At Classic Stage Company’s East 13th Street Theatre we performed a Readers Theater version of The Merchant of Venice. The idea of Readers Theater is that the audience becomes the character who is being spoken to, every line is said directly to the audience. It creates a different kind of community than a traditionally staged production and focused the listener on the language - what you hear is more important than what you see. One of our panelists, the OBIE award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson describing the performance: “I got a lot out of it, I heard things I hadn’t heard before in the context of the language. And so I found the presentation really wonderful because it opened up new vistas for me.” In the panel that followed one question came up that provoked quite a bit of discussion: What is more powerful or impactful - hate or love? A very challenging and meaningful conversation has followed this question with many advocates for love being the most impactful, but Rabbi Hirschfield added a bit of a challenge to the discussion: “I’m very interested in evidence-based approaches to life. Show me the evidence of a hate-based approach to life. What kind of world does it create for the hater and hated, and for the legacies of both? Show me the evidence of the world created by the lover and loved and the legacy it creates for them?” Looking at The Merchant of Venice and the legacies of the characters, it is hard to imagine it becoming a legacy full of meaningful relationships, but what about us? What can we do to create a legacy of love? The discussion continued with a heated discussion of whether or not the play was anti-Semetic, with many arguments for and against and Fr. Matt Malone offered this in his final parting thoughts: “The real genius of the play is that it reminds us it is better to discuss something without resolving it, than to resolve it without discussing it.” Truly this was also the case for the characters in the play, how much better would it have been to allow the characters to discuss their differences rather than forcing Shylock’s conversion and therefore “resolving” the problem. Thank you to all who joined us last night. It truly was a wonderful evening.
This was the phrase that was used to introduce the “Acting Shakespeare Retreat” that we had this past week. This retreat provided a time for actors and lovers of Shakespeare to spend a concentrated time immersing themselves in Shakespeare’s work. Some of us in Elements were able to come to some of the classes and discussions and take part even though we weren’t on the retreat. As part of this, we all met with John Douglas Thompson for a master class. He started by telling us his story of how he became an actor. Needless to say I found this inspirational! His story began with a man in his twenties, as a corporate computer salesman, and led to his to becoming an actor. He came to acting a little bit later in his life, but it was his passion for the art that made him what he is. We also were able to observe while he helped some of the retreatants with their monologues, and his main comment was to just say the words as if they were your own. He said the challenge is to make Shakespeare’s beautiful language not seem foreign to your mouth; make the text a part of you. Shakespeare is providing us with a vehicle for our emotions to ride in. He doesn’t ask us to recite beautiful poetry; he creates human characters for us to inhabit. I think the phrase “Passion, I see, is catching” is the epitome of my feelings after this week.
“Mischief, thou art afoot; Take thou what course thou wilt.” A friend, benefactor, and father figure has been murdered. Caesar was not killed like a “sacrifice” as Brutus desired, but literally hacked to pieces. Caesar picked Mark Antony up when he was down, a runaway, deeply in debt, and then tutored him to become his second-in-command. Caesar entrusted Mark Antony with his armies as well as his political fortunes while absent from Rome. He welcomed Antony into his own household as one of the family. Seeing the body, Antony is filled with feelings of loyalty and gratitude to Caesar, and anger and vengeance toward Brutus and Cassius. Mark Antony nevertheless gives Brutus and Cassius a chance to give reasons “why and where Caesar was dangerous.” None are forthcoming. Emotions run high, but Mark Antony, the battle-tried general, takes over. In the course of a very short exchange over Caesar’s body, he quickly forms a plan to move the people of Rome to revolt, while maintaining a calm demeanor with Brutus and Cassius. His training in Greek rhetoric comes in handy. Surprisingly overly trusting of Antony (much to Cassius’ dismay), Brutus gives him the perfect opportunity. Having summoned a crowd, Brutus turns them over to Mark Antony, and exits. The rest, as they say, is history.
We returned Sunday from our first venture into the Boston Theater scene. The week-long tour - including performances, panel discussions, and workshops - was a huge success. Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage was the centerpiece of the tour, serving as a springboard and catalyst for panel and post-show discussions by some of the most prominent theatre names in Boston. The featured discussion - “How Does Live Theatre Help to Heal Our Culture” - was hosted by our director Sr. Danielle Dwyer, CJ, and included Joyce Kulhawik (President, Boston Theatre Critics Association), Jared Bowen (Executive Arts Editor and Host, WGBH), Georgia Lyman (Award-winning Boston Actress), Julie Hennrikus (Executive Director, StageSource), and Fr. Thomas Kane (Boston College). The subject was very relevant given recent national events, and in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing.The conversation was vibrant, heartfelt, and fascinating. Throughout the rest of the week, each performance was followed by a post-show discussion led by theater educators from Boston’s leading colleges and universities. The actors, professors and audience would circle up and discuss the themes and challenges that God of Carnage presents. During the day we had the opportunity to conduct workshops with local schools- working on Tom Sawyer and also helping students prepare for auditions. We made some friends in the Boston theatre community and were warmly welcomed into many discussions and plans for the future. Thank you to all who gave support and encouragement for this time. To see galleries and links to the panel discussion click here