Friday, July 11, 2014

Why should you go to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival?

Photo by Zachary Adams. I pulled it from Geoffrey Kent's Facebook page. Thanks guys!

Out here in the provinces, theater is an upper-middle-class affectation, or something you take your grandma to once a year -- at Christmastime. You can slag the hordes in only for some traveling Broadway fare, usually. There is a niche culture of dedicated theatergoers in the area, but anyone in the biz without a stellar and spectacularly overworked marketing department to lean on will tell you that it’s catch-as-catch-can out here. There are many quite talented practitioners here, in all departments, but for most of them it’s a hobby that has to remain its own reward.

Despite the crowings of anxious promoters, various local bureaucrats and Chamber-of-Commerce types, regional cultural mandarins, big-box cultural p.r. guys, and the like, the situation is, was, and always will be desperate. The mainstream critical/press apparatus that used to fuel interest in and dialogue about the arts has pretty much suffered the fate of the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Es ist ganz und gar todt!

In Boulder, you can begin to redeem this situation by going to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Now everyone groan, both the populists who think the fare is too highfalutin’ for today’s audiences – and all the inhabitants and supporters of smaller, edgier local companies such as the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, square product theatre, LOCAL Theater Company, and the ones I forgot, who may be sick and tired of the attention that does get lavished on this institutionally supported annual event.

However, there are seven reasons, two of them the same, why you should go.

1.      It’s Shakespeare. Can you do Shakespeare? No, you can’t. Few can. It’s HARD. I know, I tried. I could get through about two minutes tops before either I or the audience started laughing uncontrollably. During the big stabbing scene of “Julius Caesar.” These CSF guys can do Shakespeare, usually pretty well. It’s not community theater. It’s not dinner theater. It’s not musical comedy. It’s the not the reworkings of beloved American classics, or any other kind of crap that’s not even close to Shakespeare but that nervous admins think will put asses in the seats. It’s almost certainly going to be at least tangentially Shakespearian. The new kids running the show at CSF actually care deeply about Shakespeare and are going balls-out to do a great job. And that’s important. See #7.

2.      It’s classy. In theater, the audience is king. (OK, except in experimental theater.) Who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty? Both the indoor and outdoor venues at CSF are very nice. Yes, the seats at the Mary Ripon Outdoor Theatre are made of huge slabs of rock, BUT – they have these cute little seatbacks they hand out free, and they used to CHARGE for those. Isn’t that nice? Someone tears your ticket, they smile, they give you a program, they help you find your seat. Who does that anymore? And you can pack a picnic dinner, eat on the greensward or lawn or  in front of the theater before the show, pound some wine and beer . . . crawl into the shrubbery and burn one . . . I’m pretty sure you can pass out in the grass if you like. Just pay for your ticket first, they need the money.

3.      It’s fun. Be aware, they will not throw your Frisbee back. However, in Shakespeare actors are usually stopping every once in a while to confess their plans to you, or tell you how they feel. Sometimes they blow horns and such and run up and down the aisles. Theater is supposed to involve you. Only in the 19th century did the deadly tradition of sitting absolutely still and indicating your approval with APPLAUSE and APPLAUSE ONLY begin. Shakespeare is theater from the time when the audience and the players fed off each other. YOU CAN REACT. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO ENJOY YOURSELVES.

4.      It’s violent. Hey, did you know that Shakespeare was the Tarentino of his time? “Titus Andronicus” makes Martin McDonagh look like Oscar Wilde. And one of the gang this year at CSF is Geoffrey Kent, aka The Fight Guy. He is the president of the Society of American Fight Directors, and he really know how to put on swordplay, mayhem, and the like, plenty of which litters “Henry IV,” which hits the CSF stage this summer. So you’ve got the whole “Game of Thrones” vibe going on. In fact, why didn’t the marketing department use that? “The original Game of Thrones.” Should be bloody . . . awesome. (To be fair, Part II, which they’ve only staging three times as opposed to eight for Part I, is a lot less bloody, more like: King Henry IV: “You’re not a good son.” Prince Hal: “Yes I am!” King Henry IV: “You want to steal my crown.” Prince Hal: “No I don’t, Dad.” King Henry IV: “Where’s my damn crown?” Prince Hal: “IT’S RIGHT HERE, DAD.” Meanwhile, Falstaff’s all like, “Ooo, I’m a cheeky bugger, I am. I’m a right old rogue!” King Henry: “You better shape up.” Prince Hal: “OK, I will.” Falstaff: “Crikey, dun’t look good for yours truly, do it?”)

5.      It’s educational. Did you know that the appreciation of Shakespeare has been ruined by more middle-school English teachers than any other factor, according to my unscientific conjecture? It’s true. The only way you are going to knock that resistance and misperception out of your head is to see the stuff, live, as God intended. In this world in which our collective cultural consciousness has shrunk to the size of a mouse’s foreskin on a subzero street corner, Shakespeare is the last bastion of something in the arts we can and should all hold as common coin. If you know something about him and his work, you mark yourself as an educated individual who cares more about the bottom line and what the score is. At the very least, it increases your chances of getting laid to a nominal degree.

6.      It’s important. You should know how to see a play. It’s the second-oldest form of entertainment. It’s the root of every other art. America will never have a repertory theater company on every block, or a symphony orchestra that has to turn down an endowment because it simply doesn’t know what to do with all that money. We will not as a nation, forego the Super Bowl to watch an especially riveting episode of “Masterpiece Theater.” Motels will never hang fascinating original paintings on the walls of their rooms (except for La Reve in Pasadena, you should really check it out). But you need to develop the capacity for taking art in and letting it make you feel and think. It takes discipline and effort. Some people think art is the pickle tray in the buffet of life. It’s not, it’s the entrĂ©e. It’s like water and air and food and shelter and warmth and love. Which leads to

7.      It’s Shakespeare. There’s a reason why he’s the Quesarito of English literature. He’s a four-tool player. He knows how to tell a story, or at least borrow some really good plots. He delineates character like no one else – you really feel like you can see clearly inside everyone on stage. Every character that’s not purely a walk-on functionary has dimension and depth, and, like real people, contains and expresses contradictions and unresolved ambiguities. He’s not afraid to go for the really big questions underneath any given issue – he’s dealing with life and death, sin, guilt, dishonor, love, loss, death, a constellation of the aspects of human existence, which means his subject matter is always relevant and never gets old. And the language, the language. There’s a reason why it seeps into everything we say and write. It’s so damn apt and compelling, so much so that it will still lift me out of myself, although I’ve heard it or read it a thousand times. It’s sheer beauty.

Every time you get a chance to experience Shakespeare done well, you get to experience the human soul in high gear. The gateway is right here in the midst of us, and we are lucky to have it. It’s called the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. You really should go.

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