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07 May 2014

Notes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

My daughter Mélanie and I just got back from a long spring weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with friends. Mélanie is too young to go to the plays, though she loved the meals out and (in the picture above) the shopping expeditions, but my two friends and I saw two plays a day, ranging from Shakespeare to new works.  In my recent post about Hamlet, I focused on the historical context of the play. I thought about that on this trip as well, but I also thought about the timelessness of Shakespeare and the connections between plays across the centuries. Our first show of the trip was an hysterical Comedy of Errors. We closed out our weekend of theatre-going with the equally hysterical The Cocoanuts, a Marx Brothers vehicle (in which I had the fun of being the audience member brought up on stage; years after I stopped acting, I can say I was in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival production). Though written over four hundred years apart, the plays shared a sense of the ridiculous, a breakneck pace, physical comedy ,and rapid fire word play.

The other Shakespeare play of the trip (we will see more when we go back in August and the outdoor theatre has opened) was The Tempest. Probably the bed production of The Tempest I've ever seen, and I've seen it about ten times, over thirty some years. Wonderful acting all round. Denis Arndt's closing monologue was a model of simplicity that was intensely moving. I'd love to be able to recreate such powerful economy as a writer. The morning of the day we saw The Tempest, we had been talking at breakfast about the political intrigue in Game of Thrones and Scandal. Watching the play unfold, i realized that the Milan from which Prospero and Miranda have been exiled sounds not unlike the world of those two series, with a constant struggle for power which even continues on the island with Caliban's mother imprisoning Ariel, Prospero taking over the island, Caliban scheming to rest control back. An adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time was as magical in its own way as The Tempest. And those two plays and a brilliant new play, Water by the Spoonful, all dealt with parents and children and coming of age in ways that were different and yet showed how family dynamics have a lot of commonality across the centuries.

As always, i left the festival creatively recharged and inspired to write. I usually do some of my best thinking about my writing on the drive home.

Writers, do you turn to the theatre for historical research? Are you more struck by similarities or differences when you look at plays and books written in other eras? And how do you recharge creatively? Readers, do plays written in other eras enrich your reading of historical fiction?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Helena said...

Reading plays (I read them more than I see them performed) written during a specific period often brings it alive for me, because of the dialogue. Of course books have dialogue, but books written during the eighteenth and nineteenth century tend to have less dialogue than modern books (I think). So while of course the dialogue in a play is (by definition) overly dramatic, one gets a sense of how people really spoke, the rhythms and cadences, and the use of English.

Your trip sounds excellent!

2:23 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I think that's so true, Helena! There's a very funny 18th century comedy called Wild Oats that made me realize the way actors talked and interacted then was not so very different from today.

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Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

What a wonderful trip! And what a fabulous experience for Mel; it's never too early to create the audiences of tomorrow.

I ALWAYS use the theatre for inspiration (after all, it's my background). For dialogue that flows, for story arc, for character construction ideas, even for plotting. And if I am not sure a word was used in a given era, we have the words of the playwrights from that time period to verify.

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