There are a number of common perceptions about Shakespeare among community theater actors:
Whew! With all of that against us, how did we come to this, offering our first production of any Shakespeare play, All's Well that Ends Well, in over 75 years of production? (I have to admit that I was shocked when I realized this was the first time the Footlighters were doing Shakespeare. Where have we been?)
Well, the Bard of Avon has managed to last some 400-odd years and is still considered the most significant playwright in the English language, if not in any language. So I think it's about time.
Let's take the objections in order.
The cast. All's Well calls for five women and ten men plus extras (sounds like a film). That's a lot of people for a summer production, but it can be reduced to eight or ten with doubling. I chose this play because the cast is relatively balanced: there are older characters and younger characters, men and women and some characters who could be played by men or women. We had almost forty people audition for fifteen roles. I cast every role with only a couple of doubles. Actors came from Watertown, Cambridge, Quincy, Franklin, Norwood, because they love Shakespeare. Casting was not a problem (except for making the final decision -- that was agony!).
The language. Listen to the speech. Shakespeare wrote for the theater, not for literary critics. The plays are meant to be spoken, not read. An actor himself, Shakespeare knew a good line when he wrote one. When you speak the text with meaning and energy, the clarity of the characters, the emotions, shines through. All's Well, one of the later plays, has less iambic pentameter and much ordinary (if elegantly constructed) prose. As the actors have found, the language is very real and provides a clear map to the characters' thoughts and feelings. And it's so wonderfully constructed, it's actually easier to remember the lines!
The length. Well, Hamlet uncut comes out at around three and a half hours, agreed. But that's a tragedy and All's Well is a comedy. Most of the comedies are fast-paced. Done on the unit set Al Morin has designed with one scene flowing into the next, and with judicious cutting, All's Well should run two hours. A good pace for a comedy, don't you agree? <Well, it actually ran two and a half hours. But what's thirty minutes for Shakespeare?>
Costumes: Shakespeare's acting troupe performed in Elizabethan garb because that was what they wore every day. His plays have been costumed in every period from ancient Rome (very appropriate for Julius Caesar) to the Victorians, the twenties, World War II, the fifties, and futuristic costumes of no particular period (for example, the production of King Lear that was recently on PBS). There's no compelling reason to use Elizabethan clothing unless you happen to have a stock of it. We don't. And hose and farthingales in August don't seem very practical. So this All's Well has a contemporary look: monochrome shirts and pants for the court (very Regis), combat fatigues for the soldiers, and elegant dresses and suits for the Countess, King, and Duke. The time period is less critical than the social relationships, and contemporary dress can provide reasonable clues to the relationships and social status as well as lace collars and doublets. And it's a lot cheaper.
The accent: It's been many years since American actors have contrived to use British accents for Shakespeare. In fact, our American speech, particularly New England speech, may be closer to what Shakespeare might have heard than the BBC dialect is. So you will hear our actors using their own regional speech -- and what a marvelous sound it is.
The sets: Well, we squelched that one. See Al Morin's article on the set design. And he's right; I can work with this. This has been one of the most enjoyable as well as one of the most challenging sets I've had to direct on -- but it's worth it.
Swords and lutes. All's Well may be one of the few Shakespeare plays that does not require a) fighting, b) dancing, or c) singing. All right, I admit I cut the Clown's song. It was a bit obscure. But that's it. My kind of play -- (I hate choreographing fight scenes).
They won't come. Well, I can't prove that one wrong by myself. That's up to you. I can tell you that you will see a rarely produced comedy with a wonderful cast of sixteen talented people. It has love, marriage, humor, honor, dishonor, joking, sex, bragging, lying, cheating, and -- a happy ending, because, as we know, All's Well that Ends Well. Don't miss a once in a lifetime experience -- our first Shakespeare production. See you there!