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Summer Shakespeare

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Shakespeare has been dead for four centuries but this summer there is a film about his life called "All is True," an adaptation of the book "Ophelia" that looks at "Hamlet" from Ophelia's point of view, and a pair of his plays and a lecture about his work at the Old Globe Theatre. Cinema Junkie looks to the two new films, and then speaks with Globe artistic director and Shakespeare scholar Barry Edelstein

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 Mr Shakespeare, I don't want to pester you. Good. Excellent News. Cheerio. I just wanted to ask you, the best way to get started as a writer is to start writing

Speaker 2: 00:14 more than four centuries after his death. William Shakespeare's plays still delight audiences, yet the man himself remains something of a conundrum. How could such an ordinary person who had little schooling and never left England have also been the literary genius who took us to Verona, Venice, Egypt and beyond. Plus gave a star crossed lovers, the weird sisters, a melancholy Dane and a host of Madmen Fools and kings. The new film all is true attempts to discover what this Mister Shakespeare might have been like and how we could have written those fabulous plays.

Speaker 1: 00:48 I don't have a favorite play. I admire all my fellow dramatists equally and yes, I do think women should be allowed to perform the female roles as piece of the practice on the continent. Now please, if you'll excuse me, I just wanted to ask how you knew, knew what everything I'm trying to, I don't even know how to keep the slugs out of the hollyhocks. There is no corner of this world. You have not explored no geography of the soul, which you can look, navigate how. How do you know? Just one. What I know if I know and I don't say that I do, I have imagined, but they say that you left school at 14 you've never traveled. Not In from what? From myself yourself. Yes. Everything I've ever done, everything I've ever seen, every book I've ever read, every conversation I've ever had including God help me this one. Do you want it to be a writer and speak to others and for others? Speak first for yourself,

Speaker 3: 01:57 such within.

Speaker 1: 02:00 Consider the content of your own soul, your humanity, and if you're honest with yourself and whatever you write well, yes, true.

Speaker 4: 02:15 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:20 welcome to a Shakespearean edition of listener supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I'm Beth Ahca, Mondo

Speaker 4: 02:27 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:41 all is true directed by Kenneth Branna and featuring him as William Shakespeare recently opened in theaters. It's a charming and witty speculation about what Shakespeare's retirement might've been like. There are some tidbits of truth based on the facts we know, but also some clearly made up fantasy. Yeah. As the title cheekily suggests all is true. That ordinariness of Shakespeare's life is one of the reasons that some of insisted he couldn't be the author of all those plays and if sought to assign credit to a more worthy person. But the scene I just played addresses that point with an effective retort writer. Ben Elton has an obvious affection and appreciation for Shakespeare and that makes the film both sweet and melancholy. The film gives us the man we might hope Shakespeare to be this summer. We'll also see the release of the film of feel yet which reimagines hamlet from Ophelia's point of view and suggest her story is a very different one than what we see in the play. You may think you know my story,

Speaker 4: 03:44 sorry, many who've told it, it has long passed into history, continues

Speaker 2: 04:03 film based on a novel by Lisa Klein. Takes a similar conceit to that up. Tom Stoppard's, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead in which the action of the bards play is respected, but the supporting characters are allowed a fuller life as we get to see what they're doing after they make their exits from the world of Shakespeare. I'll have more on a feel yet in a separate podcast later in June featuring interviews with author Lisa Klein and the film's director, Claire Mccarthy, but all this is leading into today's summer Shakespeare podcast with old globe artistic director, Barry Edelstein, who is also a Shakespeare scholar. I know this is drifting a little off course from being about movies, but I couldn't resist an opportunity to explore one of my other passions, which is Shakespeare, but before I get to my interview with him, we need to take this quick break and I promise it'll be short because Shakespeare did say brevity is the soul of wit in San Diego. Summer means Shakespeare because our renowned old globe theater named after the bards own venue to votes the summer months to his plays as artistic director. Barry Edelstein oversees the summer season and usually directs one of the plays this year. He'll be directing Romeo and Juliet for the first time, plus he'll be holding another edition of his thinking Shakespeare live lecture on June 8th now before you bristle at the idea of a lecture on Shakespeare, let me play a clip from one of Edelstein is previous thinking. Shakespeare live talks centered on the first folio.

Speaker 5: 05:36 It's a human document surrounded with legal activities surrounded with acrimony, surrounded with grace. It's a committee of people, a team of people who put this thing together. There is a copy of the first folio at the Folger in which somebody was reading it and left their glasses in the book and close the book. The glasses rusted. Eventually they've disappeared, but the rust mark of the glasses survive in the pages of the first folio. There are marginal notes and people's first folios, things that they liked about the place, their fingerprints of the printers because they're covered with ink on the pages of the first folio and without the first folio, we would not know that life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing. That's why I revere this book because it makes Shakespeare human, not a god on a pedestal, not a perfect being who was blessed with some once in a century genius bolt of lightning, but a person working who had friends who had technology that was imperfect, who had problems and arguments and disagreements that somehow come together in this miraculous volume. He's our property, our common property to get in there with, to roll up our sleeves, to get our hands covered with ink, to forget our glasses and forget our pair of scissors. That's what the first folio means to me.

Speaker 2: 07:10 Edelstein is engaging style and vast knowledge of Shakespeare makes for a fascinating 90 minutes. Tickets are almost all gone for June 8th so if you're interested in gaining new insights into Shakespeare and you need to act fast, I began my interview with Edelstein by asking him what people can expect from attending the lecture.

Speaker 6: 07:30 Well, I love doing this and to my surprise, it really resonates with audiences here who love Shakespeare. The gloves been doing Shakespeare per 80 what, five years, something like that. So I'm enormous amount of time that the gloves been doing Shakespeare in San Diego. And so there's a real audience for Shakespeare here uniquely so very few other places around the United States that have as rich a Shakespeare audience and they want to know more. So we created this program to help people understand a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes, how a director works with actors to bring the language to life. And it's 90 minutes and I have three actors there to help me out and we demonstrate how the language works in the mouth. This of an actor in the rehearsal process, the technical details through which Shakespeare organizes the language in order to make it energetic and muscular and clear and fun. It's great. People really have a good time and people come up to me all the time and say, oh my goodness, if I had a teacher like that teaching Shakespeare when I was in high school, I'd be in the theater right now. And I think, you know, as somebody who knows what it looks like in the theater, they have no idea of the bullet that they dodged. But it's nice of them to say

Speaker 7: 08:34 no people who just attend the plate and want to be entertained by it may think, oh, do I really need to learn more about the language? But explain kind of how understanding some of the technique of delivering these lines or are some of the things that actors can do to make it more comprehensible to the audience. How those things actually help someone who is just going to watch the play for fun.

Speaker 6: 09:00 So two things are true. One, when Shakespeare wrote these plays, 400 and some odd years ago, there was a theater culture around them that understood instinctively what he was doing and how he built the plays. Um, so today we pick up a play script written by a modern play, right? And we see sometimes the word pause in brackets and a modern actor understands that pause means that you take a little moment, think about what are you going to say next? And then go on Shakespeare. Had his own equivalent of those kinds of things. And the way that he put the language together that actors in his period would have instinctively understood. But 400 years later, they need teachers to help them spot and see. So for example, Shakespeare really liked the idea of juxtaposing opposites in his speech that which has made them drunk hath made me bold. I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

Speaker 6: 09:53 And you hear in the thought, the, the idea of PR to praise being juxtaposed against the idea to Barry to be or not to be. That is the question now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of yours and on and on and on. Everywhere. The technical term for that is called antithesis. We know it in our modern political world. Um, uh, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. You hear the, the words that are opposite being juxtaposed against each other. Well, when we train actors to do Shakespeare, we really stressed this idea and say that you've got to think the thought in such a way that the terms that are opposite each other sort of lift off and become particularly vivid and that makes the audience understand the thing much, much, much more clearly. If an actor doesn't stress the words that are opposite each other, the thought isn't communicated. And um, we demonstrate this and thinking Shakespeare live and we do this when I'm rehearsing a play, I'm going into rehearsal and a couple of weeks I'll be talking about antithesis all the time. Yeah.

Speaker 7: 10:57 This summer you're going to, the globe is going to be having as you like it and Romeo and Juliet. So you are the artistic director here. What went behind your thought process for picking these two particular plays to run to this summer?

Speaker 6: 11:10 Well, we have a lot of criteria that go into choosing the shows that we want to put on first. Um, we think about what the audience might want to see, what they might enjoy, what might be fun and entertaining for them. Obviously we have financial limitations. What can we afford to produce given our budget, what shows are going to sell a certain number of tickets, which the globe needs in order to keep the lights on, stuff like that. Then we look at how long it's been since we've produced these plays. We haven't done as you like it in almost a decade, something like that. Haven't done Romeo and Juliet in longer than that and Shakespeare only had 36 plays. You cycle through them pretty quickly and uh, the famous ones in particular that are really rewarding to audiences and that introduce audiences to Shakespeare for the first tend to come up a little bit more frequently.

Speaker 6: 11:55 So that's one part of it is just figuring out the audience dynamic of it. The other part is the artist's dynamic. I had a conversation with Jessica Stone, the director who's coming to do as you like it, and she said, God is my favorite Shakespeare and I'd really love to do it. I said, that's a pretty good reason. This is a director who's incredibly talented, very, very gifted at comedy, has become a really close friend at the old globe. She's done four plays here in the last four years. And I thought this is a great opportunity for her to stretch into this other area of doing Shakespeare and she really loves and wanted to do that play. So check. Um, as for Romeo and Juliet, I've never done it. I've done little more than half of Shakespeare's plays now, some more than once, but Romeo and Juliet is not one I've ever directed. So I thought, I think this is the time to give it a go.

Speaker 7: 12:42 And talk a little bit about it as you like it in terms of what are you, what are the elements that you think are make it such a popular one of Shakespeare's plays? Yeah.

Speaker 6: 12:51 As you like. It is one of those place that really has everything in it that we celebrate Shakespeare for great, beautiful poetry. You know, all the world's a stage and all the men and women, merely players, lots of romance and love, you know, love at first sight and the chaos that follows from that disguise. There's a woman who disguises herself as a boy who then disguises himself as a woman, um, and enchanted forest where crazy things happen. Lots of music. It's really got kind of everything that you think of when you think of Shakespeare, that special charm, that special beauty of the language. The other thing about it, and this is the thing I love about the place so much as one of my very favorite lines in all of Shakespeare, which is much virtue in if, and there's this big long speech about the power of the word if and the way that if activates our imaginations and activates our curiosity and if is the thing that allows human beings to progress in this world because we have an image of the way things might be if only, and then we take steps to pursue it.

Speaker 6: 13:54 And the whole play is built on this complicated idea of if a series of suppositions, a series of conjectures, what happens if we take a bunch of city slickers and throw them into the country? What happens if we could disguise ourselves so well that even the person who loves us most in this world can't recognize us and the play plays out this series of ifs in this gorgeous confection that's just rewarding and romantic and fills your heart by the end.

Speaker 8: 14:22 All the world's a stage, all the men and women, merely players, they have direct suits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts. Is that being seven ages at first, the infant nearly puking in the nurses and then the whining school going with his Satchel and shining morning face creeping like snail unwillingly to scream and then the lover sighing like furnace with a woeful ballad made to his mistress eyebrow. Then a soldier [inaudible] full of strange odes dated like the partner jealous and honor southern end quick in Carl seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannons math and then the justice in fair round belly, good Capen line guy, severe beard or formal cup full of wise or modern instances and so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts into the lean and slippered pantaloon with spectacles on their pouch. On the side is youthful holes. Well saved the world too wide for his trunk Shank. I just, big nine leave voice turning again towards child is trembling pipes and whistles in his last scene of all that ends. This strange eventful history is second childishness mere oblivion, Sans Teeth, Sans Eyes, Sans Taste, sans everything.

Speaker 2: 16:22 That was benedict Cumberbatch performing the seven stages of man speech from as you like it. I'll be back with more of my interview was Shakespeare scholar and old globe artistic director. Barry Adelstein. After this quick break, so you're going to be directing Romeo and Juliet this summer for the first time. The hamlet you did recently was the first professional, uh, directing that you had done of that. These are two of kind of Shakespeare's standards. What is it that maybe has taken you so long to decide to tackle them?

Speaker 6: 16:56 What a good question. Well, a couple of things I, first of all, I've had an abiding interest in the minor Shakespeare's. I've done a lot of them because I thought, I know the ones that I know. I know a midsummer night's dream. I Know Hamlet, I know King Lear and I want to do the ones that I don't know anything about. And so I kind of gravitated to time and of Athens and the winter's tale and symbol lean and some of the really sort of strange outliers that people don't, haven't even necessarily heard of. But the second reason is that I, I can't really direct one of these plays unless I feel some kind of personal emotional connection to them. Otherwise it's just a job. Um, uh, when my father passed away a few years ago, may he rest in peace. Hamlet was very much on my mind, uh, as the sort of great statement in Western literature about what happens to us on when his father dies.

Speaker 6: 17:45 And the play just rushed into my mind when my father passed away and it kind of told me I need to work on this play Romeo and Juliet. I've been thinking in enormous amount about the thing that the chorus says at the very, very beginning of the play. This guy comes out or a person or a woman or I don't even know how I'm going to do it yet. This speech happens that says, uh, there's these two great households and they're having a feud and the only thing that's going to end this view does the deaths of their own children. And that's the first thing that you learn is, oh my God, there's going to be children who die because of this family feud. And it made me think about the whole question of the legacy that we grownups leave for our children in terms of the politics of our world, in terms of the climate of our world, in terms of the culture that we build that gets transmitted to our children. Shakespeare's actively asking the question, how do the choices that grownups make come home to roost a generation later in the lives of their children? And it's been much on my mind is I've watched my own young children grow up and I thought Romeo and Juliet is a great opportunity to for me to think about that and explore that a little bit. Yeah.

Speaker 7: 18:57 Now with the players like Romeo and Juliet that has been filmed repeatedly gets performed a lot. Is it a challenge or uh, a burden to tackle something that has been done so often that people have certain things in their heads or are very familiar with certain aspects but not others? And kind of how do you tackle that?

Speaker 6: 19:18 It's a, it's a great question and it's something I've been thinking about a lot. Yes, the plays so familiar. I mean, I've seen great productions of Romeo and Juliet that make me think, well, what do I have to add? Hey, that's perfect. That was perfect version of that plate. Perfect production. Why on earth would I come along and try to add something new? But that's the great thing about the theater is that these enduring works survive and ask for yet another group of artists to come together and grapple with them. And the joy of going to see Romeo and Juliet yet one more time, is to see what this particular group of individuals at this particular moment are going to find in it. Now, as a guy whose job is to think, how am I going to do that balcony scene? The fact that I've seen it 15 times is a challenge because you think, well, I know the way one is supposed to do it.

Speaker 6: 20:09 So one trap is to say I must do something original. Because if it's not original, then it's somehow no good. And you know, sometimes the tried and true method is the best thing to do, even though you've seen it 15 times, you've seen it that way because it works. So that's one trap to be avoided. The other trap to be avoided as to copy some other artists' work without particularly delving into it in a personal way. So in a sense, it's much more fun to do time in the bathrooms because one has never seen it before and it feels like a new play. Titus Andronicus, you know, Henry the sixth part, three, the place that just aren't produced that frequently don't have that legacy of creative ideas behind them. But on the other hand, the fun about Romeo and Juliet is just to say, look, there are definitive versions out there. My job is to come in now with this particular group of people who are incredibly talented and just see what it is we think we can find and trust that it will resonate with audiences in its own new way. Okay. Okay.

Speaker 7: 21:06 So going into Romeo and Juliet, how much of what you want the production to be is already set in your head and how much of it are you kind of discovering as you go through rehearsal?

Speaker 6: 21:17 Well, there's some things you have to figure out in advance in the way that the American theater works, right? The Globe has a big scene shop down in southeast San Diego. There's a big staff down there waiting for some blueprints do arrive so that they can build the scenery that's going to be on our stage. So that stuff has to be figured out in advance. Um, I've chosen almost, not all, but almost all of the actors who are going to be in it. We start rehearsal in about six weeks. And uh, and so those kinds of decisions are already kind of set in stone moving forward. Then there are the kind of big ideas, well, what's it gonna look like? A, you know, w w w there's going to be live music. What, what's that going to sound like? So there are things that require a lot of advanced preparation that are already figured out.

Speaker 6: 21:56 But at this point in my work on Shakespeare, because I've done so much of it and I've been doing it for such a long time, I actually try not to plan out to much more than that and walk into the rehearsal room with his blank, a slate as I can figure and sit down with everybody and say, okay, what are we going to do in this scene? There's a party taking place and there's a, a, a wealthy guy and his wife and they're planning for this party that's going to take place at their house. How are we going to do it? So I'm servants running around, should they have food, should they not have food? Is the mood tense and anxious or is the mood celebratory and fun? I don't know. We'll get in there with the group of people that are in there and say, here's the situation. How do we think we ought to do it?

Speaker 7: 22:32 And have you determined what period this is going to be in?

Speaker 6: 22:35 That's the question that everybody always asks. And you know, my answer is, you know, I'm going to do all the words that Shakespeare wrote and I'm going to do them in the order that he wrote them. So in that sense, it's going to be traditional, but, uh, we're going to do what I call kind of timeless, modern dress. So the silhouette of the clothing will look vaguely kind of contemporary, but we're not going to have cell phones or Instagram or that kind of technology, which would make up kind of crazy nonsense of the play, which completely depends on the fact that somebody couldn't get a message to somebody else. And so if you're, if you're walking around with a cell phone, it makes it a little bit of a nonsense of that. So it'll be a kind of gorgeous, lush, contemporary silhouette of the clothing designed by the brilliant Judith Dolan. But the basic kind of inner life of the production will not have a kind of 2019 gloss on it. It'll be the piece that Shakespeare wrote, the relationships among the people and kind of delving deep into the, um, the, the central themes and concerns of the play and what I would say is a traditional way.

Speaker 7: 23:40 Do you remember the first time you ever had

Speaker 6: 23:42 Romeo and Juliet and what impact it had? Who now you're making me scan my memory banks. Um, I remember seeing this Zephyr Reli film, which of course is a classic, which I think I saw in school when studying the play for the first time I saw, um, the first time I saw a professional production was when I was a student in England and I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company do one set in what was then, this would've been late eighties, contemporary Italy. So there was a guy with a scooter and there was a table with an umbrella. It said Genzano on it. And it was kind of contemporary, um, uh, Verona, which was, which was a lot of fun. And I remember in the, in the midst of my memory, I remember there was a giant projection screen where you saw the faces of the company projected hugely behind everybody. I could be wrong about that. I'll have to go, I'll, I'll have to go look it up. So yeah, I have a lot of them in my memory bank. I've seen them all over the United States. I've seen them in Shakespeare festivals here and there. Uh, I've seen ballets of Romeo and Juliet West side story. Of course the buzz Lurman movie. Oh my God. I would lose count of how many times I've seen it.

Speaker 7: 24:54 And what do you feel that you're particularly connecting with in terms of some of the, the famous scenes are in terms of, you know, some of the famous speeches and monologues in this?

Speaker 6: 25:06 Well, again, it comes back to this idea of the choices that parents make settling in the lives of their offspring and sometimes toxic ways. That's what I actually think the play is about. That's what I think Shakespeare's trying to tease out. Um, and there's this amazing scene. What I've often found in my work in Shakespeare's that there's some crazy little corner of the play that's not celebrated and not famous at all. That reveals itself to me. And, uh, and, and reveals a kind of central concern of the piece. And there's this wonderful scene. I mean, spoiler alert, right? They die at the end. Romeo and Juliet, sorry about that. Folks who are listening and the way they die is this complicated thing. Romeo and Juliet are, are the children of rival families and they're not supposed to fall in love, but they do. And so there's a fryer who is involved, a, a man of the cloth.

Speaker 6: 25:57 And he advises these two young lovers on how to be together in the face of their parents opposition. And he hatched this crazy plan that involves a sleeping potion that is going to make Juliet appear dead. Her family is going to discover her in bed, think that she's dead, and then bury her in the family tomb. She's not dead. It's a potion that will wear off after some number of hours. Romeo is going to meet her in the tomb. She's going to wake up from the secret potion and off they go together. Happy. Romeo never gets word that Jew that this is a potion, thinks that she's actually dead, kills himself and it turns into a terrible tragedy. But there's a great scene in the play where the family of Juliet discovers her dead in her bed. They think she's dead. They know that it's a secret sleeping potion from which she's going to wake up.

Speaker 6: 26:46 The fryer comes to the House and the family is screaming keening over the loss of their daughter. The fryer knows she's not dead because it's his secret sleeping potion that is responsible for it, and he begins to berate them for the way that they raised their daughter, screams at them. All they wanted was for her to marry a rich guy. All they cared about was her reputation. All they cared about was her promotion, this amazing speech, and you think, I don't know how a pastor does that to a family who's in morning, you know, and it's such an odd detail that this angry fryer who has been responsible for the whole situation that we're watching takes advantage of the opportunity to make a political point to these parents. Even when he knows that he's the one responsible for the situation. And I n actually that's one of those moments you go, oh, that's what the play is about.

Speaker 6: 27:38 This strange little detail. Why is this guy doing this? The reveals the entire kind of inner structure and life of the piece. And it's interesting you point to that because I believe that's the same that's often cut out. It is often cut out because it's so crazy because nobody wants this fryer who supposed to be the cuddly wise fellow, a figure of the show to come in and go after the family in this way. But he does. It's such a strange, wonderful detail, this furious for Roche attack on the values by which the parents live their lives and he knows this fryer that it cannot end in anything. Good. I'm looking forward to both the summer Shakespeare plays and uh, thanks for talking with me. It's always a pleasure to talk Shakespeare with you. Bet. Thanks.

Speaker 4: 28:24 [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 28:34 That was old globe theater, artistic director of Barry Edelstein. He'll be directing Romeo and Juliet later this summer. You can also find Shakespeare on screen this summer with all this true about William Shakespeare at the end of his life and Ofelia offering a new perspective on the bards hamlet. Thanks for listening to another edition of Cinema Junkie. If you enjoy what you hear, please tell a friend your recommendation or social media share is the best way to get the podcast to more listeners. Thanks to everyone who left reviews or has liked the cinema junky page on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter at synagogue. As I mentioned, I'll be having a podcast on the new film, will feel ya later in June. Plus there'll be podcast interviews with author Donald Vogel. About his new book, Hollywood black, and a podcast with director Lulu Wong about her new film, the Farewell Cinema Junky. Summer's off to a great start, so I hope you'll join me for these upcoming episodes. The podcast comes out every other Friday till our next film fix on Beth Flaca, Mondo your residents cinema junkie.

Speaker 4: 29:44 [inaudible].

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Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place