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I just returned home from the Lowell Summer Music Series’ yearly FREE Shakespeare offering (held indoors at the high school auditorium due to weather). Just last Thursday night I got a chance finally to attend Shakespeare on the Common in Boston, as well.
The two productions could not be more different, and both were great. As an avowed Shakespeare fanatic (ever since my freshman year in high school!), I thoroughly enjoyed them, though strangely both are from the same period of “dark” comedies and both (All’s Well That Ends Well, and Measure for Measure) involved tricking a main character into thinking he’s bedding one woman, and really bedding another. I hadn’t read nor seen either of these plays before, and they’re probably not on the list of my favorites.
Today’s LSMS staging, put on by the New England Shakespeare Festival, got me to thinking…about the difficult language of Shakespeare for modern audiences, accessibility, and fidelity to the text and context of the plays. There are a lot of really great modern takes, such as “O” - based on Othello - or “10 Things I Hate about You” (loosely based on Taming of the Shrew) and they are fascinating, but I’d argue much more fascinating if you are familiar with the original plays. Some other adaptations fall short in my opinion, and the various on-screen traditional productions are great or good or bad, but there are a thousand of them. (My absolute fave is Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, a rich and gorgeous production with its sizzling, and stinging, back-and-forth between Branagh’s Benedick and Emma Thompson’s Beatrice.)
Why is Shakespeare so revered, adapted, and performed in all these various movie and stage vehicles? A lot of people probably wonder, especially those who are not Shakespeare geeks. Shakespeare has permeated centuries of literature and plays and movies, and most modern viewers or readers don’t even realize it. With our 21st century sensibilities and much more cynical suspension of disbelieve (we even like our sci-fi and fantasy to adhere to “reality,” at least self-referentially), sometimes Elizabethan stagecraft and writing seems overly quaint, and deus ex machinae too corny. I can’t blame people, with little spare time to study Shakespeare, for feeling this way.
However, there isn’t a steep price for entry into Shakespeare, if one knows where to look. For instance, serious movies like Branagh’s Much Ado (though now he’s more known as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart than as Henry V, another great movie) and good “modern” adaptations that ditch the language but mimic the plot can get one familiar with the stories and the language pretty quickly. And going to live performances like today’s from the New England Shakespeare Festival are sure to make you a fan as well.
Unlike the Boston Common performance, which is polished, well-staged, with live string music and impeccable dramatic delivery, the NESF prides itself on accessibility. They bring Shakespeare back to its roots, as they explain at the outset of their performance. “Show of hands, have you ever attended an unrehearsed Shakespeare play?” you are asked at the beginning. Because you’re about to see one!
The NESF company stages Shakespeare like they did in Elizabethan times, which is surprisingly much more accessible than what you might think of as traditional staging. In Shakespeare’s time, they explain before starting, actors were performing a different play each night in order to compete for audiences with other production companies, so lines were not memorized, but put on a hand-held scroll, and there was an on-stage prompter to help actors when they miss lines.
In their production, you feel like you, the audience, are in collusion with the actors. The delivery is not perfect (far from it) and the “fourth wall” comes crashing down more often than not, and the lines are hammed up with dramatic gestures, overdone eye rolls, and exaggerated tones. There were even a few moments where I disagreed with the interpretation of a line or two (being a Shakespeare geek does come with some privileges). But I had fun, and so did the entire audience so far as I could tell. Even the kids were giggling.
At the polished performance on the Common, I was enthralled and I loved it. But I did see a few people snoozing on their blankets in front of me - likely dragged there by an enthusiastic spouse - and there was less engagement by the children in attendance. It had a more removed feel (and not just because we happened to go on a night everyone else did, and had to be quite far from the stage). New England Shakespeare Festival’s performance, by contrast, was intimate, with a nod and a wink to the audience. A third of the play was acted from the aisles in front and middle of our seats, and several times, audience members were referenced with gestures at some line about thieves or (in one memorable moment) strumpets. There was lots of cheering, and you were encouraged to boo the knave who was causing all the problems. (He wasn’t quite a villain, just a religiously rigid hypocrite. In that way I felt like I was watching the evening news…)
I am not a Shakespeare purist, and when a good “adaptation,” or full-blown production, or anything in between, comes around, I judge it on its merits. There is room for the modern take, the polished stage production, and the bawdy over-exaggerated “unrehearsed” roving Shakespearean companies as well.
One thing I do know about Shakespeare is that understanding his outdated writing does come to you with practice. With productions like NESF’s around to introduce newcomers to the Bard, maybe more people will be enticed to build up their Elizabethan muscles.
Please please please be careful out there. The CM’s blog has some details on where to go to stay cool during this excessive heat. Be especially aware of young children and the elderly in this weather. Check on your neighbors. Stay hydrated. If you have no AC and can’t stay cool, go spend the afternoon with your family at one of the area’s malls.
Update: Also, the Senior Center is open (call ahead first).
(Le bump. Rainy weekends are GREAT for spaghetti, music, great company, great products, and a great cause!)
This Saturday, I am putting on a fundraiser for my friend Carrie Little, who has Cystic Fibrosis and just underwent a double lung transplant. The costs of this are in large part covered (to the tune of up to a quarter mil) but a lot of the costs are not, and I’m grateful that I can do a little bit (pun intended) to help out a friend.
Some of you might remember Carrie from the 2006 Patrick campaign. She was an enthusiastic supporter and volunteer. Due to her health, she hadn’t been as active in politics as of late, but she knows that now she has new lungs she WILL be recruited again! So let’s celebrate her good fortune, and ours, in having Carrie around and active to light up our lives. If you don’t know her, you should!
The event is a spaghetti supper, $10/$5 for kids suggested donation. There will be a silent auction, live music and Carrie-oke (get it? Karaoke?), and a vendor bazaar, with at least five excellent vendors. And if you cannot make the event, you can still buy from these vendors online and have it go towards the fundraiser! (Details below.)
You know that tired old story plot where someone gets to go to their own funeral and listen to people talk about them? Yup, this is that plot. (Dead Like Me did it best in recent years.)
No, we’re not going anywhere (at least not yet), though I meant most of what I said in the previous post anyway. The parts about our readers and the reason we do what we do. We might do it less frequently than we used to (maybe that will change, maybe it won’t). I especially loved the person who left a comment without a nickname (which is a big no-no around here as most of you know) yelling at me. Like old times. I feel like it was just yesterday that we were getting slathered with nasty anonymous driveby commenters during the era of the Cox ousting. *sniffle*
Anyway, since what we have on our hands this year appears to be a very interesting local election season, whyever in hell would I give up blogging now?? And a LOT more on that later…of course.
Now, I gotta figure out what to give Jen Meyers as a prize for figuring it out first. Mambo Grill lunch on me, Jen?
I guess this was inevitable, as neither I nor Mimi have had the time this last year or so to keep up blogging, so we are officially ceasing operations at Left in Lowell starting today. This has been a hard decision, as we’ve been blogging here since May of 2005 - in internet years, that’s about 18 full years. Heh. But I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time now, and with even fewer minutes in my day now, not to mention Mimi’s, we came down to deciding this course of action.
It’s been a great run, and we’ve seen a lot of the changes we’ve advocated for since those halcyon, heady days. We’ve been blamed for everything from Cox’s self-destruction, to being a shill for candidates we like (as opposed to picking candidates for the right reasons and advocating for them) to causing the Mother’s Day flood (OK, kidding on that last one). I take credit for none of these, except perhaps the Hayden loss in the GLT SC race to O’Hare - I gladly accept the blame for losing Hayden a few hundred votes when I exposed his reprehensible website and showcased his known but under-the-radar attitudes towards immigrant children, given the number of people who were planning on bullet voting only for Fred Bahou who told me they decided to also vote O’Hare.
The credit for everything else really belongs to you, the readers, the voters who went out there and took a critical look at the information in front of you - whether from the Lowell Sun, from the candidates, or from this blog. I can’t thank our readers enough for the time you have spent reading, commenting, and participating. You have made all the blood sweat and tears - even those hurtful personal attacks spun by certain radio/TV/newspaper/political operatives - worthwhile. I could stand it all because I knew what we were building was about better local governing, more transparency, and a technocratic approach to spending our taxpayer dollars on services.
You all make me proud, and I will continue to participate in many ways that do not include spending hours a week writing a blog, but probably hours a week doing other things. Now, I recommend you stop and listen to the collective sigh of relief from some quarters of the city as they learn third hand (since they don’t read the blog) that we’ve decided to stop bugging them.
Greg Page, fellow blogger at The New Englander and Lowell resident, is on his way to Afghanistan. He was deployed today along with the rest of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 26th “Yankee” Brigade.
Greg is a career military officer who has served in Iraq; I think twice. He loves politics and likes to write. I am not if he is allowed to blog; but if he is, I am sure we will hear from him.
Meet the newest member of our household. His name is Hector, after the composer (Hector Berlioz). He is a four year old Boston Terrier mix rescue.
Hope you are all having a great Valentine’s Day, regardless of whether you celebrate it, ignore it, or wish it would go away. At least the weather’s cooperating!
Apparently he has passed away after a short illness. There was a lot of friction between Pat and I, but he was a hard worker and passionate about politics, and about Lowell, and my condolences to his family for their loss.
It seems to be a bad month for losing political and public figures. I hope that this is the last condolence thread I have to make for a long while.
It was just announced that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, has passed away due to her cancer. There are so many reasons to love Elizabeth - she was tough, smart as hell, progressive, caring, warm, and just a presence in a room wherever she went.
I had the privilege to meet her during the 2008 campaign, in NH, before her husband dropped out, and before revelations of his extra-marital affair with a campaign staffer which produced a child. She handled her illness, and her marriage, and her life under such public scrutiny, with grace and dignity. There are many many fans of Elizabeth Edwards and I am one of them…she shone, even as the luster tarnished on John Edwards. People stopped believing in him, but they always believed in Elizabeth.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for your example about what a great human being should be. Rest in peace.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and I hope you are planning to spend a nice time with family and friends.
Things as you all probably know are very, very busy for me, with teaching and running a business, so following political news and posting has been difficult. So on the blog front, I am thankful today for my coblogger Mimi, who has continued to post on local issues and kept the blog light on.
So what are you thankful for this holiday season, and how are you spending it? As for me, it’s back to prepping for a hoard of family and friends descending on us tomorrow (about 18 of them), so back to my hidey hole I go!
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