|American Shakespeare Center|
Part of Joyce's birthday this year was a trip to Staunton, Va., to the American Shakespeare Center, where we saw this past weekend a wonderful production of the Bard's The Winter's Tale. As you can see from the image (I stole it from the web), the theater is a smaller replica of Blackfriars, the indoor theater that Shakespeare's company acquired in 1608, late in the Bard's career.
Until Blackfriars (others would follow), theater companies had to go on the road in the winter months (performing indoors for various patrons, including the king and queen), for, as we know, the other playhouses (like the Globe) had open roofs (sunlight worked better than no light in the ages before electricity!)--and open roofs in the winter are generally not such a good idea.
Blackfriars was so named because it (and other buildings around it--occupying in all, about five acres) had once belonged to the Dominicans (they wore black cloaks), whom Henry VIII outlawed in his decision to break from Rome in 1534 in the wake of the Pope's refusal to sanction his divorce from Catherine, his marriage with Anne Boleyn. Church property became the King's property and eventually found its way into private hands, as well.
Anyway, at the American Shakespeare Center the productions adhere to some of the routines you would have seen at the original Blackfriars: low-level light the entire production (the original theater had used candles), musical performances before and during the show, many interactions with the players and audience members (some of whom sit on the stage), minimal costuming and props (no scenery at all), audience members drinking and eating throughout (think: movies today), actors playing multiple parts (and sometimes as a member of the other gender), and a general friskiness that helps make the time fly. Oh, and the company has several productions going throughout the week, with the same players in all. From the program cover you can see what's going on now--the cover image is from Henry VI, Part One, which features Joan of Arc (fire, if you recall, is relevant in her story!). It's astonishing to think of the feats of memory these cast members achieve.
Oh, and all of them sing and dance. The cast members are the ones who play (guitar, bass, banjo, etc.) and sing before the show (and during intermission). The songs are contemporary, by the way--as they would have been in the Bard's day.
It's an odd thing about our experiences with The Winter's Tale. As I've written here before, Joyce and I had been on a decades-long quest to see all of the Bard's plays onstage, and as the years drifted by, we soon found ourselves with just two remaining: The Winter's Tale and Richard II. Then, suddenly, companies were doing Winter's Tale, and we've seen it three or four times in recent years. But Richard II? We finally managed to see it at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass., in the summer of 2013. It's still the only time we've seen it. Since 2001, we've been going up to Stratford, Ont., every summer for their theater festival (we stay all week--see almost every show they do--ten or eleven plays in six days), and they have yet to do Richard II.
Anyway, I'm going on and on, so I'll pause here before I write about the actual production of Winter's Tale, one of my favorite plays.
To be continued ...