. I met Lear’s Butler, who told me that one day he landed wrong in the trapdoor and gashed his head open to the tune of thirty stitches. What a scar! But the show goes on.
Some people eschew Shakespeare out of lingua-phobia. But there are ways to tune your ear into the language. You can go online and read a plot summary or practice with the actual text of Act I. Or you can attend a “Prologue,” a thirty-minute pre-show explanation of the director’s concept, themes, and artistic discretion.
Some festivals, like Ashland, offer works by other playwrights. The Tennessee Williams classic, A Street Named Desire, is fresh and powerful. Two Trains Running shows August Wilson at his most optimistic. My Fair Lady features a true spirited woman, Eliza, and the best Alfred Doolittle I’ve ever seen.
We on the West Coast are privileged to have festivals from British Columbia (Bard on the Beach) to San Diego—a lot of them outdoors. Googling “Shakespeare Festivals” will show theater opportunities all over North America.
So give the Bard a chance this summer. You might just agree with Ashland’s Artistic Director, Bill Rauch, who believes that Shakespeare is “eternally relevant.”