Insider Tips: How To Enjoy The Bard

PHOTO: Jami Bassman and Matt Wiggins in Taming of the Shrew 2009 


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??? Insiders: Did you know ???

CRW_3112_small.jpg??? Did you know.... DOUBLE DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE - AN INSIDER'S INSIDER TRADITION!  [PHOTO: Magic at Shakesperience is everpresent: Here, John Zickefoose as Puck enchants the crowd!] Last summer and this, ISE has taken on the challenge of creating the area's first two professionally-mounted locally-produced Shakesperean tragedy in nearly two decades.  So now we are opening the door to the storied treasures of Shakespeare's tragic plays.  This means that of course, very soon, "The Scottish Play" could be coming to a Shakespearean stage near you!  So these days, when ISE experiences some type of unusual challenge (an inexplicably crashed website,  or all of our cast gets a cold at the very same time, etc etc) we wonder - and a few of us suspect- immediately what could have been at work!  We're not supersitious, but still- there IS that curse of "The Scottish Play" thing!

You see, you won't catch experienced theatre Patrons uttering out loud the name of the play (begins with "M"!) which among other things, Shakespeare's most famous witches and incantation words come from.  That's due to a long-standing theatre tradition that trouble follows naming that show out loud - - a tradition which none other than Stacy Keach validated during his time with ISE leaders last April when he shared his own personal stories of the superstition's power!     So, as ISE now opens the doors to producing the Tragedies, you'll find that our suitably lush, moody and magical setting down by the River is kept as free of the "M-word" as possible!  Join in the fun- use the code words "The Scottish Play" when you want to refer to the M moniker!  Best said, of course, in your most heavily accented Scottish brogue!   

??? Did you know... REGINA MONLOGUES AND OTHER ISE SHOWS TO FORAY ONTO NATIONAL CIRCUIT!  True to our mission to (borrowing a phrase from Bravo) bring "world-class" cultural events to the Metro, in-the-know ISE Patrons should keep an eye on our 2011 play, The Regina Monologues ©- along with our 2009 "Much Ado-Wop About Something ©" and our 2010 "A Midsummer Night's Dream Extravaganza! ©"  All 3 of these original Lorenzo Sandoval adaptation works are set to be sent around the country to our colleague Shakespeare Festivals this year, with an eye to being produced at some of the largest national festivals in America!  After all - had you been heard the buzz about Oregon's current 2012 "Merry Wives of Windsor Iowa" play? (Thank you Micheal Morrain for keeping the Metro on top of this!)  The bottom line is that these sorts of "New American" Shakespeare pieces are the cat's meow on the national scee- and ISE is keeping up in fine fashion!  Meow - We've been off to see the Oregon Festival's amazing shows many times- and just got back from seeing the stunning hit "Othello the Rap Opera" at Chicago Shakespeare Festival!  We've also watched video interviews with these playwrights -which bring to mind so much of our own approaches to Shakespearean works!  Its a fun and frolicking Shakespearean world out there- we think our Metro will love keeping pace!

??? Did you know... SHAKESPERIENCE FEST IS CITY OF DES MOINES OFFICIAL SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL! In 2010, the City of Des Moines "adopted" the Iowa Shakesperience Festival as the Capital's official Shakespeare Festival, with terrific city sponsorship!  And, the city was positively heroic in helping move us during the devastating 2010 flood, ensuring that the show would go on! Be sure to thank your elected leaders for their unflagging efforts to grow Des Moines in all ways!     

?? Did you know? ?? ISE  FOLLOWS IN EXCELLENT FOOTPRINTS! There are nearly 300 Shakespeare Festivals all across America alone-  roughly 3-5 in each state!  The vast majority of the Festivals (about 70%) also present other classic authors besides Shakespeare, too - just as we kicked off in 2011 with a production of America's bard, Mark Twain, right alongside our production of England's Bard. 

What's with all the classics- and especially, what's with all the Shakespeare?  In noting that every summer countless Shakespeare Festivals across this country draw crowds by the thousands, cultural experts note that people turn to the classics especially during times of upheaval, for the classics frame issues and history with the light of retrospection, and thus help us better face the future.

Moreover, Washington Post Blogger Michael Gerson (8/8/09) notes that while "Other playwrights use characters as mouthpieces for their own wit or philosophy…Shakespeare's greatest characters…possess the spark of their own identity." They thus can "escape the cage of the author…" so "These fictional but living characters have influenced politics and history" ... and may help us make sense of politics and current history today. 

In fact, Gerson goes on to note that Shakespeare's influence comes not from explaining history or the gods to us, but in explaining us to ourselves – be it with ridiculous humor or at the heights of human tragedy and pathos. "In a time deluged by ideology -- when everyone is urged to (grab) a side and join the political battle -- Shakespeare offers a different message: that the most important and dramatic choices are made (not by grabbing on) but by wrestling deep the the heart of the human soul. Some steps, once taken, cannot be retraced. Some appetites, once freed, become a prison…" Indeed, as was Romeo and Juliet in 2012, 2013 and Othello will be a classic example of some of these things.

And so we flock to the parks, the riversides and the Festival grounds to "escape to what is most real."  Shakespeare and other classic authors are classic for all of these profound reasons!   



??? DID YOU KNOW ???

??? Did you's a good one... THAT THERE'S REALLY NO SUCH THING AS "REAL" SHAKESPEARE! There are NO "authentic" Shakespeare scripts in the entire world! In fact, to produce "Elizabethan style" Shakespeare really means simply that the story was originally told in contemporary terms- because Shakespeare produced many of his stories in dress and langage contemporary to the times.  And, while theatres today could attempt to produce using the "original practice" approach that mimics what Shakespeare would have done in his day, to do that authentically today poses problems.  Because among other things required for replicating "original" Shakespeare (such as having no intermission, no lighting, and no edits to what were often 3-5 hour shows) they 'd have to have men playing all the women's parts- the kissing and sexual gestures and all.   

Much is sometimes made of "authentic" Shakespeare.  And certainly, the ISE frequently uses traditional "period" costumes and settings in of our shows, especially in our "best of Shakespeare" series (of which our 2012 Romeo and Juliet full length play production was a part.). But the definition of "authentic" poses the many tough problems noted above - - and all too often, instead of authenticity, one can end up with merely a hackneyed and cliched approach to the Bard.  At any rate, if by that term "authentic" one means producing Shakespeare "as Shakespeare wrote it", there is a giant problem right from the get-go!

Because ...did you know? Actually, Shakespeare himself did NOT really write the plays we publish today in his name. (And that is WITHOUT the so-called "Shakespeare authorship" questions being brought to the fore.)     What actually happened was this: Not only did Shakespeare himself first borrow liberally from other authors before him (Romeo and Juliet was hundreds of years old when he adaptedit), but In fact, Shakespeare's actors had no scripts - -and almost certainly could not even read! 

Instead, shows likely changed each night.  (Even today, the various versions of today's published Shakespearean works are not all the same- Different editors often approach different particulars differently! -but that's still more of the complex story!)   

So the authentic truth of how Shakespeare's writings came about demonstrates that the idea of "real" Shakespeare is really quite elusive.  You see, over time (and in fact, after Shakespeare's own death) a major attempt to pull Shakespeare's fragmented pieces together ended up in a document called a "Folio" - containing scraps and written bits that were created from a variety of versions of the stories ---all written, edited and adjusted not by Will, but by friends and fellow actors and admirers who made arbitray decisions based on personal agendas --or at best, falliable memories..  Worse yet, the even-earlier versions of his work produced while Shakespeare was alive (the Quartos) are riddled with issues, and considered by scholars to be "extremely corrupt".    

Given all this, and especially given that those who created the Folios can be presumed to have had many different agendas (perhaps even some jealousies),  we need to take the notion of what "the Bard actually wrote" with one heck of an enormous grain of salt.  'Coupla teaspoons, in fact!   

Check out more about all this by going to our Site Menu, and clicking on the page about "Adaptations" in our White Papers section - you'll find lots of JUICY stuff there to peruse!   Also in our Adaptations section, you'll find much more discussion of the many, many MANY problems in trying to identify (much less produce!) "authentic" or "real" Shakespeare. 

Heck, even the idea of producing just "traditional" Shakespeare poses great problems- for, just whose traditions do we follow?  That's why when ISE produces a show like Romeo and Juliet using a "traditional" style, we often put words like "traditional" and "classic" into quotation marks- to try to delineate the issues a bit.  Because as we have seen, the traditions of Shakespeare's own time (with men playing all the female roles") often rock the world-view of those who feel themselves to be ardent traditionalists- and traditions over the wider span of history beyond Shakespeare's own time have been just as fickle. 

In fact, our ISE Adaptation pages on this website point out that a "Traditional" view  of Shakespeare is often merely a personal one - not neccessary shared at all across cultures or across time- much less all the way back to Shakespeare's own time.     That's because due to the power of theatre, traditions can CHANGE - sometimes rather rapidly, due often to the power of a great production which people then take on as "their" own tradition- regardless of how "Traditional" that flavor really was! 

For example, for nearly 100 years, it was considered A MUST that a FEMALE play Puck in the beloved play "A Midsummer Night's Dream".  It was only through the powerful Mickey Rooney production in our own relatively recent times that it became (suddenly) "traditional" for an elfin male to play the role- a male would have been unheard of -and perhaps even scandalous- a few generations earlier. 

Similarly, for decades upon decades, a maximalist approach to "Midsummer" required that sets be incredibly elaborate (down to live rabbits and butterflies flittering about) and that an entire company of ballet dancers portray the fairy kingdom. 

Following these "traditions" would fairly bankrupt many theatres today!  But happily, traditionalists of another sort can point out that in Shakespeare's own time, sets were actually quite minimalist- an old "new" tradition that powerful minimalist productions revived to huge crticial acclaim in the 1960s.  And so, the world continues to turn!   

Even the "traditional" British accent poses problems- because today, if employing the accent, we tend to expect the equivalent of an "upper crust" accent whereas in Shakespeare's own time, he and his Actors were more likely to have had the British equivalent of what in America would be a "southern" or even slightly "redneck" dialect.  Heck, for that matter, relatively few plays of Shakespeare's were even set in Brittain- instead, plays were set in multiple countries from Italy to tropical islands!   

In short, Dramaturgs know that responses to any work usually say more about the responder than about the work, as the "traditional" views in these matters are often merely personal (and often under-educated) bias   

Merry-Wives-close-up-of-Amy-small.jpgBut to all of this, we here at Iowa Shakespeare merely say: "HUZZAH!"  We know that the Bard IS the Bard partly because his work constantly allows new approaches to break forth- keeping the whole shebang (the plays AND the passionate discussions!) alive over the centuries precisely because Will almost always confounds expectations.  Will resists being put in a box- and Iowa Shakespeare produces:  FREE Will - in more ways than just monetarily!   

The bottom line is likely this: the world today (and indeed, the world dating back to Shakepeare's own time) mostly produces "dreams" or mythologized versions of deeply human stories (stories contributed to by many people in an evolving way) that we merely attribute to one "Will Shakespeare" - - a playwright who in many many ways, we don't even know.  And, as opposed to European or Eastern versions of these plays, some American versions of Shakespearean productions can be particularly hidebound and hoary due to key language issues that aren't present in the productions of non-English speaking countries where Shakespeare is (and has been over the centuries) routinely translated into the vernacular --and thus has always be "updated". (Again, for some utterly fascinating discussion on all this, see our Adaptations White Paper and its section called "The Real Shakespearean Tragedy" by noted linguist John McWhorter, who points out how our fantasies of "preserving language" have led to unique American and English problems with Shakespeare that ironically, other countries simply are not burdened by.  You'll find this material about halfway thru the White Paper.)   

IN SUM: NOT ONE MANUSCRIPT WRITTEN BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE HAS EVER SURVIVED!  Instead, what survives are enduring ("classic"!) and deeply human stories which have always depended on the unique interpretations of actors and directors and adaptors to bring them continually alive over generations in freshly insightful ways. 

And this, good friends, is the FUN of it!  Shakdespeare is that one author who is so familiear- yet always, always NEW! So - get thee to the Funnery!  As ever, for more insights on this entire topic, see our Site Menu under our "Schoarly Work" section - especially our White Paper on Adaptations.   

??? Did you know? SHAKESPEARE WRITES CONTEMPORARY PLAYS! Authentic Shakespearean practice (meaning as Shakespeare himself likely staged shows) would have set shows in contemporary times!  You see, Shakespeare was not staged in Elizabethan times because there was a virtue in being Elizabethan.  The "Elizabethan" plays  were set in Elizabethan time because of course, that WAS the contemporary timeframe of the productions! In fact, it is erroneous to think of Shakespeare's works as being particularly "English" or even "British" in their setting- more works were set away from Brittain  (in locales ranging from France to Desert Islands) than in England or Scotland!  In the case of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's setting was Italy!  You see, Italy at that time symbolized passion to the English - and was Shakespeare ever down with that for Romeo and Juliet.  So when a Shakespeare play today is set in another country (as in our 2013 Othello) or another era (as our Silver Screen era Midsummer), all audiences need to do is relax and enjoy - especially the often-fresh insights that the new era can reveal! 

??? Did you know???  ROCK ON WILL! Authentic Shakespeare was in its day, much more like one of today's rock concerts than the staid performances often associated with a particular type of Shakespeare production sometimes touted today.  Music and dance were routinely included in Shakespeare's own shows - - especially the bergamask tradition which the ISE always includes in our own staging.  And there was (still is!) a LOT of extraordinarily baudy and/or outright slapstick material -- as well as a LOT of extraordinarily bloody gore in Shakespeare's stories - -to which the audience reacted uproariously. 

So while Audiences of Shakespeare's time often included royalty and nobles, there was a huge common area for "the Groundlings" - a notably noisy and rauccous group of typically young people (often the Apprentice class), who stood through the entire show (and drank throughout) much like many stand at today's rock concerts.  But indeed there was one very notable difference between today's rock concerts and Globe theatre shows: today, modern productions have on-site toilets and garbage cans!  Whereas Shakespeare's Globe Theater had none- and with plays averaging 3 or more hours with no intermission ...all while a certain amount of imbibing was going on... we will leave imagining the AUTHENTIC atmosphere of Shakespeare's time to your imagination!  

??? Did you know ??? IOWA SHAKESPEARE PARTNERS TO SERVE!  Iowa Shakespeare works with the City of Des Moines to provide FREE Hearing Aid assistance to individuals who request it.  It can be helpful to make your reservation for this in advance, and you will need to provide an acceptable photo id and a deposit.   Also, ISE is very excited to be in the early stages of partnering to develop the state of Iowa's foray into providing audio transcriptions of special events designed for the blind!  More on this exciting program soon!    

HORATIO'S HOMEPAGE CORNER ("more things on heaven and earth"!)

IMG_3039_small.jpgHOW TO GET THEE TO THE FUNNERY:  About our productions!
It is part of the mission of The Iowa Shakespeare Experience to provide "All the Shakespeare You Remember: Told so freshly, you'll never forget!"  In fact, if our shows were any fresher, you'd have to slap 'em! at the ISE, we really, really "Get It" - and we will help YOU "get it" too! 

Our shows will delight you, not mystify you.  Because we're not just a Play ... we're an entire Experience!   BUT at the very same time we draw in Bard newcomers, we also offer fascinating insights and fresh perspectives for the aficionado! 

For our shows are not merely creative, and not merely "innovative" - (though certainly they are all of those things!) but also they are classic, dramaturgically insightful- and truly world-class.   That's because the way Iowa Shakespeare approaches the Bard is much MUCH more traditional and scholarly than perhaps at first glance, one might think!  After all, in Shakespeare's day, these plays featured Shakespeare's own contemporary music, were set in all manner of historical times and places, and used costuming (or not!) relective of many periods -including what were then not costumes at all, but instead simply clothing from the contemporary times.    Indeed, in Shakespeare's time, these plays were truly the cultural equivalent of our own culture's Rock Concerts!  Audiences in Shakespeare's time enjoyed the outdoors -and did anything but sit stiffly and passively watch!

Thus, our approach (one which really draws the audience into the story) really is quite "traditional"... while taking Metro-area Shakespeare to the fresh dramaturgical approaches seen on leading Shakespeare stages all around the world.   This topic is also discussed in our "Did you know" section above. 

So as also urged there, to get a head start on releasing thy personal inner Bard, or to better understand "traditional" and adaptative and historical Shakespeare, check out the topic of "Adaptations" in our ISE Scholarly "White Papers" section of this website - and also take a peek at our "Understanding Shakespeare" page while you're at it!  

147.jpgISE FAMILY NIGHT SHOWS - AN EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVE!  Festival Family Nights kicked off in 2011 with our inaugural Prairie Meadows Family Night funding, but all throughout the year, the ISE brings an incredibly value-added approach to our Educational programming.  That's because we are fortunate to have on our staff award-winning Education professionals who are nationally ranked heavyweights in their fields.  Our staff are either certified teachers ( formally licensed by the State of Iowa), or college teaching professionals.  Further, they hold a variety of advanced certifications from national agencies and experience gained through teaching posiitions with such nationally renowned organizations as the Univeristy of Iowa Writers Workshop, Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, and even the US Department of Education.  These professionals also are specifically certified in multi-cultural competancies, including working with at-risk and/or bi-lingual populations.  And our educational leaders have won extraordinary awards both nationally and regionally.

With this type of leadership-level grounding in the general field of education as a footing, our staff are then ALSO additionally certificated Shakespeare teaching professionals - -with special training and credentials in teaching specifically Shakespeare gained with the Folger National Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Further, our staff are bona fide experts in assesment and evaluation, inclusive of training in the YPQA (Youth Program Quality Assessment) approach -indeed, ISE had utizled the "Logic Model" approach now taught at the Des Moines Community Foundation for years prior to its more common usage, as an early adopter and seminal national leader in the field.  You can read much more about our staff's many credentials on the"Staff Leadership" page of our Site Menu's "About ISE" section.   

To futher ensure the quality of ISE teaching programs, the ISE Boards contain many Masters and Doctoral professionals with wide expertise in fields such as English Literature or advanced education - - as well as specifcally with Shakespeare! Suffice it to say that we run notably accountable educational programming with tip-top professional oversight.  

Why is this important?  Research proves that without a teaching program and methodology that is well vetted and implemented with research-based best practice, even in the best intentioned programs the proven phenomenon known as "unintential outcomes" can create deblitating outcomes in youth simply due to teacher ignorance.  Too often, the message youth end up receiving in unvetted programming can be an entirely different message than the one the teacher intended to send! Without special training, the more fragile and vulnerable the population, the more unpredictable and grievous this dynamic can become.   

The ISE is keenly aware of the great responsibilites that are undertaken by anyone working with youth.  We insist on the use of both research-validated AND Logic Model program practices, and have taken great care to break out our educational approaches in detail in various sections of our Site Menu.   

GOOD NEWS: The flip side of the phenomenon of unintended outcomes is that when and IF specifically theatre programming is implemented using sound, research-based best practice, of all arts interventions, it is specifically THEATRE which research shows to create THE strongest outcomes in youth.  The phrase that describes youth taking a bow on a theatre stage -- - and coming up taller - - has an extraordinary amount of research truth and hard-data behind it!  

If you'd like to get a TERRIFIC taste of how theatre changes youth lives, check out the EXCELLENT short film excerpt from the nation's oldest Teen Shakespeare project- part of a movie that will be competing at the Tribecca film festival this year!  The film features alumnae of the program (Sally Field, Richard Dreyfuss, many others!) but more importantly, the clip shows real-life kids are the stars- - the clip catches real life kids in the process of learning and CHANGING from destructive behaviors via Shakespeare.  Here in Iowa, ISE Artistic Director Lorenzo Sandoval is often a judge for our state-wide Iowa Theatre and Speech competitions, where the flavor and activities are remarkably similar to what you see in the clip.  So don't miss a quick peek at - The ISE is involved in the techniques used at this national model festival - and is involved in supporting their film festival campaign!   

In sum, here at the ISE, we know that when a youth can put on his/r resume that s/he was in theatre, that is a very good thing.  However, when that youth notes that s/he is specifically a SHAKESPEAREAN actor, the entire community - and in fact, that youth him/rself- - looks at that young person in a whole new way!  The youth also looks at language a whole new way- and at reading and history and culture differently, too!  We take our responsibilities with this process very very seriously, and we are delighted to have the great privlege of frequently working with so many of our community's youth! 

So-  be sure to check out our new Youth Programming section-

where you can see first hand the great work ISE is doing with and for the community's kids! 

Click: How to Understand Shakespeare

It's Fun Stuff!

Click: How To Understand Shakespearean Adaptation

Click: ISE Artistic Directors Aesthetic Statement

PHOTO 2009: The Bard never ceases to amaze: he can be just as outrageously, slapstick funny as he is poignant, romantic and deeply, unfathomably tragic!  Here, in ISE's copyrighted "Much Adoo-Wop About Something", Jami Bassman and Eric Bench have quite a humorous moment in the famous "Suitors" scene from Merchant of Venice!
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