Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “plays”

Bard Bits: May


I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.

I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.

Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:

“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director

“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor

What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?

One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”

I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.

Bard Bits: April


Honestly, you don’t look a day over 415, Bill!
1564-1616
April 23

Yup, it’s birthday time for William. He had a much bigger party six years ago when he hit the big 450. All over the world people celebrated the genius of the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon.

How does a person offer birthday congrats to someone who has given so much to the world in terms of literature and themed studies of human nature? Royalties, maybe. Wouldn’t that be a welcome stimulus check in the mailbox? Films, books, plays, mugs, t-shirts, buttons, toys, business names, and so much more are derived from Shakespeare. From what I have researched about his personality, I’m sure he would be amused at the adulation. He would probably discount it towards misshapen apparitions of misguided judgement.

I must offer some sort of tribute to Bill on his birthday. Hmm, how about something acknowledging my appreciation for one of his most amazing works: Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet once again. The Muppets had their say last month, now it is time for Veggie Tales to lend their muse to this timeless play of the troubled Prince of Danes or is that Danish?

https://vimeo.com/247649481?ref=em-share

Maybe you have your own ideas for a birthday tribute. I would surely appreciate hearing how you appreciate Shakespeare. Stop in the comments and have a piece of cake.

Image result for shakespeare birthday cake
Yes, you can have cake and eatheth, too.

Parking the Bard


Among the summer events I look forward to, the street fairs, arts and craft shows, farmers markets and church picnics, are the concerts, the wee bit of culture our small town enjoys. And more than the concerts on my fave list is the annual Shakespeare in the Park.

As a proclaimed Bardinator, being able to watch a Shakespeare play is a treat. The bonus with this production is that it is outdoors, professionally performed, creatively produced, and free. All I need to provide is my camp chair.

This year’s production was Henry IV. I’m not too keen on the historical monarchy plays for the reason the names are difficult to keep track of, plus someone is always trying to bump off someone to get to the throne.

But it’s Shakespeare. I will muddle through and bring up my handy on-line Folger script to keep track. Shmoop helps a bit with its character and summary notes.

We arrived an hour early to peg out our spots and were intrigued to catch the last part of the belly dancer routine. Were there belly dancers during the Renaissance?

Didn’t matter, it was fairly entertaining. Hopes of getting some dinner at a food booth were dashed–no refreshments available. None. I noticed people had brought those rolling ice chests and picnic baskets. They’ve done this before.

The venue used to be across the street from our house, which made popping home for a quick snack quite handy.

The production has grown so much in popularity it has shifted to the town football stadium. Someone could have made some decent bucks opening up the concession stand. A play that starts at 6 pm should have some kind of food choices available. Just saying.

This year’s production was set during WWI and it was a dandy. Falstaff and Hal played off each well, and the comedy bits had enough slapstick to get even the kids laughing.

And that’s the best part of outdoor theatre–the cross section of audience. Everyone attends: Singles, couples, large families with wiggly toddlers, AARPers in wheelchairs, empty nesters, even a few teens.

We all laugh in the right places, cheer accordingly, and listen attentively during the serious bits.

This year I had to plead with the hubs to accompany me. He’s not much of a Henry fan either, but he knows I do enjoy Shakespeare and he does like hanging out with me. Win-win–mostly.

We lasted right up to where Hal, as mock king, tells Falstaff that he will disown him when the time comes. After that it got serious. Battles are dreary bits to watch, even Shakespeare battle. I would have stayed but the hubs handed me my casted-off sandals. I took the hint and we snuck off field.

Dinner seemed to be on the agenda.

Shakespeare Celeb:As You May Like It


As this tribute to Shakespeare winds up, I’m wondering how Shakespeare best fits in your life. Yes, your life. You are either reading this post because you are interested in Shakespeare or because you are a Cricket Muse follower and are tolerating these  incessant Bard posts because they automatically pop up in your feed. Or perhaps it’s what Star Lord said:

Image result for guardians of the galaxy a bit of both

How do you like your Shakespeare?

Plays? These come in the variety of Globe traditional, high school productions, professional troupes, creative adventuresome adaptations:

Image result for globe theatre Image result for high school shakespeare

Image result for royal shakespeare company           Image result for creative shakespeare play adaptations

Film adaptations? These appear in Branagh style with polish and high production value, or campy or modernized or foreign or really, really so bad, or really, really so good.

shakespeare adaptations

No comments on what I consider to be the good, bad, or ugly. Everyone has their own tastes in film.

How about reading the play? Shakespeare didn’t publish his plays to be read. He didn’t even have scripts for his players,* for fear of having his plays stolen and presented elsewhere (no copyright laws then). Today we have the opportunity to study Shakespeare through a vast choice of quick online summaries that make Shakespeare almost painless to understand (though the music of his language is definitely stilled by transposing it to modern comprehensibility). There are scholarly publications, first hand discovery accounts, guided tours for students. Even graphic novels.

No fear Shakespeare is available online and in book form at barnesandnoble.com.

Image result for shakespeare bloom critiques Image result for shakespeare saved my life

Image result for shakespeare for students  Graphic Shakespeare

Do you perhaps browse the internet looking for enlightening approaches to Shakespeare?

If you are still thinking Shakespeare is “meh” then maybe David Tennant can convince you otherwise:

*Historical interjection: they were called “players” because they were “playing” the part, usually a young boy playing the part of a girl, which stems from Greek theatre when men played females. This also go with the line from As You Like It when Jacques says in his speech “all the world’s a stage and the men and women are merely players.” It would have been different if he had said “actors” wouldn’t it?

I hope this month of dedicated Shakespeare has enlightened you to his amazingness, that it has at least entertained you, or has swayed you to joining the ranks of becoming a Bardinator. Adieu, adieu, for now until next month…

Shakespeare Celeb: Shakesperience


What can you say about a work of literature that carries over into several centuries and still has meaning? For one thing, you can say “Shakespeare.” His writing certainly fascinates, attracts, and illuminates the times. Fashion may change, but human emotions definitely haven’t evolved much in 400 years. Even my sophomores are totally getting the value of studying Julius Caesar this year.

Recently our school hosted Shakesperience, which is a NEA sponsored acting troupe that travels throughout schools in our fair state, presenting, yes, you guessed it, Shakespeare. They shake down a three-four hour play into one hour based on a theme. This year they showed As You Like It set in the eighties. Gotta love eighties fashion (or lack of it). The actors have lots of energy and speak Bard. I always wonder if students “get it”–they must, because they laugh in the right places.

My favorite part of arranging Shakesperience is the afterwards. Students trundle out of the auditorium with smiles, sharing happy moments from the play. One of the best shares so far was on the fly.

Grabbing a quick snack at the cafeteria wagon after the performance I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned and one of the students who had pleaded with me to allow him to attend the performance (even though arrangements should have been made previously and not a half hour before the show starts) stared at me for a couple of seconds. I prompted him, “So, you liked the play?” He widened his eyes and placed his fingertips to his forehead and “exploded” them off his face, complete with appropriate sounds. I understood that he meant the performance blew his mind.

Old play, new way, same words, and they get it. Yup, can’t wait for next year.

Image result for as you like it

Julius Caesar: Shaken Up


The Ides of March:

a) preview of March Madness

b) a week of spring sales

c) the middle of March

d) a George Clooney movie

e) when a certain Roman emperor got the point he wasn’t as loved as he thought he was

Answers: c)true; d)true; e)true; a) and b) contenders, because one never knows

And bonus points for knowing e) is Julius Caesar and that the 15th are the Ides of March, the middle of March.

This is useful information for Trivia Night at the local pub. Truly.

Recently our school hosted this year’s Shakesperience play: Julius Caesar. Shakesperienceis a troupe of enthusiastic actors who travel to various schools and present 50 minute versions of a selected Shakespeare play. They are always innovative in approach. This is done out of necessity . For one, they have only six actors, which means playing multiple parts. They also have minimal staging, their main piece being a tiered rolling scaffold.

This year’s production was especially innovative in that Caesar was a woman and Calpurnia became husband Calpurnius. It worked well.

It was tricky presenting a assassination in a school culture where performing violence is challenging at best. Again, innovation took the lead. When the big moment arrived, each conspirator took a sheet of paper and created a weapon: fashioned brass knuckles, tightly rolled paper points equating knives. No blood, torn paper, a shower of confetti symbolized death.

During question and answer it was revealed the torn paper bits represented the tearing of a person’s life, how a person’s life is symbolized through paper: obituaries, text, etc. Ripping up the paper is shredding their life. Brilliant and school appropriate.

I always look forward to these yearly performances. Yet, every year it’s tough to gather an interest due to working around students who either can’t or don’t want to miss their class. District testing scheduled on that day doesn’t help either. Unfortunately providing opportunities for culture suffers the injuries incurred by the tyranny of the urgent set by educational must-do, like yet another test.

Hoping Shakespeare performed live is coming to a theatre near you, or better yet, to a school in your neighborhood.

And do be aware of the Ides of March.

A Bard In Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush or There’s No Bardness Like Slow Bardness


Shocking. The tremors from the announcement that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be futzing with the Bard are rippling through out various literary communities. It’s one thing to sneak No Fear Shakespeare into the classroom when teaching Hamlet  and company to students, it’s quite another to go to the theater and pay good money to hear modernity instead of Bardinator verse. If you haven’t heard the news, hear it here: Shakespeare is undergoing translation, and yes, I do believe something will be lost along the way.

“I suspect that Shakespeare himself, in his eagerness to reach audiences, would be perplexed by the idea that our job today is to settle for only half understanding his work. Let’s embrace Shakespeare for real and let him speak to us.”

So says Dr. McWhorter who teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music at Columbia University.

Just because we haven’t kept up with Old English doesn’t mean it should be changed to meet our needs. There are plenty of analysis experts who have provided handy translations of Shakespeare’s works. We just need to take the time to read them. Or better yet, figure it out on our own. It’s called learning.

What really concerns me is if this could be a trend towards other changes. Sophocles? That old dead writer of Mediterranean vintage who wrote about the son who inadvertently married his mother? Yeah, it’s Greek to me too–better change it up so we can understand his plays. Then there is Emily Dickinson. Dash it all, she really doesn’t understand how to properly use punctuation, better to get grammar check suggestions for her. She’s still in public domain, so she won’t mind. Honestly, if we quietly allow Shakespeare to be mucked about with and don’t fuss about how *presto chango* his beautiful verse and prose gets shazzamed into everyday slings and arrows, then we will surely watch all the old classics become literature lite. Less calories, less filling.

How do you feel about those Oregon Shakespeare folk messing about with Shakespeare?

Here’s the article. Let me know what you think. *grumble grr*

Me thinks it’s piteous to mess with the muse.

image: morguefile/johninportland TRANSLATION: Roses are the prettiest flower out there. Nope, it just don’t float.

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