Monday, July 17, 2006

Henrietta I

When one doesn't work for while, one gets quite used to the notion of not working. So when I made it back to my day job for the first time in about a week, I couldn't fathom actually working my entire shift. So I didn't. Instead, I headed down to the newly-r(enov)aided Market Square for some beer and Shakespeare.

And then I realized I was a dumbass. Henry V started at seven, not eight, and I was already running 5 minutes late. So I didn't watch it. Starting to watch a play half-way through is like watching Season 3 of 24 without having seen Kim Bauer almost eaten by a wildcat twenty minutes outside of L.A. Actually it's not like that at all. It's just not any fun to have missed the first half. So instead I went up to a party over the Oodles building and watched the stage pictures down below. While I watched, I got philosophical.

Why in the world does Tennessee Stage Company have so much money? Okay, here's my take on TSC's reputation in town: They are very well-funded, but put on a LOT of stinkers (Girl in the Boat, anyone?). I can't say I've seen many TSC shows, but I can't say I've ever really wanted to. (On a side note, TSC almost gave me my first paying job back in the summer of '01, playing Lenox in Macbeth. Instead, World's Fair Park got renovated, Macbeth got the axe (hee), and I directed Bent instead.)

Does anyone really, really like Shakespeare enough to endure 90-degree-plus heat to watch a production in Knoxville? The answer is obviously yes, as I myself was planning to watch it. But I'll be honest, Shakespeare in such a setting feels like more of theatrical duty than a pleasure. I really had more interest in supporting friends like Leigh Monet (formerly Hruby) and Jess Milewicz (anyone see Oliver! at the CBT?). For me, Shakespeare has to be engaging in a novel way for me to will my brain to work through the dialogue. Maybe I was spoiled during my time in Stratford-upon-Avon when I got to see several productions by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Okay, I was spoiled.

Are Leigh Monet and Betsy Greer going to kiss? Yes.

Is Knoxville theatre irreparably splintered in this town or is that in my imagination? That conversation is a blog entry waiting to happen.

Without critiquing the show as a whole, because I did not see it, I will make this comment: with as much money as the actors are getting paid (which is awesome for a non-CBT Knoxville theatre to afford to do), there shouldn't be one soul up there who speaks poorly. And there was. It's Shakespeare. To sell an audience on a Globe-like, minimalist production of one of the Bard's shows, there better not be an actor it can't understand. Or else, in my case, my brain will start focusing on the trees or the homeless or the fact that Earth to Old City isn't open.

Again, my goal is not to bitch, but to get a constructive dialogue going about the state of theatre in this town.


Anonymous The Mike Jones said...

A quick comment/tangent:

I find it fascinating that the East Tennessee Shakespeare in the Park/Box/Square has survived for so long. I blame the playwrite! Shakespeare companies are successful where others might fail: in Alabama, Oregon, Utah, Texas, Florida-- it seems like every state has at least one big Shakespeare festival. People freakin' crave Big Willy Shakes and I'm glad they do! Thank you Shake-heads for keeping so many of us employed!!

Unfortunately, it seems that Knoxville isn't big enough for 2 Shakespeare theatres since the Smoky Mountain Shakespeare Festival only lasted 4 summers (well, let's be honest: 3 summers). It's sad too because I thought the quality of work was promising. If Pellissippi State Community College had stood behind them like Southern Utah University has stood behind the Utah Shakespearean Festival for 45 years we would have Shakespeare in Knoxville that we could really be proud of. Oh well. C'est la vie.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Jim Clement, Jr. said...

Ah, I remember my summers at Smoky Mountain Shakespeare, Shakespeare in the Park (and box), and let's not forget UT's summer Appalachian Shakespeare Project tour. I survived all of them and found things to like about each experience. Some were definitely more professional that others, some paid better (although, I don't remember any of them paying a decent living wage... I always had other jobs to pay the bills- w/ the exception of the UT tour when I was living off of a credit card and having the time of my life...but that's another story altogether...). My memory of ETSP was that there was never a lot of focus on the text, but more on conveying the meaning as well as possible... which was almost IMpossible in that World's Fair Amphitheatre that echoed every word and swallowed the rest (not to mention the early days of the box w/ no curtains/blacks to help the sound and having to battle the air conditioner to be heard). Smoky Mtn. folks often assumed you already knew all about the text and considered it a hassle to have to go over techniques of speaking Shakespeare's language. The UT tour was the only one that brought all the actors together for language workshops. It was great (thanks to Blake) for all involved to finally be on the same page. Interesting that ETSP is the only one that has lasted this long... could it possibly have something to do with the ticket price? It used to be 5 dollars, but is free these days. Anyway, that's enough of memory lane for now...damn blogger for not having spellcheck...

6:11 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

#1. I can't believe you invited me to read your blog and then you called GIRL IN THE BOAT a stinker. Let's try a blog post about how a bad script is still a bad script even if it's free.
#2. I agree with Jim. I think the ticket price is a big factor here. Also, the one summer I worked with ETSF they did something very cool - TRY SOMETHING NEW. That was the summer of the 5 person MUCH ADO, which while not perfect was a really neat attempt at taking Shakespeare somewhere different.
#3. I agree with Mike. People will see Shakespeare when they won't see anything else. It makes them feel smarter. AND every Shakespeare story has been told so many times that even when you don't know what's going on it still kind of reminds you of an episode of PERFECT STRANGERS.
#4. Shakespeare outside always kind of sucks. I just saw a lovely production of KING LEAR in Central Park the other day and it was ridiculous. There were dogs barking and car alarms going off. And it was the 2nd Shakespeare in a park in NYC I have seen this summer with NO INTERMISSION. How can you even enjoy that? That's another topic - is it fair to rmeove intermissions in order to prevent your audience from walking out?

There is a reason why these companies do Shakespeare - he's FREE. And you know why they do them in parks? Cause it is cheap - if not free in many cases.
Good for ESTF that they found a niche in the Knoxville theate market that they are capable of filling.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Truscott said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Chevstriss said...

I think your impression that TN Stage is rolling in dough is unfounded. Or was your nimble tongue planted firmly in your cheek w/ that observation? I mean, come on, Kate didn't even have a WEDDING DRESS for Shrew, let alone an identical copy wedding dress distressed w/ tears and mud for the 2nd act. No one in the show changed clothes. Not an indication of huge budget in my reckoning.

11:40 AM  
Blogger the badge said...

My impression of the TSC as having money was founded in the fact that the actors are getting paid well. I didn't pay much attention to the costumes when I saw Henry...I noticed that they were "period" and my brain shut down. (For some reason, I hate seeing shows with typical Shakespeare tunics, especially when paired with modern haircuts and glasses.)

5:21 AM  

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