For years now I’ve had “Speak publicly, in person, on the subject of Shakespeare” on my bucket list. All of the online stuff I do is fun, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t push the boundaries. I can write whatever I want without fear of real time critique or, pardon the expression, eff ups.
But also there’s an element of recognition that comes with this goal. I have to be invited to do it, and I have to have a crowd that apparently thinks it’s useful to listen to me. I suppose I could just grap a soap box and go down to Quincy Market and do my thing, but then I’m a street performer, and ironically enough if I go down that path I’m more likely to do the mime thing.
I digress. My pal Bardfilm, who some of you might know is a college professor in real life, invited me to speak (via Skype) to his Modern Shakespearean Fiction class, specifically on the subject of adaptation, but also on the bigger and broader question of why Shakespeare? which I’ll get to in a moment.
It was fun! A very polite, attentive and articulate class who looked like they were actually paying attention to what I said (and most importantly laughed at my jokes :)). I suppose my standards were a little wonky as my only previous experience at this point has been reading to my kids’ elementary school classes and most of them have the attention span of elementary school students. It was a pleasure today to speak at a higher level, to feel like I was understood, and to have some actual question and answer time that seemed productive.
Asked to choose a modern adaptation to discuss I picked the opening scene(s) from King Lear compared to A Thousand Acres starring Jason Robards. When asked why that adaptation of that scene I explained that quite honestly 10 Things and She’s The Man have been done to death, and I was far more interested in tackling the “Everest” of Shakespeare.
One of the issues of adaptation that came up is the idea of how much Shakespeare you need to retain in your adaptation. We spoke of the Lion King and the idea that “the son avenges the father” is always a deliberate Hamlet adaptation, or if instead of the idea of Hamlet has become embedded in our consciousness as a story archetype like Cinderella or Star Wars (“hero’s journey”) or, I suppose, Romeo and Juliet.
I think to score on that point, though, you need to keep more than just some plot and character. You need to keep the essence of the story. My Thousand Acres story goes out of its way to include all the characters, even making them all share a first initial. But within that first scene, the Lear character shows no heartbreak over the betrayal of his youngest daughter, and we learn quickly that this particular story has no interest in telling the Cordelia/Lear story, this adaptation wants to write a Regan/Goneril story. Which is fine, if that’s what it wants to be – but I’ll lose interest very rapidly.
This post is getting long and it’s getting so I’m going to deal with the bigger “Why Shakespeare?” question in a later post.
Thanks to Professor Bardfilm and his class for having me! Thanks for staying awake and not spending all the time on your cellphones.