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About this book

When directors approach Shakespeare, is the play always the thing – or might something else sometimes be the thing?

How can directing produce fresh contexts for Shakespeare’s work?

Part of the innovative series Shakespeare in Practice, this book introduces students to current practices of directing Shakespeare. Ewert explores how the conventions and creative tropes of today’s theatre make meaning in Shakespeare production now. The 'In Theory' section starts with an analysis of theatre production and directing more generally before looking at the specific Shakespeare context. The 'In Practice' section offers a wonderful range of production examples that showcase the wide breadth of approaches to directing Shakespeare today, from the 'conventional' to the most experimental.

Providing a useful general overview of directing Shakespeare on stage today, this is an ideal text for undergraduate and postgraduate students studying 'Shakespeare in Performance' in Literature, Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies departments. This book will also inspire students studying directing as part of a Theatre programme, and scholars, performers and lovers of Shakespeare everywhere.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
This was some clever, buzzworthy marketing, and both productions – listed separately – were Critic’s Picks in The New York Times. Same script, different approaches: a theatrical banality, were it not for the simultaneity and the inspired/tortured logistics of two separate productions of the same script by the same company with the same actors and same director in rep under two different names. Promotional genius? Perhaps. At the same time, something about the two titles gestures towards a crux of both surface nomenclature and underlying theory in the very practical world of theatre-making. Guiding idea, central theme, production concept: anyone who goes to the theatre on a regular basis gets it, and by ‘it’ we probably just mean ‘directing’. But the two titles beg a greater question about scripts and productions and the director function that in some way mediates between them. We address that question with words that speak to our comfort level, our conservatism or otherwise, with what theatre people get up to when they try to make some new art that has an old script in it. Two themes. Two versions. Two interpretations. Two visions. Two productions. But Twelfth Night or What You Will/What You Will or Twelfth Night comes out and says the sacrilegious, or maybe just the obvious: concept be damned – two different ways really means two different plays.
Kevin Ewert

In Theory

Frontmatter

2. The Play’s the Thing

Abstract
The theatre is a practical place. In rehearsals, theory manifests itself in how we address a simple but fundamental question: what are we doing here? But the rehearsal room is not a place for existential crises. It is a place for making things. So, doing, as in making: what are we making here, how are we going to make it? Are we doing the script? Are we making an event? What are rehearsals for? Are they for getting it right: this idea, this concept, this imagined production of the play materialized in its highly professionalized context? Perhaps they are for finding out what we’ve got: much, from many, goes into the crucible, and we give the disparate elements time to react to one another, we see what those reactions do, and we form rich and vividly theatrical moments out of our responses. What are we doing here? What follows in the next two chapters is a (back)story about directing – a story, not necessarily the story: theoretically and historically and practically informed but by no means exhaustive and, frankly, not the only story that could be told from the materials. The brief story I’m telling in this section is intended to set up something of the end points of a continuum that the ‘In Practice’ section will move within.
Kevin Ewert

3. The Thing is the Thing

Abstract
Anne Bogart can, from certain angles, look like a director in the traditional mould. She is clearly the leader of her company (the Saratoga International Theater Institute, or SITI Company) and she inspires the kind of awe in others one would imagine only an auteur or guru could. But there are two things that make her work very different from the directorial model explored in the previous chapter: Viewpoints and Composition.Viewpoints is a set of tools for making theatre pieces, and a set of concepts that form a shared vocabulary for discussing the work being made. Viewpoints is based on the two givens in all performance situations, the two things theatre artists always work with: time and space. Viewpoints is an improvisational and ensemble-building form that encourages a heightened awareness of what is happening, and enhances freedom and spontaneity in contributing to what is happening.
Kevin Ewert

In Practice

Frontmatter

4. The Production Machine

Abstract
For all the clamour about Director’s Theatre and all the attractions of a postdramatic theatre, more often than not in the theatre today the play’s still the thing. When the play’s the thing, theatre tends to get made in a certain way, and when theatre gets made in that certain way it helps to ensure that the play is still the thing. Why might that be? Why are the more literary aspects of storytelling (in the dramatic mode) still the thing? In the section on theory I looked at the continuing domination of realism as one factor and a particular interpretation of ‘interpretation’ as another, but there are some other pressures in practice as well – and they become especially clear when we look at directing more from its administrative and managerial side.Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director of Woolly Mammoth in Washington DC for 30-plus years, has some strong ideas about the practical difficulties of living postdramatically
Kevin Ewert

5. Playing with Time and Space

Abstract
There are two givens in the theatre. How they are addressed may be infinitely varied, but that they will be addressed is unavoidable. We have time. And we have space. Directing a production may or may not involve dealing with crowd scenes, hydraulic lifts, stage blood, cracked actors or miniscule budgets. Directing a production will involve dealing with time and space. How long, how short? How big, how small? How fast, how slow? How close, how far?Time and space are the only givens for the audience as well: whatever else we may ask from our audiences, we do request their physical presence (in whatever space we make available for the production) and their patience (as whatever we are doing unfolds in time). Space and time are primal elements of making performance and essential to how a director constructs the relationship between the production and its audiences.
Kevin Ewert

6. Devising Shakespeare

Abstract
With its new title, Henry 5 Live From Times Square wasn’t exactly ‘By William Shakespeare’. The piece was ‘Created, Designed and Performed’ by Thaddeus Phillips, the company’s artistic director and the auteur of the event although not actually its director: that was Tatiana Mallarino, Phillips’s outside eyes, as well as his partner in the company and in real life. Things get blurred a bit in devised work, which this surely was. For his part, Shakespeare provided the majority of the lines spoken in the piece, and saying all of Shakespeare’s lines and playing all of his characters while running all the tech from within the tiny tchotchke booth formed the task and the action at the core of the event. Shakespeare was even a significant element of the mise en scène, although I didn’t realize it until I helped break down the set after the show. When I brought the production to my university in February of 2006, Phillips hadn’t done the piece for a while, so most of the Shakespeare text was typed up and cut out and taped up all around the insides of the set. Although I sat only about 12 feet away, I was never aware of Phillips actually relying on any of his cheat sheets.
Kevin Ewert

7. Fixing Shakespeare

Abstract
Devising is a particular way of looking at making theatre, and it’s one that makes good sense to me. It suits my own commitment to cultivating, harnessing and delivering the unpredictable. It’s a process that informs how I might make a new work out of, say, interviews with prison inmates, or stories by Edgar Allan Poe, or a script by Shakespeare. I wonder, though, where exactly it stands in relation to the larger, and more traditional, and possibly more vexed, question of adaptation, as well as to the literal definition of the auteur director as writer of the theatrical event (Sidiropoulou 2011, 1–2). Adaptation is, of course, a whole huge subject on its own. From the point of view of getting Shakespeare on to the stage, I want to consider two rather different ways of thinking about that word: adaptation as something we do to the play, and adaptation as something the play does in its new environment. The first, the done to, is what we think about when we change and adapt a novel into a television series, or a comic book into a movie, and so seems suited to talking about how we make a script into a production, some words by Shakespeare into a show. But the second, the more life sciences definition of how a thing changes to become better suited to its (new) environment, also seems useful in thinking about how these plays have remained alive in an ever-shifting art form for so long.
Kevin Ewert

8. My Year of Shakespeare

Abstract
During the writing of this book, I set myself a practical challenge: I programmed a Year of Shakespeare celebration at the University of Pittsburgh campus in Bradford where I work. This was partly to commemorate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – at least that’s what I put in the season brochure. It was mostly to immerse myself in a range of Shakespearean problems that I could then write about. I planned to direct student productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – not a play I had ever given any thought to directing before – for the fall, and of Young Jean Lee’s LEAR – an adaptation of King Lear without Lear, among many other things, and with some radical rethinking both of Shakespeare’s play and of what plays in general are supposed to do – for the spring. I also programmed a visit from a Chicago company whose specialty is ‘improvised Shakespeare’. When I hatched this plan, I didn’t know that the first piece of business would involve an extended road trip to Durham, North Carolina. There, I would be keeping the bench warm, keeping the fires burning, keeping the faith, and keeping the work going in any other way while not-exactly-directing a good friend’s production of Hamlet over the first half of its rehearsal period when he had to be out of the country. What follows is an account of some of what went on, and some of what I learned from the madness, over four shows from July 2014 to April 2015.
Kevin Ewert

Provocation and Debate

Frontmatter

9. A Conversation with Rude Mechs

Abstract
Rude Mechs is an ensemble-based theatre collective from Austin, Texas. Here’s how the company describes itself Since 1995, Rude Mechs has created a mercurial slate of original theatrical productions that represent a genre-averse cocktail of big ideas, cheap laughs, and dizzying spectacle. What these works hold in common are the use of play to make performance, the use of theaters as meeting places for audiences and artists, and the use of humor as a tool for intellectual investigation. (rudemechs.com/aboutus) I asked the co-producing artistic directorship (COPAD) to have a conversation with me about directing and Shakespeare today. Here’s how the artistic directorship describe themselves
Kevin Ewert
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