Alec Wild, fellow Producing Director, galloping on horseback across the bluffs. Pausing to catch their breath, Alec's guide and host inquires if it's okay to ask a "Shakespeare question" - just one. Alec says, "It's okay to ask as many as you'd like." "Is all Shakespeare as easy to understand as your production of Romeo and Juliet? Are all productions of his plays like that?"
Alec, ever diplomatic, replies, "Well, no, not really, sad to say. But it's what we strive for in our work. We believe that Shakespeare, well done, can be understood by any fourth grader." "That guy, who talked about the fairies coming at night in the hazlenut coach and visiting people's dreams - that part was great. I got it all!" "You mean Mercutio and the Queen Mab speech?" "Yes, that one."
Wow. Mercutio and Queen Mab. Not easy stuff. Romeo's good friend - the one with the imagination and the quick and bawdy mind. . . the one whom life seems to be quickly passing by. . . the one who lives to fight and is most alive when he is locked in combat with his mortal enemy, Tybalt. The one who tries to convince his friend Romeo that dreams are nothing but the invention of the fairies' midwife, and shouldn't be trusted - certainly not when it comes to deciding whether or not one should crash a good party, have something to drink, and meet some girls.
Another snapshot: Visitors to Rochester from Colorado, stopping me in the PAC lobby at intermission earlier this week. "We found a brochure in our hotel room. This was great to know about. We thought Twelfth Night was much clearer here than in the production at Ashland last year. Thanks so much. More people from Rochester should know about this!"
Queen Mab; a clearer Twelfth Night. What's up with that? Don't ask my English teachers. If any of them is left standing right now, they'd fall over in a dead faint to know that I - the kid who hid behind the book at the back of the classroom, praying he wouldn't be called on - make a good part of my living directing plays by Shakespeare and have helped establish America's newest theatre company devoted to his works. Like escargot, it's an acquired taste; but once you've acquired it, it's hard to put the plate aside or get your fill.
What's up with that is simple: when you don't overwhelm the play with lots of distracting "stuff" to look at, when you trust the intelligence of the audience and encourage it to "lean forward" into the work, when you commit to speaking our own native tongue simply, clearly, and specifically, and when you believe that Shakespeare knew how to tell a good story - it all gets a lot easier - easy enough for us all - fourth graders, the college educated, the not-college educated, seniors, teens - anyone with an ear with which to listen and an imagination ready to be engaged.
No one has yet substantiated this quote for me, but at one point in my education I thought I heard Huck say to Jim somewhere on their journey down the Mississippi: "Shakespeare wrote for the people; we're the people; let's listen." It's a quote, invented or actual, that we try to live by at GRSF - and it seems we might be fulfilling our quest. A really clear Twelfth Night and a guy named Mercutio who seems tuned in to the night visits of the fairies await the people from now until August 6.
Yet another snapshot. Talking with Julie Fassbender from Red Tail Outfitters who sponsored a GRSF canoe and kayak trip on the Mississippi on June 26 so that we could share a part of Winona that is special to the Red Tail folks and that might not have otherwise been revealed to us "itinerant workers". "Thanks for the voyage!" "No, thank you for the voyage. We love what you're bringing to Winona."
And one more. Conversing with Damien Jacques, theatre critic from Milwaukee, who's here for season three and recalled that in American Players Theatre's early, struggling days, farmers in Spring Green, Wisconsin who had started attending the plays at APT began giving Complete Works of Shakespeare as birthday and holiday presents. Made me wonder how the sales of his plays have been going since GRSF began performing in Winona in 2004. And it also reminded me of another snapshot, dating back to my time as Education Director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and hearing then-Artistic Director Jerry Turner remind us that when the pioneers came across the plains to settle west of the Mississippi, they brought two books with them: their Bibles and their Complete Works, thus continuing what is still an active legacy of listening to Shakespeare's plays being read aloud or performed in public.
Thanks for the voyage, Winona - for helping us be a part of what makes this town special, and for helping us begin to establish our own legacy.