Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Finding the familiar and facing the fear

Recently, theatre KAPOW was asked to collaborate with the NH Philharmonic on a program they were doing called Shakespeare Lives! The show featured pieces of classical music by some of the best composers of all time, including Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and Verdi. The pieces all had one thing in common: they were all inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare. tKAPOW was asked to read some selections of text throughout the concert. Peter, Carey, and Olivia provided the audience with wonderful context for the pieces of music and it was a really amazing concert. While sitting there watching the show, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I was surprised by how much of the music I recognized though I was previously unaware of its connection to the bard (Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream being the best example). Second, I found it incredible that so many pillars of classical music were inspired by the works of Shakespeare. What does it say about how great the work of an artist is when Tchaikovsky is inspired by it?

The opportunity to take part in this concert was particularly synchronistic as we are currently working on our first foray into Shakespeare in the mounting of Macbeth. Approaching any Shakespearean text, but perhaps more Macbeth than any other, you have the feeling of treading on hallowed ground. This is a work that has inspired (and terrified) generations throughout the world. One of the things that can be intimidating about this play is that you encounter one of the most iconic lines of text ever written at each turn of the page. Upon first reading, or first re-reading after a long time, it’s easy to have an experience similar to the one I had listening to those famous pieces of music. You come across a line and think “Ah, so that’s where that is from.” I find it fascinating that so much of Shakespeare’s language has transcended the plays in which it was first written. His quotes, in many cases, are more popular than his plays (Perhaps we should change the marketing for the show to read “Come see an actor deliver the famous ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech!”). When you study this play closely, you find not only those famous lines but a number of sayings that have taken root as part of our common parlance. Without Macbeth, we’d have no “be-all and end-all,” no “one fell swoop,” no “sorry sight,” and, perhaps most tragically, no “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” It’s obviously no secret that Shakespeare was a great wordsmith, but it’s the way he brings the language together in such an incredibly efficient and compact way that makes Macbeth stand apart from so many great plays.

We are in tech week for the show and that means that we are within just a few days of sharing our work with audiences. We do so with an understanding that this production is one in a long line of productions that trace their way all the way back to the tip of Shakespeare’s quill. tKAPOW’s production uses only three actors to play all the roles in the play. We did this not to try to “do something new” (when it comes to Macbeth, everything new has already been done), but to place emphasis on the story. Our production features three storytellers aware of their place in the storytelling process. They take on their roles in view of the audience using just a few simple props and actively include the audience in the telling (don’t worry, you won’t be asked to murder anyone). While a big cast outfitted in period Scottish costumes playing on a realistically painted castle set may be nice, we opt instead to bring you a production with a little less “sound and fury.” What you’ll see is three actors at the top of their game sharing one of the greatest stories ever told. We can only hope that our production will inspire the next great symphony.
Photo by Matthew Lomanno

~ Matt Cahoon

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