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Shakespeare question

  • 1.  Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-13-2020 09:38
    Our troupe has about $250 for next year. So a royalty free play is needed. I have some students interested in doing Shakespeare. I have done a traditional Midsummer's Night before with a line modification for a blind student. This time I think I'd like to try 3 acts of different plays. I think I'd get a better turn out if it was a range rather than one play. Our community might be like - "Ugh, Shakespeare? Why?".

    I can get traditional costumes (borrowed free) and was thinking just a key set piece (like the balcony, a throne, a bower) for each act. So, tell me if I am short sighted or what I'm missing. Should I consider a spin like Leo/Claire's R&J as one act or different time?

    Has any one done this? What 3 would flow for you? Cuts? Whole acts?

    A wrench - I typically have all girls. They are good. Are there better acts for this than others? I am no expert on Shakespeare so am looking for advice.


    Kati Heintzman
    Thespian Advisor
    Middletown City Schools
    Middletown OH

  • 2.  RE: Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-13-2020 10:19
    If you're looking for a royalty free option (and don't really want to do Shakespeare or a different piece that is public domain) you could have your students write the piece.

    If you want to do Shakespeare (and I think the idea of doing different acts from different plays is an interesting one) I'd just make sure that the pieces you choose are complementary without being too repetitive. Have you considered how you will organize the different pieces and how you will market the idea to your audience? Maybe you could choose one act from a script they read in the English classes. That would allow you to get buy-in from the English department and possibly help support your production by having the teachers offering extra credit for coming to the show.

    I personally love playing with different options in Shakespeare. I have an almost completely female version of Taming of the Shrew and it was set in the Midwest in contemporary times and a version of Julius Caesar where I went really avant garde in how the casting was done (like having 8 Portia's in Act II)  and had the students rotating through the parts throughout and represented each character with a specific mask. It was really fun.

    I'd recommend looking for pieces you are passionate about directing and your students will enjoy performing; and remember there are a lot of options that are available in teh public domain.

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 3.  RE: Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-13-2020 10:52
    I just Googled "Shakespeare minimal set" and a bunch of articles came up on the subject, including material from the Folger in Wash. DC. Might be worth checking out.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 4.  RE: Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-13-2020 12:04
    I would vote for cuttings of the whole play, or a compilation of scenes around a theme, over a single act from different plays. I have done both of these very successfully with almost no budget.
    I would do a an evening of short adaptations with my community teen Shakespeare troupe called ShakesSuite and it was always well attended.   Two years we did three 20-30 minute cuttings of different plays.  The first year we did Richard 3, WintersTale and As You Like it in traditional rep, so all of our actors were cast in all three plays in different size roles.  The second year,  we had more students so we did Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer and Henry 5.  All of the students were cast in Midsummer and then we split the group in two for the other plays.  The last year that I oversaw the project, we just did two longer cuttings of Hamlet and Twelfth Night with completely separate casts. In the latter two years, we connected the plays with a theme, "The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth" and "Of Woe and Wonder," respectively. All of these combinations were wonderful challenges for everyone involved.  There are so many possible combinations, but the comedy, trajedy/romance/ history trio is a good one.
    The other project that I did with a mix of adult actors and teens was a compilation piece of scenes of love and madness, which I titled Lunatics and Lovers.  Each of the 15 or so actors was cast in two or three scenes.  This was a really easy piece to rehearse and gave me a lot of one on one time with each of the actors.  The final result was so much fun!  There are so many thematic possibilities: death scenes, love scenes, mad scenes, supernatural scenes (witches, ghosts and fairies, oh my!), scenes about music and poetry, scenes about ambition and power, strong women....
    The great thing about Shakespeare is you can always cast across gender lines, so either of these projects would work with a majority female or all-female cast. There are also a bunch of great scenes for 2 or even three women.
    Let me know if you have any questions about either of these projects.  I am happy to provide support and suggestions.

    Elana Kepner
    Theatre Instructor
    The Oakwood School
    Greenville NC

  • 5.  RE: Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-13-2020 14:17
    We did a really fun short piece of Shakespeare's dreamers, where the guest artist flowed together speeches about dreams and sleeping from different characters. With primarily girls, you could pull together a lot of cool lines and snippets from Shakespeare's powerful women. You could also have them devise material based on a certain play or scene and add a lot of movement and tableaux work.

    Cassy Maxton-Whitacre
    Theatre Department Coordinator
    Fishersville VA

  • 6.  RE: Shakespeare question

    Posted 01-15-2020 09:28
    Hey there,

    I don't think having all girls is a problem at all, especially for Shakespeare, Commedia, lots of pieces that are less contemporary. Like most of us I have a ton more girls than boys in my dept., and when need be I give a girl a male part. I wrote a version of The Overcoat this year, and had an amazing actress play Akaky, the main (male) character.

    Have you thought about Commedia? Characters are mostly in masks, which would help mask the all-girl thing. Plus, I did a production of The Servant of Two Masters whose only set piece was a proscenium and curtain. This could be built on the cheap. The era is similar enough to Elizabethan that you could  still use the costumes you have access to. (Are there differences? Yes. But with no budget I wouldn't worry about it, and no one is going to call you out on Pantalone's less-than-traditional look). Students could even make the masks.

    I wrote the adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters for the production. Feel free to use it. There's a lot of business that can be edited out for a simpler production. Chop it up. Here's the link:

    Good luck!

    Dave Engel
    Troupe #98
    Fayetteville-Manlius High School
    Manlius, NY​

    David Engel
    Theater Department Head
    Fayetteville-Manlius School District
    Manlius NY