Friday, July 31, 2015

Shakespeare is out in the park again.

Shakespeare in Laurelhurst park Portland– Original Shakespeare Practice preformed The taming and the shrew and Romeo and Juliet. Also saw the last scene of the Taming of the Shrew by the Portland Actors ensemble in another corner of the park.
Performing Shakespeare ‘free’ out in the park mostly in the summer daylight seems a common practice in US. I have seen it in San Diego, New York, Seattle and again here in Portland. At Laurelhurst Park there were two performances of 'The Taming of the Shrew' by Shakespeare, performed by two companies almost at the same time. ‘The Original Practice Shakespeare’ performed the play as it was supposed to be in the times of Shakespeare, with the actors improvising impromptu the movements, diction and the performance itself, referring and reading their lines and the cue from the scrolls of in their hands; while the prompter with the whole text and a whistle was sitting on the stage, helping the actors and interfering, taking the show forward. At the same time the Portland Actors Ensemble performed the same play as we do it now; with proper rehearsals. Later in the evening The Original Practise Shakespeare performed Romeo and Juliet in the same typical ‘Original Shakespearean Practice’.

Shakespeare's plays were first performed with lots of preparation, energy and audience interaction but with limited rehearsals. Not every Elizabethan actor had a full printed script and sometimes actors put on a dozen shows in a fortnight, so performers used onstage cues, lightning-fast improvisation and other tricks to tackle the plays live. First Folio editions of Shakespeare's plays include all the cues an actor needs to perform his role without rehearsal. This allows the truest reaction to the story as it progresses.

“OPS Fest performs using the same techniques as they did in Shakespeare's own time, which means limited rehearsal; an onstage prompter; fast paced, energetic acting; and lots of audience interaction. This lends a much more immediate, organic and improvisational feel to the performances. We perform the way Shakespeare's own actors did, in the open air, in natural light, with minimal sets, and with great, fast-paced, energetic acting and lots of audience interaction!
…. Shakespeare's actors performed ten to twelve different plays in any fortnight, and never performed the same play on two consecutive days. If a play was a hit it might return three times within a month; but meanwhile, to fill the theater, there had to be a different play performed every day…. When in the world could they have rehearsed all these plays?”

The answer, we think, is that they did not. They prepared their "roles" (rolled cue scripts) on their own time, met together on the morning of a show, choreographed fights and music and dance, and performed that afternoon. By all accounts, the performances were magnificent— otherwise, the plays would not have survived.
Next, and perhaps most importantly, we trust Shakespeare's texts to provide all the information we need to play well. We know that his actors were far more like our professional athletes than like our actors: they knew the rules and were virtuosos at PLAYING, whatever the situation of the moment. Audiences had to be lured from the bear-baiting and brothels down the street; Shakespeare wrote fun, bawdy, outrageous popular entertainments for the masses (that also happen to have astounding poetry), and the masses came to participate in every play--. When we play Shakespeare, we play. (From the website of Original Practice Shakespeare)
It is clear that the OPS actors have been well trained in the rules of the game, to make quick impro, convert even a folly into an entertaining moment by sheer austerity and presence of mind. The improvised interactions between the prompter (he is the master performer with his questions to the actors in between, breaking the show, interfering, commenting etc.) and the other actors give a special air and meaning to the whole show. For example he stopped the actors and asked them to suggest a proper name for a Broadway musical to be produced based on Taming of the Shrew… The actors came with different suggestions and finally they agreed on a title ‘Changing of the Girls, Kissing the Cake’! Such interactions elicits the ingenuity of the actor and the audience alike and also link the show to the present day reality, and the audience start to understand the meaning of the play from a contemporary experience. A truly Brechtian approach itself. (The prompter and his interactions reminded me of the Chodyakkaran of Porattunadakam...). The actors used the whole available area, moving among the audience and around – no illusion of a fourth wall, and it elicits a non-linear viewing from the audience. The most important aspects of the show were the narration of the story, the impro-verish performance of the actor and his/her wit, the quick takes on and off the story, the participation of the audience (e.g. by a collective roaring when the actor speak the line, ‘the lions roar’). Along with the grandeur writing of Shakespeare fusing poetry and philosophy into a social critic, the actor’s impromptu performance takes the show ahead, with the collaboration of the audience who are compelled to be open and transparent. The double meaning and the pun hinted by Shakespeare become more evident in this performance, and the actors were naughty and mischievous to play with the lines of the bard and enthuse wit and entertainment by improvising and extending the lines with their gesture, movement and body. (At one juncture of the show, the poetry written by Shakespeare was made to sing as a rap as demanded by the prompter.) The audience makes sound, replies, eats and drinks and is at the same time immersed in the entertainment.

The text of in the Taming of the Shrew extracts laughter from the tactics to tame an unyielding lady to an obedient wife, which is quite a chauvinistic and regressive laughter; in performance it got subverted and the laughter seem to be springing from the prangs of the man in his attempt to tame the lady for grabbing the big dowry offered.

Romeo and Juliet was later performed in the same style by OPS. But as the performance started rain poured down; audience sat through the rain, hiding themselves in umbrellas, polythene covers (distributed by the OPS) and partly wet. The actors performed out in the rain; trying to overpower the sound and wrath of the rain with their energy, passion and determination. Many of the lines went wet and did not reach, but the show went on. When the rain subsided there was a beautiful rainbow in the sky; one of the actors who was off-stage came to me, pointed the rainbow and suggested that I can shoot a picture of the play under it. Under the rainbow, Romeo and Juliet were expressing their love and passion. Great to see the couple romancing under an evening rainbow out in an open park! Earlier in Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio and Katherina were arguing whether it is the sun or moon they see in the sky, pointing to the bright sun. When I looked up I could see a dwindling moon also there. 
And when the last tragic death scenes of Juliet and Romeo came, it was stark dark!! 
The charms of Shakespeare being out in nature!

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