Shakespeare

LuPone Strikes Back! Grabs Texter’s Phone at Shows for Days – Playbill.com

LuPone Strikes Back! Grabs Texter’s Phone at Shows for Days – Playbill.com.

In light of this story and the recent one at Hand To God where a patron climbed up onto the stage to plug his cellphone in, I am reposting an old blog I wrote about whether Twitter may be the new version of Shakespeare’s groundlings.

Ask yourself, is Twitter The New Groundlings?

One thing for sure is, we need to educate people on proper theater etiquette.

What Makes A “Villain”

I saw this great video the other day called “The Spell Block Tango” which reimagines many Disney Villains doing their version of the “Cell Block Tango” from the musical Chicago. Well done, funny, and it offers us the point of view of the bad guys. This is nothing new, the book and musical Wicked, did the same thing with the Wizard of Oz‘s Wicked Witch of the West, giving us insight into what made the green skinned witch the person she is. Shakespeare’s MacBeth is a play about someone who isn’t a hero but gives us insight into what drove this man to the lengths he did. In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, the narrator commits a horrible crime for no real reason except for a series of perceived insults but no examples of what those insults were. Montresor is unreliable and really gives us no reason to sympathize with him. That brings me to the point of this blog today.

A little over a month ago, I finished a new 10-minute play titled One More Glass Of Wine, that uses Poe’s Cask as inspiration but delves deeper into why Bruce (my version of Montresor) kills Jacob (Fortunato). Or rather, in my script, gives Jacob the opportunity to kill himself. Does a man who is responsible for a teenage girl’s death deserve to die? If he does deserve to die, whose responsibility is it to bring about that death? The law and the court or the father and the family? That is the question that I present in One More Glass Of Wine, but I don’t offer an answer because to me it’s a question that doesn’t have a clear cut answer and that makes for a fantastic villain in my opinion. That is why MacBeth is a great villain and protagonist and why so many authors (like Gregory MacGuire) try to explore the reasons behind what makes a villain a villain.

And if you want to see the “Spell Block Tango” video, check out my Facebook page.

A couple of non-related notes, on this Halloween, I want to encourage you to participate in “All Hallows Read“, a great chance to get books into the hands of your trick ‘r’ treaters. It’s a fantastic program that encourages reading.

I’m also giving away a copy of my play The Mysterious Case of Lot 249 over at Smashwords on Halloween. This 10-Minute play is a retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lot 249. This will be the LAST CHANCE to get this play directly from me as it soon will be published as part of a collection. More details on that as it becomes available. You can pick up The Mysterious Case of Lot 249 at Smashwords.

Twitter: The new groundlings?

twittergroundlings copyThis morning I read an article on Artsfwd.org about how the University Musical Society (UMS) is incorporating Twitter and “Twitter boxes” to promote social media interaction with their show. Using special crafted boxes, a pre-selected area in the back of the theater, a specific hashtag, asking for a certain number of tweets during the show, and asking the “twitter seat” participants to lower the brightness on their phones or devices, UMS has allowed specific audience members to engage their immediate thoughts regarding a show unto an theater community and audience that knows what twitter stream to follow.

Some have embraced this idea, praising the immediate feedback it gives actors, writers, and directors. Others reject this idea, saying that it takes away from the connection that an actor is trying to build with his audience by giving audience members a “distraction.”

Me? I’m intrigued by this idea.  And for the simple reason that it struck me that Twitter (and Facebook) have become our default method of sharing immediate thoughts, actions, ideas, etc. Just this morning, I tweeted this:

I then did some retweeting of articles I found interesting, including the article that inspired this post. Have you noticed those hashtags bugs on television? Like this:

thevoice_hashtag

daniel-bryan-kane-WWE-hashtag

Shows like The Voice and entertainment companies like World Wrestling Entertainment have learned the power of Twitter and encourage their viewers to engage online. So why hasn’t live theater engaged in this more?

I think that we, as actors, writers, or directors, want to have the audience “connect” with us, to be focused on us and our work. Theater can be a very selfish pursuit. But this has not always been the case. You’ve heard of the term “groundling” I’m sure. It dates back to the 17th century and was a person who frequented the Globe Theatre but was too poor to pay to be able to sit on one of the three levels of the theater. They were known to misbehave and are commonly believed to have thrown food such as fruit and nuts at characters they did not like (although there is no evidence of this.) Remember the old cartoons of tomatoes being thrown on stage? It comes from this. The tradition of audience interaction continued with the emergence of vaudeville. According to the site Musicals101.com

Vaudeville audiences were not passive observers. They were vocal and sometimes physical participants in performances. Their cheers, jeers or painful silences would make or break an act. At New York’s Palace, the reaction of the show biz pros attending a Monday matinee affected an act’s bookings and pay for months to come. But a bad reaction in any vaudeville theatre could ruin an act’s reputation. If a local manager decided to fire an act due to audience displeasure or disinterest, a damning report was sent back to the United Booking Office. So it is no exaggeration to say that from Broadway to Boise, audiences had tremendous influence in shaping vaudeville.

Theater has the tradition of immediate audience interaction, it really isn’t until the 1930s and the rise of the “Broadway style” musical that audiences became more passive and sedate, something that we, as modern audiences, have come to expect. When I watched the live broadcast of Legally Blonde: The Musical on MTV, it bothered me that whenever a new character or a fan favorite would appear, the audience burst out into screams, but I can’t fault them for REACTING! Isn’t that what we want as the creators of theater, to provoke a reaction?

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, social media sites like these, can combine these two traditions. Audiences can still sit quietly and not intrude on the actors and their performances, but can still engage and show their pleasure or displeasure with a show immediately. This is why I support a movement like “tweet seats.”

You can find me Tweeting @eerobert, Like my Facebook page, or follow me on Tumblr.

Wednesdays With Will: Richard III (1995)

In 1995, Ian McKellen was not a well known actor. He had performed in a few major releases for the US market, and quite a few productions for the UK market in his 30 years of performing. 1995 would not be his breakout year (that would come a couple of years later with his critically acclaimed turns in Bill Condon’s God’s And Monsters and Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil and his star making turns in Singer’s X-Men and Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings.) But in 1995, McKellen starred in this adaption of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

This production features lush visuals and and a 1940s setting with Nazi imagery. This works extremely well in translating Shakespeare’s classic world of greed, power, and corruption.

The film is also wonderfully cast with Ian McKellen heading things up. He is joined with Annette Benning as Queen Elizabeth, Jim Broadbent as the Duke of Buckingham, Kristen Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, and a young Robert Downey Jr as Lord Rivers. It is a true reminder of how good Downey has always been despite his personal problems he was experiencing at the time.

Richard III is currently streaming on Netflix.

Directed by

Richard Loncraine

Produced by Stephen Bayly
Lisa Katselas Paré
Written by William Shakespeare (play)
Ian McKellen
Richard Loncraine
Starring Ian McKellen
Annette Bening
Jim Broadbent
Robert Downey Jr.
Kristin Scott Thomas
Maggie Smith
Adrian Dunbar
Dominic West
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Editing by Paul Green
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • December 29, 1995
Running time 104 minutes

Wednesdays With Will: MacBeth (2006)

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Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you’re enjoying a great day of trick or treating, celebrating All Hallow’s Read, and enjoying the day.

For this inguaral WwW Halloween post, I’ve decided to review the Bard’s most supernatural play, MacBeth aka “The Scottish Play”. Why?Well because it has everything that you would for a Halloween viewing, murder, mayham, violence, death, ghosts, witches, the list goes on and on.

20121031-024925.jpgThe version I’ve chosen is the 2006 version from Australia, directed by Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper, Cherry Falls) and starring Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) in the title role and Victoria Hill (December Boys) as his blood stained hands Lady.

Ini many ways this film could be viewed as a companion piece to fellow Australian Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. Both were directed by Australians. Both feature their director’s sensibilities (Luhrman does a Romantic Tragedy, which he perfected a couple of years later with Moulin Rouge, Wright a horror/thriller, which is what he cut his teeth on.) Both feature a young cast, many of which would later go on to become big stars in huge movies (interestingly both feature leading men who would find success in films directed by James Cameron. Leonardo DiCaprio did Romeo + Juliet and then Cameron’s Titantic, Sam Worthington did MacBeth and then later Cameron’s Avatar, the current #1 and #2 box office smashes.) Both feature, what I would term “rock and roll” motifs and feeling So let me warn you right now, if you are a Shakespearean traditionalist or purist, stay away from this movie. Watch Orson Wells or Roman Polenski’s amazing versions that are much more in line with the traditional Shakespeare. This MacBeth takes place in Melbourne and the actors retain their natural accents (much like Luhrman did by setting his movie in America and allowing his actors to keep their accents), it features guns and knives, fast cars and motorbikes, all while retaining the Bard’s original dialogue.

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Sam Worthington does an admirable job as the title character, in fact this may be the best acting I’ve seen him do. His MacBeth doesn’t break any new ground, but is a believably tortured soul who does what he does to gain power and hold unto that power. Victoria Hill likewise doesn’t break any new ground as Lady MacBeth, playing her viciously calculating, cruel and insane. The rest of the cast, I wasn’t familiar with, but all were excellent in their respective roles.

While the acting was good, the directing left a lot to be desired. It was well done, but follows many of the action movie cliches that plague modern movies. The film opens with a wonderfully creepy introduction to our three teenage schoolgirl witches.20121031-030239.jpg

But then cuts over the opening credits to show us MacBeth and Banquo’s hedonistic and violent lifestyle as Melbourne mobsters with quick cuts, “Avid farts”, flashing lights, and shaky hand-held camera work. The action then moves to a nightclub that MacBeth and Banquo have secured and acquired for mobster leader Duncan. There, while tripping on drugs, MacBeth has his fateful encounter with the three witches who tell him his fortune. And this is where I have issues with the film. If this is, as suggested by the film, fueled by MacBeth’s drug use, then Banquo would have no idea what the witches were saying in MacBeth’s fortune. But that is a major point of Shakespeare’s original script, Banquo and MacBeth both have their fortunes told by the witches and are aware of each other’s fortunes, thus the reason MacBeth kills Banquo and is haunted by his ghost. Without Banquo knowing MacBeth’s fortune, MacBeth’s murder becomes more “crazy” and less “protective of the throne”.

This 2006 version is quite good, but I think 2010’s BBC version with Patrick Stewart is better. Both are similar in tone, with a modernistic approach, but Stewart’s version is just better overall (as it should be, I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Sam Worthington’s acting with Patrick Stewart.) Both versions are currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

Now as I wrap things up here, I do want to encourage you to head over to Smashwords and download my new 10 minute play, The Mysterious Case of Lot 249, for free. This offer expires at midnight Oct 31.

Have a great and safe Halloween