Shakespeare and love at The Globe
S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. Shakespeare takes the stage once again at the Old Globe , and this summer you'll find a pair of romantic comedies at the outdoor venue. Kpbs arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with directors Kathleen Marshall and James Vasquez about Shakespeare and his ideas about love.
S2: I want to welcome you both. You will be directing some Shakespeare this summer at the Globe Theatre. And this is something I have been enjoying since I was six years old and my dad brought me to the theatre. So before we start talking specifically about your plays , I did want to ask you , you know , I have a hard time getting people to watch movies from the 1930. So how do you kind of tackle a playwright who's been dead for more than 400 years and , you know , try to make him relevant or just try to be able to attract people to come see his work.
S3: And I think that that in Shakespeare's plays , whether they're the comedies or the romances or the tragedies , they may be people sort of behaving in extreme ways. But it's all recognizable. It's all understandable. People sort of falling in love or being jealous or desiring something or someone and or dealing with loss or dealing with pain or trying to find their joy. They're all real sort of human characters experiencing life in a way that's recognizable to any audience. And.
S4: James Yeah , you know , just to add on to that , I agree. I think that's exactly right. And with the the relevance of these stories , that is always there. I think it offers opportunity for us as storytellers to jump in with contemporary and fun new approaches to how to tell these stories , which sparks interest in our audience in coming back to see these stories that they may know or may have seen previously. So I think that's what's great about Shakespeare is , again , it is about the human experience that we all know and can relate to and we can futz with and have some fun with.
S2: And you will both be directing comedies this summer , and Shakespeare's comedies deal with the human condition , but in a way that kind of makes us look at our own foibles and vulnerabilities in quite amusing ways. So to start off , Kathleen , tell us a little bit about your production of 12th Night.
S3: I'm so honored to be directing 12th Night at the Old Globe because it's one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. And I've said to our company , you know , we have this responsibility to deliver a sort of delightful and hopefully fresh production of 12th Night for people who know and love the play. But then we also have to believe that perhaps in every audience there are people who have never seen the play before and we want to introduce it to them and serve it up in a way that really sort of honors this great comedy. And one of the things that I've really been realized is we've sort of delved into it is that all of these characters are sort of lord in one way or another. All of these characters are sort of feeling some sense of loss. We have two characters who are literally lost in a shipwreck and other characters who are sort of have something missing in their lives , some void that they're trying to fill. And so even though it hopefully it becomes they fill it with sort of joy and romance and attraction and mischief. But it all comes from a place of sort of of grief or loss or sadness. And so it's really even though it's a great Shakespeare comedy , it has this depth to it. And I think that's one of the reasons why it's such a perennial favorite.
S2: And James , you will be tackling the Merry Wives of Windsor , which has a very famous Shakespearean character in Falstaff. So tell us a little bit about your production and kind of how you're tackling this comedy.
S4: I can't believe I'm getting to do it , first of all. But you know , we're setting it in the 1950s , riffing off of the sitcom world of the 1950s , really inspired by Lucy and Ethel. And I think what's fun about it is the men have a lot of power in this story or think they do. And the women step up and sort of take control. And I think setting it in the 50s at a time when the women's job. So they said was to to keep the house fresh and clean and moving to flip that on its head a little bit and to give the women some power and to control the story with this infamous character of Falstaff. It's an opportunity for audiences to come out this summer and laugh. And the world right now , the world always needs laughter. The world right now especially , needs some laughter. And I think we can use the reminder to laugh at ourselves a little bit. And I think that's something that Merry Wives really celebrates , is learning to laugh at ourselves and be silly.
S2: So I don't want to talk about Shakespeare in Love , but I want to talk a little bit about Shakespeare. Beer and love. So these plays kind of have very different ways of presenting the idea of love. And 12th Night famously has the line of music be the food of love play on.
S3: It's not always something that that you can plan. You know , Orsino is been trying to woo Olivia for months and she rejects him and he can't understand why and she can understand why he's pursuing her. And yet they both find attraction and desire in an unexpected place. It's part of sort of saying that , you know , you love love may come in an unexpected way and that when it does , just embrace it and how wonderful that you have that in your life.
S2: And James and Mary , wives of Windsor , we have Falstaff wanting to woo two women for financial gain or anything , but like what love really is about.
S4: You know , even beyond Falstaff , there is the Falstaff is absolutely wooing the two merry wives for financial gain , as you mentioned. But even with the daughter of Anne Page , who has three suitors , Mr. Page is trying to hook her up with one suitor. Mrs. Page is trying to hook her up with the other suitor , but her heart really goes with young Mr. Fenton. I like to take away the idea of true love with merry wives that he's playing with the idea that love is often we're often put in these situations for status. We're often put in these situations for financial gain , whatever ever we get into these relationships for. But ultimately , what wins in Merry Wives is true love.
S2: And the women in both of these plays seem to know more than the men in terms of what love is and kind of how to navigate through it.
S4: So again , in Merry Wives at the top of the show , the wives have very much been positioned into a situation where they're at home and so they have a lot of opportunity to observe. And I think that is what gives them the heads up in this story is that they're well aware of all of the office ness happening around the town around them , and actually take the time to sit and have the conversations to discuss it rather than just reacting like the men do. We see the men in Merry Wives just to hear a piece of information and jump into crazy maniacal action. And we watch the women go off into a corner , have a conversation and figure out how to deal with it rationally and intelligently and who ends up most successful in the end ? The women.
S3: That's great. Well , I think in 12th Night you have this sort of interesting concept that the main character , Viola , who is sort of the character , who's the spine of the story and who sort of interacts the most with the most other the other characters that she is going through her experiences at play disguised as a man and affects everybody in such a in such unique and individual ways. And they don't know necessarily why they're being affected by this person , but they are. And I think it's the fact that she sort of is both genders at the same time. She has her own insight and perception and emotions and ideas. But because she is presenting as a man to people , they listen to her differently and she interacts with them differently. And so I think it's interesting. And of course , in Shakespeare's day , that would have been a man playing a woman dressed as a man. So I think it's just it's very sort of interesting that there's gender fluidity in 12th Night that's interesting to explore.
S2: And James mentioned that he is setting his merry wives in kind of the sitcom 1950s setting. You did a fabulous Much Ado About Nothing at The Globe. And I'm wondering what we can expect from the setting in this one.
S3: We're sort of in it. We're in Illyria , which is a sort of , you know , fictional country , but we're sort of setting it in Regency era. For me , that is because I sort of feel like that is an era. It's a very romantic era. It's the beginning of sort of romantic music and poetry and literature and art. And so I sort of like that we're in an era that's sort of has gone through an intellectual enlightenment era and is now opening up into something that is sort of romantic and exploring feelings and exploring your interior life in.
S2: Directing these plays. Do you find any particular challenge in trying to make Shakespeare's language more accessible to people ? I know a lot of people like here , Shakespeare , and they just kind of have this like , Oh , I don't know if , you know , I can go and understand it , but , you know , it's such beautiful language. And if you actually hear it out loud , I feel like it makes so much more sense than reading it on the written page.
S3: And of course , we're not going to understand every word , every reference in Shakespeare and think it's up to us as the creators to sort of through how the actors are presenting the text , the physical world that we're presenting gestures and blocking to get the sense of it. And so that's , you know , that's our challenge. And our job is to sort of get across the meaning of what the scene is about and what's happening between these characters , even if we can't literally understand every word.
S4: I feel like I'm getting off the hook a little bit easy in the sense that , you know , Merry Wives is is written in prose. So it's it's a little messier in the the language of it and a little more naturally accessible. Not to say we don't have beautiful moments of verse , You know , when we do land in the love moments , when we do land in the really beautiful heightened moments , he does break into verse at that point. But I think it's so it's so beautifully pointed and clear when he does that. It is. Um , our ear is ready for it. It's almost like music. It's almost like a musical number has begun. Yeah , I was.
S3: Actually just telling our company that anybody who has a couplet that ends a scene that we have to sort of serve it up like it is the end of a musical number , Like it's the button of the musical number. I mean , it's it's Shakespeare sort of writes these beautiful couplets that sort of are like , ta da ! And and that's the end of the scene. And we have to you have to sort of deliver that with that little extra burst of energy and attack.
S3: We sort of don't even realize how much Shakespeare's language , characters , phrases , famous quotes , situations , how much they permeate our entire cultural landscape , and that it's so important for new audiences to sort of have that reference of where it came from.
S4: I mean , you look at films and when you really stop and look at some of those teenage comedies out there , it is comedy of Errors. It's Two Gentlemen of Verona. So it says , you were saying , you know , to know where that those origins come from and that human nature. Boy , we just repeat ourselves , don't we ? Yeah.
S3: Mean , you know , we're saying that these are sort of the original romantic comedies and every movie or TV show where you have two people who sort of rub each other the wrong way and bicker and sort of then tumble their way into romance. That's what happens to Viola and Cesario. That's what happens to that's Beatrice and Benedick. That's , you know , all of these that that sort of classic thing. If they , you know , it's it down to Hepburn and Tracy and and Sam and Diane on cheers It's like it's it's it's all originates from these romantic comedies that Shakespeare wrote.
S1: That was Beth Accomando speaking with Kathleen Marshall and James Vasquez opening night for a 12th night is this Saturday , and it runs through July 9th. Merry Wives of Windsor opens July 30th. Both plays are at the outdoor Lowell Davies Theater.
On screen we have seen "Shakespeare in Love" but I am more interested in Shakespeare on love. What did the Bard think about the themes of love?
Two people who can shed some light on this are directors Kathleen Marshall and James Vasquez.
Marshall has previously directed "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Love's Labour's Lost" for The Globe, and now she tackles "Twelfth Night." The play famously opens with the line, "If music be the food of love, play on." But it is spoken by the lovesick Orsino who may be more in love with the idea of love than with a person. He pines for Olivia who wants nothing of his affections. Enter the shipwrecked Viola, who masquerades as her lost twin brother and becomes the go-between for Orsino and Olivia.
"I think in 'Twelfth Night' you have this sort of interesting concept that the main character, Viola, is going through her experiences of the play disguised as a man and affects everybody in such unique and individual ways," Marshall said. "And they don't know why they're being affected by this person, but they are. And I think it's the fact that she sort of is both genders at the same time. She has her own insight and perception and emotions and ideas, but because she is presenting as a man to people, they listen to her differently and she interacts with them differently. And so I think it's interesting. And of course, in Shakespeare's day, that would have been a man playing a woman dressed as a man. So I think it's very sort of interesting that there's gender fluidity in 'Twelfth Night' that's interesting to explore."
Vasquez is directing "The Merry Wives of Windsor" that features Shakespeare's famous Sir John Falstaff. But Falstaff is pursuing the merry wives of the title for financial gain and not out of love. The comic antics of the play inspired Vasquez to turn to 50s sitcom TV for inspiration.
"We're really inspired by Lucy and Ethel," Vasquez said. "I think what's fun about it is the men have a lot of power in this story, or think they do, and the women step up and sort of take control. It's an opportunity for audiences to come out this summer and laugh. And the world always needs laughter. The world right now especially needs some laughter. And I think we can use the reminder to laugh at ourselves a little bit. And I think that's something that 'Merry Wives' really celebrates, is learning to laugh at ourselves and be silly."
And while the foreground of the story is about Falstaff's silly pursuits, Vasquez still sees true love in the play if you look to the supporting character of the daughter of Mistress Ann Page.
"She has three suitors. Mr. Page is trying to hook her up with one suitor. Mrs. Page is trying to hook her up with another suitor. But her heart really goes with young Mr. Fenton," Vasquez explained. "I like to take away the idea of true love with 'Merry Wives,' that Shakespeare is playing with the idea that with love we're often put in these situations for status, we're often put in these situations for financial gain, whatever we get into these relationships for. But ultimately, what wins in 'Merry Wives' is true love."
You can experience Shakespeare's take on love with "Twelfth Night" now through July 9 and then "The Merry Wives of Windsor" runs July 30 through Sept. 3.