Alas, Poor David Bowie … Shakespeare in Song

There have been many, many attempts to categorize Shakespeare references in modern popular music, but I’ve yet to find anything I’d consider the master list. But since we haven’t done it for awhile, and this attempt seems new, I give you Shakespeare in Song, Categorized by Play, on The AWL. The choices in this list are interesting, ranging for instance from the background noise in The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus” coming from King Lear, to David Bowie’s habit of carrying a skull when he sings “Cracked Actor.” References to Sting (“Nothing Like The Sun” being a pretty obvious one) are nowhere to be found. Likewise no Dire Straits (“Romeo and Juliet”). I think the task is just too difficult.  Is it a Shakespeare reference every time somebody says Romeo? Or Juliet? I’d love it if somebody made a list of songs that contained actual Shakespeare text as lyrics. That’d be a great start.  Then we can go from there and debate whether Led Zeppelin’s “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold” is or is not a Merchant of Venice (“all that glisters is not gold”) reference.

‘Scrubs’ Shakespeare

Not too much content here, but I was a big fan of the television show Scrubs until NBC ruined it.  I had no idea that Zach Braff, who played the lead role of Dr. John “JD” Dorian, had some Shakespeare experience:

After going to college at Northwestern, where he studied film, he performed in two Shakespeare plays — small roles in “Macbeth” at the Public Theater, directed by George C. Wolfe, and Romeo at a regional theater in Connecticut — before starting “Scrubs” in 2001. (He made a brief return to theater in 2002, when he played Sebastian, alongside Julia Stiles as Viola, in “Twelfth Night” in Shakespeare in the Park.)

Echoes, of the Sounds … of Shakespeare

You know those “soundscapes” devices that make glorified white noise?  You keep them on your desk, or night stand, and they make soothing noises.  Some people like to listen to the rain. Or maybe a babbling brook, or birds singing.  Whatever relaxes you.  What is the sound that you want to hear when you open up the windows and listen? I have an idea for such a device.  I want my device to play … Shakespeare. Performed by children. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing that sound, particularly outside, then hopefully you know just what I’m talking about. I don’t care if they’re any good.  They are children, I do not expect them to be Olivier and Brannagh.  If they are good? Outstanding, imagine how good they’ll be when they make a career out of it.  If they’re not?  Who cares, they’re doing Shakespeare.  They don’t fear it. They may actually like it. That is win on so many levels, for so many people, I can’t even begin to count it. Better for the students who don’t drag their feet through the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene but actually actively participate. Better for the parents who get to sit proudly in the audience and watch their kid do Hamlet. Better for the audience who get free Shakespeare with their picnic in the park.  Better for the bystanders who walk around the park who get serenaded by Shakespeare on the wind. Just wanted to get that out there. The one thing that could make it better, that seriously I actually fear to dream? Is one of my kids (or heck, all of them) performing Shakespeare at some point in their lives.  I don’t need them to grow up to be actors (oh good god), but even just once I’d love one of them to have a part in a Shakespeare production.  I am very afraid that, should that happen, I will explode.

Rebel Othello

I am thrilled to have Rebel Shakespeare performing in my home town this year! I’ve spoken of them many times over the year, because I simply love what Keri Cahill is doing. In short? Think Summer Shakespeare Camp.  Spend  a few weeks learning Shakespeare, and then at the end? Put on a play out in the park for all to see.  I’m not sure if the younger kids tour, but the teen program takes their show on the road.  This year I took my kids to get some books at the local library, and while checking them out made a joke about getting Shakespeare next time.  I always do that. ;)  This caught the librarian’s attention, and I learned that they wanted to sponsor some Shakespeare.  “I know just the group…” I said.  Badda-boom badda-bing, Othello’s playing in my town.  Love it! Anyway, on with the show.  I had fun wandering around in my Shakespeare shirt and having people ask me, “Are you with the Shakespeare group?”  I answered truthfully in each case, “No,” because I’m not big on riding on other people’s hard work.  All I did was play connect the dots and put up some posters.   For which they put my name in the program, thank you :). What I did do, however, was wander around outside and talk Shakespeare with anyone that would listen.  This included one mother who’d brought her children to the acting workshop and was desperately looking for more info.  When I said the Rebels would be back in August she immediately asked, “And will there be another workshop?”  So, I think they have a fan. The show itself had to take place inside the library, which was a big upsetting.  Too hot, and as pointed out the dead grass was way too pointy.  At first I thought this might have to do with the bodies hitting the floor, but a number of the actors were barefoot.  Fair enough.  I was worried that they wouldn’t get the sort of foot traffic they would outside, and that inside the library the noise might be a problem.  I was … disappointed.  There’s something special about being outside and hearing Shakespeare on the wind.  It’s a lovely sound (and actually the subject of another post I’m putting up shortly). Anyway, on with the show!  When I first saw the cast assemble and noticed one of them carrying a pillow I thought, “Oh, that’s a cute touch, is that going to stay on stage the whole time?”  Shows what I know.  One girl, not Desdemona, starts singing the Willow song, acapella.  Then the rest of the cast, all in black, joins in harmony.  It is very cool.  Then begins, can I call it a dumb show?  Enter Othello, Iago, Desdemona, Amelia…and we watch as the whole play is performed in mime.  At first I just think they’re doing the wedding between Othello and Desdemona, but handkerchiefs are dropped, accusations made, the whole nine yards. While this goes on, the singing continues and grows louder until we sit in awe as Othello smothers his wife, the singers are shaking the walls. the audience is sitting with their jaws on the floor (seriously, the words “holy f*ck” kept leaping into my brain) and then it just … stops.  Bang.  What an absofrigginlutely amazing way to start the show. Then the real show begins.  Those who’ve heard me speak of Rebel previously know that I don’t care to review the acting, as such.  These are kids performing Shakespeare, the fact that they’re doing that at all deserves praise, not criticism. Let’s talk about Iago, since that’s what everybody typically wants to know.  I don’t know his name, since they do a rotating cast, but he’s … nerdy.  Sorry, Iago actor guy.  He’s wearing nerdy glasses, and I’m not sure if those are a prop or not because when he does his soliloquies he takes them off.    Our Iago is very patronizing.  He rarely loses the smirk on his face.  His soliloquies are all clearly directed right at the audience – here’s my plan, here’s what I’ll do next, here’s why.  Actually, the “here’s why” bit seemed pretty lost. I mean, it was obvious that he thought he was far smarter than Roderigo (who was played as a staggering drunk) and Cassio (that sort of “I’ve had everything in life handed to me” guy) , so there was a bit of “I want to mess with these people just because I can.”  More on this in a  minute. I have to say I wasn’t crazy about the first half, which was played up for the comedy bits.  I think I understand their intent to ease the audience into the dark side in the second half, but … and I didn’t think I’d ever string these words together … a rubber chicken? In Othello?   There’s comedy in the text, I don’t think you need to go so over the top with it that the laughs are coming in between the lines when the actors fall all over themselves.  Given the crazy intense opening to the show, it was a complete 180 to suddenly switch to Comedy of Errors hijinks. Anyway, back to the good stuff.  The second half, when the bodies start hitting floor, starts to get a bit … rebellious?  The volume picks up, noticeably.  Othello charges at Iago so forcefully at times that I’m worried he’s going to put him through a window – and this is when he still *likes* Iago.  The sword play is very impressive, especially given the closed quarters.  And when Othello slaps his wife, the *crack* sound they produce makes you jump. Iago’s character changes accordingly when the killing starts.  He’s not brandishing a sword, he’s got a tiny knife that he’ll stick in your back when he spots his chance.  It was an interesting turn to the character, who was previously nothing but a manipulator, and now he’s a killer.   I’ve seen Iago done where he’ll give you nightmares, and this was not that (maybe a big part of that is because these kids are less than half my age, and it’s hard to fear a 17r old villain?)  But you know what did come to mind?  Columbine.  That sort of mental state, that kid who *is* smarter than all the people around him, who for whatever reasons are going on in his brain is capable of taking somebody else’s life if he spots the opportunity.  If they’d dressed him in a black trenchcoat and had him brandishing a concealed weapon instead, I would have absolutely bought it. The big scene goes to … Amelia.  I’ve never really thought of her character as anything but a supporting role to string together some plot points – steal the handkerchief, give it to her husband, then be in the right place at the right time to figure out the truth of what’s going on.  This Amelia was far deeper than that.  In her few scenes you got to see a wife who clearly had a mind and opinions of her own, who was saddled with a husband who couldn’t care less about her other than to order her around and tell her to shut up and go home when she got in the way.  Unfortunately for her situation, she had no choice but to do it. Until the climax, when she pieces it all together. I absolutely loved this.  Because our patronizing Iago who was smarter than everybody else in the play?  Has to stand there, with nothing to say, while his wife lays it all out for everybody.  He keeps screaming (the Shakespearean equivalent of) “Shut up and go home” and she keeps screaming over him that she will not, until finally his master plan falls into chaos as he stabs his own wife.  When Amelia says to lay her next to Desdemona I actually felt something.  It wasn’t like Paris asking to be placed inside Juliet’s tomb, which is something of a “Yeah yeah whatever” moment.  This time you actually felt that this woman truly loved her mistress, knew that she’d betrayed her, and had done her best (albeit too late) to set things aright. Volume was certainly not a problem. As emotions became more intense, voices rose until in the final act everybody was shouting all of their lines.  I noticed children’s faces pressed on the glass, looking in from outside our rotunda.  The library staff all stood and watched, and nobody seemed unhappy at the noise.  The director (of the library, not the show) was right there at the end to thank everybody for coming, Rebel Shakespeare for calling them (ahem….), and to remind everybody that we’re doing it all again in August with Much Ado. Success!  Great show.

O que interessa mesmo não é a noite em si, são os sonhos.

Status: Lost in translation?

Looking for somebody’s help on this one.  This line, which Google tells me is Portuguese(?) gets translated automatically to:

‘What really matters is not the night itself, are dreams. "

This line was re-Tweeted many times, and appeared at the top of my listings.  But I’m not quite sure what quote it’s supposed to be.  We are such stuff as dreams are made on? Something about midsummer night’s dream?

I can’t really say not-by-Shakespeare if the computer translation is just terrible.  But until then it’s at least a contender.

Sinister Swordplay

Saw something interesting yesterday, and I think it merits its own post because I’d love to hear details from someone who knows for real. Saw Othello.  There’s a sword fight at one point between Cassio and Roderigo.  Here’s the interesting thing – Roderigo was left-handed (insert Princess Bride joke here).  Cassio was right-handed.  This, if you stop to think about it, made the swordplay very … lopsided.  It all took place on one side.  Didn’t feel right. So tell me, stage combat people, how normal is that? How much of a problem is it? Is there more danger?  I’d think that someone trained in swordplay for right handed people would be more likely to accidentally whack a leftie because the opposing sword is not where it’s supposed to be.  But maybe there’s tricks to it that I don’t know? 

Shakespeare : Geek

Enough fooling around about how you know you’re a Shakespeare Geek or I know I’m one.  What if Shakespeare himself was a geek? I missed this article when it came around in April, but Pocket Lint imagines some geeky variants to the plays:

The Windows Tale
In Sicilia Valley, King Gates becomes convinced that his wife, Melinda, is having an affair with his friend Ballmer, King of the software department. He has her imprisoned and sends delegates to search the internet to see if his suspicions were true. While in prison, Melinda, gives birth to a girl and Gates has it sent to the software department to be placed alone in the wild. When the delegates return and state that the internet has exonerated Melinda, Gates remains stubborn and his wife and son die. Sixteen years later, a repentant Gates is reunited with his daughter, who is in love with the Prince of the software department. His wife is also later reunited with him by extraordinary means.

Give yourself extra computer geek credit if you thought that “delegates” was going to turn into a software patterns joke.  Double credit if you knew that Melinda Gates was the manager of the doomed Microsoft Bob project, and that the Internet will never ever exonerate her for that particular crime.

I Know I’m A Shakespeare Geek Because …

Challenge accepted. …both my day job and my education have absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare.  All of this is done on my own time with my own resources, entirely a labor of love. …I own and operate 4 Shakespeare web sites (this one, this one, and two more yet to go public ….) … I’m writing my first Shakespeare book, “Shakespeare for Weddings.” …I read Shakespeare texts like this one. For fun. In ebook format. On my iPhone. …I spent yesterday afternoon watching other people’s children perform Othello … ….while wearing a shirt like this… …which is only one of a large collection. …I’m on Twitter. And Facebook. And Ning. And Zazzle. And WordPress. And Squidoo.  And probably a dozen others I’m forgetting. …my oldest daughter reads As You Like It for fun, my middle daughter had Barbie dolls named Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, and my youngest son asks for “the Hamlet songs” as bedtime lullabies. And, lastly, I know I’m a Shakespeare Geek because this post is still only about half as long as it could be.

A Question of Rights

So I had a very interesting day.  Spent the afternoon watching Othello performed at my local library (more on that in a separate post).  Knowing I’d be surrounded by Shakespeare geeks I of course wore my Mercutio Drew First shirt.  More people recognized and appreciated the reference today than ever before, I’m happy to say. Where it gets even more interesting is after the show when I stopped off at the nearby pizza place, and the guy behind the counter recognized and appreciated the line as well.  He’s the first to actually read it out loud, including the ShakespeareGeek.com part. He said he wanted one, and like always I told him, “Come by my site and buy one.”  So maybe he’ll stop by, and see this.  Hi, pizza guy! Anyway, that started up a conversation when he told me that he and a friend had spoken of producing a show of their own, and daydreaming about doing RENT until they realized just how much it would cost to procure the rights to such a show.   We spoke of public domain stuff, and he asked if I knew of a repository where fledgling producers could learn more about works that are available in the public domain. I thought this an interesting question, because while we often hear about novels and poetry that are public domain via projects like Project Gutenberg, I’m not sure where I’d point somebody who wanted to read public domain plays.  I’m assuming that the rights are the same – if it’s more than X years past the death of the playwright, at least in the US, the work falls into the public domain? And once that happens, anyone who wants to do a show could get the script and just do it? I am assuming all of that, and do not know it for a fact.  Hence, as I told pizza guy I would, I’m asking.  Surely one of my more theatrical followers, someone who has produced a show or two of their own, would know the answer.  How do you find out what shows are available, and what do you need to go through to actually do it?  If this guy did want to pursue attempting RENT, how do you figure out where you’re supposed to go about asking for the rights and cutting the check?

My Twitter Day

I want to take a moment to say a very public thank you to BardFilm, MadShakespeare and all my other Twitter friends who decided to congratulate me on my new day job by having a “You Know You’re a Shakespeare Geek…” party on Twitter, with all the links pointing back to me.  Some of my favorites:
You’re a Shakespeare Geek if You TEND to VOICE your THOUGHTS in TEN beat LINES. You’re a Shakespeare Geek if you think it’s a Hamlet quote whenever the Twitter login page says "Remember me." You know you’re a Shakespeare Geek if you get a little nauseous when someone mentions the Earl of Oxford. You’re a Shakespeare Geek if you’re listening to Dire Straits’ "Romeo & Juliet" and you think "That’s not how it happened!" Of course as I told bardfilm, this celebration of my new job resulted in me spending all my time on Twitter reading my notes! Thanks again, everybody.  I loved it.