Shakespeare for Any Situation

Murder on the Orient Express 2017

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare

“I have good reason to be content, for thank God I can read and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths.” ~ John Keats

“But what if Shakespeare – and Hamlet – were asking the wrong question? What if the real question is not whether to be, but how to be?” ~ Gayle Forman, Just One Day

So, two or three posts ago, I wrote about my dilemma about whether or not to direct a Shakespeare play. I am not a great student of Shakespeare. I haven’t studied all the plays or the ins and outs of his life and I’m not obsessed with seeing every production of his work produced nearby. I do, however, believe that all his plays and poems, can be applied to any situation we face in life. That’s why I chose to direct the play Measure for Measure this coming spring.

While I was preparing this post, my husband and I went to see the new version of Murder on the Orient Express. I loved it but then I’m a bit of a nerd in that way. I love to see different versions of the same story. In fact, I have two versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, and have seen multiple versions of Jane Eyre. In my opinion it’s a good thing to reproduce the timeless stories so that new generations can become engaged with the story. Every Christmas, my husband and I watch more than one version of A Christmas Carol. Each director has just a little bit different take on how to tell the story and I love that.

Since I love comparing the various versions of plays and movies, I was surprised at how many critics panned this new version of Murder on the Orient Express. I was so disturbed by the reviewer on NPR, asking why do it?, that I wrote a long comment about the need to do remakes of these classic stories, and that just because an actor in a previous era was fantastic in the role, doesn’t mean you won’t learn something new from a different actor’s interpretation.

Which brings me back to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It’s not one of Shakespeare’s cannon of famous plays that everyone knows and it’s not performed as often as some of the others, but it’s one that has stuck with me ever since reading and watching it forty years ago when I was in undergraduate school. And now that more women, and some men are telling their stories of sexual harassment and abuse I think it’s time to revive this play, even if only in my small town.

In the last couple of years, I’ve read and watched lots of movies that center around the issues women face. Measure for Measure, is in part, that kind of play. But Isabella’s situation with Angelo isn’t the only reason I wanted to do the play. The three main characters are on a journey of self-discovery and those are the stories that I find most intriguing.

If we choose to be, we’re all on a journey of self-discovery. Angelo and Isabella are both characters who try to deny their darker, more natural, some might say animal, instincts. But it’s been my experience that the parts of yourself you try to push away, or stuff into the darkest corner of your psyche, are eventually exposed. That certainly happens to Angelo, and because of his demands on her, Isabella must also come face to face with her sexuality, something she has been trying to deny.

As I study this play, more facets and deeper layers of what drives the characters are revealed to me. That’s the sign of a great and timeless story. All of Shakespeare’s work is like that, even the light comedies have a deeper message than the antics of the characters.

I had a meeting last week with a man who is not only an Actor’s Equity member, but an expert on Shakespeare and who has done Measure for Measure seven times in one capacity or another. When I was getting ready to drive to town for our meeting, I was feeling “sklunklish”. (That’s a word I love from the Cary Grant movie Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer that means not feeling well. I love it when people make up words, much like Shakespeare did.) I wished I didn’t have to go into town so early before my class that evening. Yet, the more this gentleman and I talked, the more I was energized by the conversation. And I felt like this is just the right time to examine the issues the play presents. I don’t know if I’ll get enough actors to produce the play, but I’m learning a great deal from my studies.

Though I love the Shakespeare plays I’ve studied, I have shied away from directing them, or even using them often in my dramatic structure classes because of the language. But with the wide range of situations and themes his plays cover, I can never go wrong watching, directing, or showing more of them in my dramatic structure class.

In the new year, I hope to be writing about how the rehearsals are going.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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