Alright, fine, I’ll admit it.
After writing a list of summer reading that included absolutely nothing on or about my man Will, I’m tweaking out a little bit. In my incredibly biased opinion, summer isn’t summer without a requisite dose of Bard. And, since I’m still making up for my little indiscretion with Jane Austen last year (he just won’t drop it!), I’ve decided to create a second list.
Will is rocking a summery look with his D&G glasses and ruff by Hermes
Here is my Shakespeare-centric summer to do list. Since I am a firm believer that plays should not be read except by those with a true penchant for masochism (academics mostly, literary flagellation is a requisite skill for the wanna-be literati), I am re-focusing the primary task of my list. There will be reading on here, certainly, but only as an added bonus to alternate activities. This is a three dimensional interactive list which, hopefully, will provide you with some Shakespearey goodness and me with a much-needed break from a long-dead playwright breathing down my neck.
1) Go see some Shakespeare! ‘Tis the season for the free outdoor variety! If you’re in New York, obviously you’re going to want to see Shakespeare in the Park. This year, they are re-vamping last year’s popular repertory style and performing All’s Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure (a theme, by the way, which will repeat itself…). Performing a season in “repertory” means that one cast rehearses and performs two or more productions simultaneously (before you start having visions of a Midsummer Night’s Hamlet, allow me to clarify that I mean “simultaneously” in a fairly cosmic fashion in that the shows are performed at separate showtimes during the same season). Back in the day (Elizabethan times, that is), this was how all theatre was performed. A company would have a bag of plays from which they could pull on any one given night and all the company actors would be used in whatever production was performed. In my opinion, repertory is the most robust and interesting way to produce theatre. It keeps the actors hopping, keeps the moments fresh, and really allows everyone involved in the process to flex their theatrical muscle. You haven’t learned lines until you’ve learned them for two shows… in meter… simultaneously.
If you happen to live in Boston, they have their own version of this time-honored summer tradition. This summer, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will be performing All’s Well that Ends Well. This year will be the first year that I’ve had the opportunity to attend a CSC performance and I am very much looking forward to it. As such, I cannot currently vouch for quality of production, but I will report back to you as soon as I can.
My good friends at the Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre will be putting up a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor this summer, so stay tuned for further details there. In case you missed my rave review of their Henry VIII last summer, you should be made aware that Artistic Director/Executive Producer/Everything and a bag of chips man Bob Colonna is a true-blue GENIUS. I would watch someone read the phone book if he directed it. Make every effort to see this show.
If you’re looking for something further North, on Sunday, August 14th Lowell Summer Music Series brings back the New England Shakespeare Company to perform Measure for Measure. NE Shakes is an interesting company with a unique production style. They perform in what they claim is a more authentic style (I could dispute this claim, but that’s another entry I think…) and don’t do much rehearsing at all. They read roles from scrolls carried into performance and focus on a “rough and ready” aesthetic which allows them to perform just about anywhere (usually in parks and things like that). I would highly recommend catching a performance of theirs just to experience the quirkiness.
If you live in one of the ten million places that I haven’t mentioned above, I advise you to employ the services of google and find somewhere near you offering such an evening’s entertainment. These places exist just about everywhere and I can nearly guarantee that you will find something suitable. Free Shakespeare? Outside? Bring a picnic and catch a show. It’s culture!
2) Read some Shakespeare fan-fic! Okay, so you shouldn’t read a Shakespeare play, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t soak up some bardy goodness from the page. Many authors have appropriated Shakespeare’s stories (and even Shakespeare himself!) into their work and it makes for a cute little nerd-read. Here are some of my favorites:
*The Shakespeare Stealer Series by Gary Blackwood; This is a YA trilogy designed to introduce young audiences to the nuts and bolts of Elizabethan theatre. I LOVE YA books and thus absolutely adored them. Blackwood’s research is well done and the stories he crafts are engaging (if predictable). So cute!
*Interred with their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell; The Da Vinci Code meets The Eight. It’s a Shakespeare mystery set in present day and sure to give any geek who thinks they know their Shakespeare a run for their proverbial money. The plot isn’t exactly inspired, but it’s fun to follow the Shakespeare mystery!
Gaiman's Shakespeare along with Morpheus
*A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Neil Gaiman (third comic in Sandman volume 3: “Dream Country”); Gaiman is an EXTREMELY literary writer and hides allusions to various texts within his work all the time. There’s a great deal of Shakespeare in Gaiman if you look for it, but the most blaring example is this little ditty. I’m not a huge comic fan (something about the genre just doesn’t jive well with me), but this one is totally worth it.
3) Watch a Shakespeare movie! Despite the fact that I am still angry at Julie Taymor for
Imogen Stubbs as Viola and Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia in Trevor Nunn's film
her egregious behavior surrounding her Giant Broadway Flop Money Sink, she did make a pretty good Titus. There are also a plethora of Kenneth Branagh films to choose from (some of the best are Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, and (snobby academics be damned) Love’s Labour’s Lost). Trevor Nunn directed a Twelfth Night which ranks pretty high on my Bard-o-meter (and stars Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs… how can you go wrong?). If you want to go more classic, you could watch the Zeferelli Romeo and Juliet (not to be confused with the Baz Luhrman Romeo and Juliet (you know, the one with Leo and Claire where nobody knew how to speak verse?)). Find one, rent one, grab some microwave popcorn and a glass of wine to class things up. A good way to hide in the air conditioning on your own couch for an evening while still soaking up culture.
4) Memorize a Sonnet! The sonnets, since they’re poems, break the don’t read Shakespeare rule. Read the sonnets! Love the sonnets! Pick your favorite sonnet and learn it! Guaranteed to improve your snob factor by at least 10%, and really, everyone should know at least one poem by heart. It builds character. (My favorites, by the by, are 43, 50, 97, 98, 110, and 118)
5) Play a Shakespeare Game! Yes, they make Shakespeare games. My favorite so far has been Shakespeare: The Bard Game. You’re going to want at least three people to play it, but don’t be shy! Knowledge of Shakespeare, his works, and his times is helpful, but not crucial to enjoying this game.
Go on. Let your inner geek show. I promise I won’t tell anyone.