Hi Circus Friends,
While studying abroad in Ghana, I was struck by an oft heard expression: "I will go and come". The phrase means - as it suggests - I will return, but presents this idea in more concrete terms. "I go" and "I come" are simple verbs, easy to articulate and perform. "I return" is a layered concept - to make sense of it, we are required to imagine a previous action, of having left in the first place.
Drama is action.
Last night, exploring the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta in Midsummer, the poetic language of Shakespeare frequently drew the team into (fascinating) discussions that were highly conceptual - the fear of female sexuality, the challenge of translation, the idea of marriage, the chances of finding a castle in Detroit...
While the ideas were far from lofty, and originated from genuine points of interest in the text (maybe not the castle so much), they seemed intangible. How does one play (or write or film) "the idea of marriage"? You can't, any more than you can play "consumerism" or "reality". To begin to tell a story, all must be boiled down to simple verbs - to marry, to buy, to live. It's a basic tenant of dramatic art, which is surprisingly easy to forget:
Action is concrete.
Directors and performers often speak of "taking on" Shakespeare, as though he were an opponent in an imminent bar fight, or a new religion they are exploring. The mountain of cultural baggage that exists around performing his plays is undeniably daunting. Theseus and Hippolyta, in particular, are notoriously challenging roles to unpack, as their story is not the center of the play, more a bookend. While discussing their characters' entrances and exits as figurative "births" and "deaths", I found myself thinking, Holy expletive. Do we know what we're doing?
In between brainstorming about setting up a CASTEL Fund Kickstarter campaign, we pored through the text and I finally found a line, that inspired and settled me: "Go Philostrate". And a couple of pages later, "Demetrius, come". And then, "Come, my Hippolyta*." In fact, we do know what we're doing - because Shakespeare has told us.
While I don't pretend to instinctively know how to direct all of Hippolyta's beautiful metaphors ("And then the moon, like to a silver bow / New bent in heaven...etc."), I do know what a man talking about sex to his fiancé and then telling his assistant to leave them alone implies. I can direct that. I can even (check this out) layer it with further meaning.
Because placing "I go" and "I come" together creates "I return". It's not rocket science. Doing Shakespeare isn't easy. But it's not rocket science. And that's a relief to find out.
*Go on, laugh at this. Old Bill wants you to.