No Respect for the Bard

Shakespeare

Imagine listening to these two dialogues at the same time:

1. Blah blah blah blah blah, where can we get more wine, do you want to get some more wine, oh, girl, this is how they cut my hair, blah blah blah blah, I want to play drunken bingo, we should go to the burger joint, ha ha ha ha, blah blah, we need more boundaries, yeah yeah, oh, we are entertaining ourselves…

2. A living drollery. Now I will believe
That there are unicorns, that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne, one phoenix
At this hour reigning there.

This juxtaposition lasted for nearly two hours tonight.

Shakespeare fans will recognize the second set of words as Sebastian’s from The Tempest. But the first? A woman who seemed to have no off switch or lower tone of voice while sitting in the middle of the audience during a Shakespeare in the park performance.

When you go to see a Shakespeare play in a park, you expect that there will be people milling about and talking on the perimeters of the audience. You also know that it can be difficult to hear depending on where you sit and that it’s normal for people to meet to eat there. But generally the type of people who want to see the Bard’s work in action are serious about their entertainment and talk in courteous tones so that others can listen. They want others to absorb the magic in these lush dramas.

In this case, there were three groups of people in my immediate vicinity who weren’t watching the play and were socializing with each other in a normal tone of voice for most of it. There were also people who walked in and stood or sat down in front of attendees who had been there for a while, blocking their view. Readers of my blog will know that I’m on a crusade to put basic manners back into society and this is an excellent example of why.

The Tempest is not easy to follow to begin with. There are multiple subplots, you have to remember who is related to who and how, and you’re listening to Elizabethan English. Add the insensitive prattling of the few who don’t have the decency to move to the edge of the crowd, or those playing with their electronic devices, and what should be a rich experience in language and culture becomes an exercise in self-restraint.

No matter how many times people shot the canoodling man and two women who were “entertaining themselves” dirty looks, the blah blah blah went on until they bored themselves and finally left to pursue burgers, bingo, and alcohol. But by that time a photographer had parked himself right in front of a disabled woman as another woman walked up and loudly starting asking questions of her young companions. Standing in-between the sound booth and the sound effects table would give some indication that you are in the thick of the production.

The Seattle Shakespeare Company had a very interesting take on The Tempest. The set was somewhere between Mad Max and Pirates of the Caribbean while the men’s costumes were a mashup of John Varvatos and the Third Reich. I was not a fan of the shorts and garter combos on some of the women but Prospero’s servants definitely looked the part. Their breezy, acrobatic antics were a nice contrast to the more militaristic Alonso and crew. A number of roles were played by women including Prospero’s. The actor who portrayed the monster Caliban did a fantastic job of projecting his voice and infusing his character with tortured emotion.

Performing in a venue like this isn’t easy and neither is performing Shakespeare. I applaud the performers for never once deviating from the play due to the competing dialogues and distractions. They actually thanked the audience at the end of the play for enduring in spite of them. This group brings Shakespeare to local parks in the summertime for free and I’m grateful for this opportunity to see a classic brought to life.

Next time, however, I’ll probably give into my urge to tap the sound system guy on the shoulder and slip him a 20 to crank up the volume exponentially.  That might actually drown out the loud conversationalists who seem to have no awareness that their competing dialogue is like a cheese grater on the nerves of serious Shakespeare fans. They would know to keep the volume down in a movie theater, but don’t seem to acknowledge that for over 400 years, this has been true theater.

Respect the Bard, people. He’s been doing his thing since 1590.

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Listen to many, speak to a few. -William Shakespeare

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P.S. Have you heard of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars? I had to order this after hearing about it on the Temple of Mut blog: http://templeofmut.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/william-shakespeares-star-wars/. I’ve never guffawed all the way through a Shakespeare story before but this is hilarious.

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©2013 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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