Sacramento Shakespeare Festival: Julius Caesar

P1080572Last night, Adam and I attended the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival‘s production of Julius Caesar.  

Every year, the festival performs two of the Bard’s plays (this year: Caesar and Twelfth Night) in the amphitheater in William Land Park.   Performances start at either 6pm or 8pm, just in time for the overbearing heat of the Sacramento summer to start to be tamed by the coming of night.  People come with their picnic baskets in hand, and munch happily away while watching that night’s production.

This performance of Julius Caesar chose to make Caesar a woman, and the actress playing Caesar was fantastic.  Hands down, she was the best actor on stage.  What I wasn’t sure about was the choice to make her “Julia Caesar” and therefore change Shakespeare’s text throughout the play.  “He” became “she.”  “Man” became “woman.”  Now I know that I said in a prior post that Shakespeare isn’t sacred — we can edit it.  What I’m not sure about is changing his words completely — it throws off the meter of the line in some cases.  I almost wonder if this actress could have just played a man’s role — I mean, the Globe did an excellent job of that in their all-female production of Taming of the Shrew.

Chatting with my husband on the way home from the production, I happened upon an idea: Why not try to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed?  (And, at the same time, get all of them read.)

My current “have watched” list:

  • Julius Caesar — Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2013)
  • The Tempest — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013), and Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2008)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013)
  • The Taming of the Shrew — Shakespeare’s Globe (2013)
  • Macbeth — The Mondavi Center, UC Davis (2006)
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona — Sacramento Shakespeare Festival (2006)

And I’m very excited to announce that in early 2014, I’ll have the opportunity to see The Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  So that would leave just… thirty more plays to go?

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Re-Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I had been waiting to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of my homework for the Globe Education Academy.  Call it saving the best for last.  (Well, last of the plays that I have already read.  I’m saving Taming of the Shrew for last since it’s the play we’ll be focusing on this summer.  I figured that since the play will be new to me, saving it for when I’m done teaching Romeo and Juliet would let me focus on it a bit more.)

My first introduction to Midsummer was watching my peers perform it during high school.  It was the first of Shakespeare’s plays that I had ever seen performed, even though by that point I had a few of his plays under my belt.  Our director had changed the setting to the 1960s, which may have played a role in how much I enjoyed it.  Fast forward to my sophomore year at UC Davis.  I vividly remember sitting on the couch in my apartment, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in hand.  I was so absorbed by the book that when I started laughing out loud I didn’t notice my roommate’s confused expression–at first.  “Are you laughing at Shakespeare?” was all my roommate–a science major–could ask.  I nodded, muttered “Mmmhmm,” and returned to my reading.  Needless to say, when I discovered that I’ll be watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream live at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer, I did a dance of joy.

This past Saturday morning found me bookless.  I had just finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (my book club’s latest selection).  Adam watched me walk through the house, scanning bookshelves, pulling out books, creating a small collection in my arms.  I finally returned to the couch with just three: Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  

I could see the thought form in his mind: “Those are three very different books.”

He left me to my decision, and found me later curled up with Shakespeare’s best.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve seen it performed, or maybe because I’ve read it before, or maybe because I’ve been immersed in Shakespeare’s language for weeks, but this time reading the play was different.  I caught more nuances.  I laughed at parts that I don’t think I found amusing before.  I completely shunned the textual notes/explanations provided by the Arden Shakespeare version and just enjoyed the story. 

I also repeatedly thought back to the first workshop that I attended for the Globe Education Academy.  The way that the Globe practitioners have created activities to get students to jump right into Shakespeare’s language and understand the plot and characters of the play are really quite ingenious.   I was surprised that I still remembered large amounts of the text because of that workshop.  This isn’t because I’m great at memorizing.  Quite the opposite is true, I think.  I completely credit their presentation of the text and the fact that they made Shakespeare come alive.  I hope that I’m doing that for my students with Romeo and Juliet, and can’t wait to get a little better at doing just that this summer in London.

Re-reading the Tempest

Just a quick post today so that I can get back to prepping for tomorrow’s lesson on Shakespeare!

I can’t remember if I liked The Tempest in 12th grade, but I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around.  Part of me thinks that maybe this reading was more enjoyable because I know more this time.  There’s something about coming to a book with knowledge that makes the reading of it far more interesting.  Knowing, for example, that the play is thought to be Shakespeare’s last, makes the Prologue stand out much more.  Is it really Shakespeare’s goodbye to the stage?  Coupled with Pospero’s famous lines from Act 4, I think so.  When Prospero says, “The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces / The solemn temples, the great globe itself / …shall dissolve, / And like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind,” it seems like there’s a double meaning there.  Yes, he’s talking about the “pageant” that he created on the island, but Shakespeare could also be referring to the “pageant” that he created on the Globe stage that exists for a moment in time and then fades away.

Re-reading Macbeth

When I first read Macbeth, it was in Mr. Morrish’s English class during either my junior or senior year of high school.  I remember vividly his “Evil Chart” that he created on the board.  He argued that Lady Macbeth was the most evil of characters in the play.  After this second reading–my homework for the Globe Education Academy–I think I might have to disagree with him.

The most evil characters in my opinion?  Definitely the trio of witches.  I first had this inkling while reading, but that inkling became conviction after viewing the 2010 version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart this afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong.  Lady Macbeth is just not a nice woman.  She’s ruthless, ambitious, and manipulative.  The first time we meet her, she’s already plotting the king’s death, wishing she were a man so that she could just do it herself.  (Honestly, I wonder what’s holding her back.  She seems more than capable in the desire/lack of scruples department.)  She’s utterly frightening as she manipulates her husband into killing King Duncan and setting up the guards.  The thing is, at the end of the play Lady Macbeth’s conscious troubles her enough that she takes her own life.  If she was truly evil, she would not have been as troubled by these pangs of conscious.

The way I see it, though, Macbeth may be the puppet of Lady Macbeth, but they are both the puppets of the witches.  Don’t let their sing-songish rhymes and apparently bearded faces fool you into thinking that they merely a cartoonish plot device.  These “weird sisters” are the source of evil, manipulation, and temptation in this story.  Their words change the course of every characters’ life, and bring many to an incredibly bloody–and in the case of Macbeth, headless–end.