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Time and Place

The thing about putting on a Shakespeare play is that you have to set it somewhere.

So, in my positivist way, shall I do a breakdown? Yes, I shall.

Shakespeare in tights: This is in some ways the first thing that people think about, when they think about Shakespeare on stage. The cast dress in something approximating Elizabethan style, or what Shakespeare’s colleagues would have worn on stage. The setting approximates an Elizabethan theater setting, adapted to the physical layout of the theater. Drawbacks: comes with a sign marked Warning: Shakespeare is Dull. Relegates the actions to long ago, when things were different. Advantages: Audiences are expecting it, usually, and aren’t confused or distracted by it. Also, it’s what Shakespeare had in mind, so there is rarely any need to modify the text or otherwise put effort into making the setting work. Personal Taste: We hates it.

Historical Accuracy: That is, setting the production when the story itself is set, whether that is Ancient Greece or Medieval Italy or Imperial Woam or Scotland’s Dark Ages or Fairly Recent England. The idea is that the modern, clever, analytical dramaturg can bring out things in the setting that Shakespeare could not in his day, not having Wikipedia. Drawbacks: Togas. Also, Shakespeare is the total king of anachronisms, so you have to do some fancy footwork. And in the case of R3, it would be difficult for a Production Team to make it clear that this was not, in fact, Elizabethan, but a few generations earlier. Advantages: Well, it does have a sort of literal consistency. And some of the settings are pretty cool. Personal Taste: I’ve never seen it work really well. But then, I don’t particularly like Julius Caesar, which is the one that gets that treatment.

Modern Dress: Actors wearing the same clothes as the audience, pretty much. Advantages: It’s cheap and easy. And you can indicate quite subtle differences in class, regional background, ethnicity, climate, affluence, rank and occupation in ways the audience can pick up on. Disadvantages: No sensawonda. Difficult to explain references to horses, heralds and hogsheads. Throws the non-naturalism of Shakespearean language into sharp relief, as well as the archaisms. Personal Taste Fine. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages for me.

Brilliant Idea: There is a time and place (possibly imaginary) that totally works on a bunch of levels. It casts new light on the play as well as on its setting, and also on our own situation. Not only does the main setting work, but all the other places fit as well, and the class/race/wealth/culture/religious differences between the characters translate beautifully. Advantages: Wonderful, wonderful show, talked about forever. Disadvantages: Largely mythical. No, but extremely rare. The Fascist Julius Caesar, maybe the Voodoo Macbeth, the Fascist Richard III, perhaps the white box Midsummer. Alas, most ideas are not brilliant. Personal Taste: A wonderful, wonderful thing. When it happens.

Something to do: Something that looks good, at least part of the time. Coriolanus in Imperial Japan. Titus with tanks. The Comedy of Errors in Postwar Italy. Twelfth Night in the Wild West. Advantages: A couple of cool effects, some awesome costumes. Perhaps some cool music in between scenes. Doesn’t actually have to be consistent throughout the show; if you want to have the Capulets in kimonos and the Montagues in muumuus, heck, go for it. Disadvantages: Not making consistent sense. Can be distracting, when the audience is wondering why these dogfaces don’t have a radio, or why this importer doesn’t go to a different insurance house, or why that guy is wearing that thing on his head. Personal Preference: Actually, I like this sort of thing a lot. Oh, sure, I spend the intermission and half-an-hour afterward complaining about it (OK, half-an-hour a day for a week), but that’s part of the fun.

If I were to rank my preferences, I would say top would be the Brilliant Idea, of course, but second would be Something to Do, ahead of the other three. So as much as I am complaining and will complain about the whole Punk R3 business, and as much as I still don’t really get the point of it, the truth is that I’m just glad we’re doing the play, and I’m happy for the bits where the punk thing will work, and will live just fine with the bits where it won’t.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'm curious: why do you hate the Shakespeare In Tights paradigm? As a SCAdian, I'm offended.

Personally, I tend to believe that all of Shakespeare's stuff is actually set on Urth, and that the best approach is to go High Fantasy with it. That way, Shakespeare's anachronisms can be left in; the plays that aren't meant to be historical don't have to be; and the director can have her fun, the actors can have their fun, and the artistic director can have his fun. Plus, a Steampunk Tempest would be totally rad!


Well, and I have enjoyed Shakespeare in Tights. But (a) it seems like the least interesting thing to do with it, and (2) if the local theater group doesn't have really good Elizabethan costumes, the effect is very bad indeed. Alas. Y'all SCAdians do a better job with the outfits than many theaters, which is nice for you, but a Bad Thing for a performance.

My real gut instinct, that they are freakin' plays, and set on the freakin' stage, is not that different from your idea of Urth. And yes, Steampunk Tempest would be rad—and this is the key thing—it would be rad even if it didn't make any sense. Which it wouldn't, I think, with the combinations of fairies and steam.


Let's see... Victorian Twelfth Night (including a great Music Hall version of "O Mistress Mine"), post-apocalyptic Troilus and Cressida, modern dress Romeo and Juliet, lovely slapstick Renaissance Italian Taming of the Shrew... I think I've seen all of these approaches done very well indeed.

Of course, I've mostly seen them done well at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has very good actors and costumers and set designers.

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