Fringe Festivals are a time for experimentation in theater. I look forward to seeing the mix of sights and sounds at the Capital Fringe Festival every year.
There’s one thing I don’t understand: Why do so many people decide to produce Shakespeare?
I will never produce a Shakespeare play for a fringe festival. I don’t really need to because there are always at least a handful of other companies who try it. Sigh.
Here is why I will not see their shows:
It will be too long. Don’t even try to tell me it won’t. You’ll either brazenly book 150 minutes for your show (length hog!) or you’ll say that it will squeeze into 90 but run into the next show with your inability to get your actors to speak all the lines fast enough.
But Karen, I edited the play! Aw, little munchkin lambie pie – I know you tried. Editing is really hard! What to take out, what to leave in, which actor gets shafted while others get to speak all of their lines as written. Editing is a bear. An angry, frothy-mouthed bear who is covered in bees. People spend years studying at PhD level to tame this terrifying Bee Bear. If you don’t have a great handle on this part of the process, plus the help of a good dramaturg, odds are you’ll end up stung, swollen, and in the belly of Bee Bear, who will proceed to make sure your show will be (see above) too long.
Bad Shakespeare is torture. And 9 out of 10 times, you will be producing bad Shakespeare. Rehearsals are hurried, actors may be inexperienced and need more time than the director (who also may not be that experienced) can give them. It hurts my ears to hear words mispronounced. It hurts my brain to hear actors rush through the language without clarity of meaning, tone color, objectives, or intent. How will your audience understand the more archaic terms if your actors are shaky on them?
Don’t even get me started on the cross gender casting that happens for no good reason other than you have waaaaay more actresses than actors ready, willing, and able to work for you. Take the opportunity to do something with the actor to make the role more than just her standing there in men’s clothes, saying the lines. This leads me to…
If your actors have zero experience with Shakespeare, you are setting yourself up for another battle with Bee Bear. Uneven talent can lead to the aforementioned torture. If I see one more actress doing a lovely job as Juliet have to deal with some leaden, ham handed, slightly-too-old for the part Romeo, I will walk on stage and kill them both so that the audience doesn’t have to bear another moment. The play ends that way, anyway, so I’m just doing us all a favor so we can go see something else.
Every single play has been done approximately 9,762,462 times. I counted. And yes, that clever variation of setting Twelfth Night in a disco in the 1970s? Done. That other one, too. Yup, that too. All of them have. been. done.
So what can you produce instead of Shakespeare?
I’m so glad you asked:
Did you know that approximately 1 Squijillion plays have been written since Shakespeare died in the 17th century? I know, crazy, right? Some of them are even interesting!
Have you seen a play that you like? Find out who wrote it & see if you can find more of their works – maybe one of those would be fun to try.
Don’t freak out, but some of the playwrights who wrote one of these squijillion plays might even live in your town. They can be found in coffee shops, writer’s groups, local colleges, and at local theaters. Seek them out. They have such goodies for you.
Think of a subject/concept/issue that is meaningful to you in your life as an artist/director/actor/painter/dancer/Samoan/dry cleaner. Search for plays on that. Modern stories are just as important as stories that were written centuries ago. Let your art reflect your life.
Try devising something of your own. Some may say that this could lead to the triple somersault issue I brought up in the first list, but there is a difference. If you have a vision and surround yourself with creative people who are excited about the project, you really can’t fail. You will create something. It will be new and, at minimum, interesting as a process. Even if the production doesn’t turn out to be the most critically acclaimed of the festival, you will still have succeeded at making something unique & all your own. And nobody will write condescending blog posts about how you murdered Shakespeare again.
Take some inspiration from the present. Go forth and make beautiful, challenging, satisfying theatre. Bee Bear and I will be watching.
Karen is proud to be an actor, singer, improviser, and producer. Credits: Killing Women, Carol's Christmas, Cabaret XXX: Les Femmes Fatales, Be Here Now and Freakshow (Pinky Swear Productions), Romeo and Juliet (Red Eye Gravy Theater Company), Life with Father (American Century Theater),Unintended Consequences (Senior Moments Theater), House of Blue Leaves (Dominion Stage), Wonder of the World (Port City Playhouse), Hay Fever (Rockville Little Theater). Karen has been performing with Washington Improv Theater's iMusical, since 2006, performing in over 125 shows. She is also part of the DC/NY musical improv troupe Vox Pop, who can be seen in festivals around the country. Other favorite improvisational projects include POTUS Among Us, WIRT, and Seasonal Disorder. One of her films, The Bad News Bearer, which she co-wrote and performed in, won a script award and the Best Picture prize at the DC 48-Hour film festival in 2008. Karen is a graduate of the Studio Theater Conservatory. She teaches improvisation and musical improvisation at Washington Improv Theater.