Archive for the ‘Program Notes’ Category

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This year the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies begins a Shakespeare on Film series at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. All films are free and open to the public. We’ve scheduled a range of films, some you’ve no doubt seen and loved, others you’ve not. Next up is To Be or Not to Be, a serious comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, shot during World War II. Please enjoy for the first time or again! And please let your students know about this series!!!

Here is the remaining line-up:

* December 16, 2014: Strode Film Series – To Be Or Not to Be
* January 19, 2015: Strode Film Series – West Side Story
* February 16, 2015: Strode Film Series – Deliver Us From Eva
* March 11, 2015: Strode Film Series – Forbidden Planet
* April 27, 2015: Strode Film Series – Love’s Labour’s Lost

All films start at 7:30pm, and are free and open to the public.

Brett Chatham’s program notes for this film are included below.

Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Any discussion of To Be or Not to Be must consider the comedy within its historical context. The film began production in the fall of 1941, wrapped a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and began showing in theaters in the spring of 1942. The official position of the United States had changed dramatically since the film’s conception, but Lubitsch and his cast and crew defended their work. Contemporary critics, however, were quite offended—and understandably so. The film made light of a most serious threat; in the thick of World War II, American audiences were hardly ready to laugh at any zany Nazis. Even several generations removed, we may still find some of the films famous lines in bad taste. For example, a recurring gag—“So, they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt?!”—seems especially uneasy in light of what we now know of the Holocaust’s horrors. (At the time, the Allies knew almost nothing of Hitler’s death camps.) Yet we laugh at the speakers’ uneasiness rather than our own; both the real and the fake Colonel Ehrhardts carry on conversations worse than they carry out orders. Similarly, the line that most offended audiences then—“What he did to Shakespeare, we are doing now to Poland”—was only meant to deflate “that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura.” Lubitsch certainly understood the implications of such provocative jokes but contended he never meant to dismiss or minimize the Nazi invasion of Poland: “What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology.” The film encourages us to be ever vigilant against man’s capacity for evil but careful not to give such “ridiculous” ideas too much credibility in themselves. When we retreat from ridiculing our enemies, we empower them. As a Jewish German-American émigré, Lubitsch had a more personal connection than most to the events unfolding in Europe, but he understood the war effort required fighting off the field as well on. And he could give the enemy quite a beating with his vaudevillian shtick.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (~1600) and The Merchant of Venice (~1597)

To Be or Not to Be takes its title from the best-known soliloquy in Shakespeare. Indeed, that first line is so associated with its author that its very utterance elicits more thought of theatricality than mortality. Here, as he contemplates being and nothingness, Hamlet appears to be thinking aloud to himself, but privy to those thoughts are King Claudius and his counselor Polonius, both hiding onstage. The audience knows this, and perhaps the Prince does as well. Hamlet seems ever aware of his role as an actor—at the Danish court and even, self-referentially, on the English stage. As such, “To be or not to be” explores not only existence but artifice, appearance, acting. Shakespeare wrote several plays about his art, particularly concerned with how the theater both reflects and affects life. (Consider Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, the aptly named The Mousetrap, in which the Prince hopes to catch the King’s conscience by staging the King’s crime.) Hamlet must act to save his own life, avenge his father’s, and end his usurping uncle’s, but he is much better suited to soliloquizing. To Be or Not to Be features actors who transform the European theater of World War II into an improvisational black farce, impersonating Nazis to save the Polish underground. In the film, the titular speech signals romantic rendezvous, arranged by a star actress while her “Hamlet” husband is occupied onstage, but another Shakespearean monologue, delivered on three separate occasions by a mere “spear-carrier,” actually plays a more prominent part in the plot: Shylock’s so-called Rialto speech—“Hath not a Jew eyes?”—from The Merchant of Venice. This more poignant speech signals changes in how the Polish actors view their relationships to one another and to their foreign occupiers. The troupe must identify with the enemy well enough to fool them. Merchant examines similar tensions of identification. Though Merchant is much less about theatricality than Hamlet, the earlier play’s themes still resonate strongly in the film, pointedly so considering the anti-Semitism of both settings, places hostile to their displaced populace. Ultimately, the question becomes whether to belong or not to belong.

The next Shakespeare Film at the Bama Theatre will be Shakespeare Behind Bars, which was postponed last month due to tornado warnings.Shakespeare Behind Bars

Also, if you missed The Bad Sleep Well last week, you can find Brett Chatham’s program notes here:

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (~1600)

Despite its reputation among Shakespeareans, The Bad Sleep Well is not “Kurosawa’s Hamlet.” To clarify, the Japanese film does not merely set the play’s plot against the backdrop of a corrupt corporate culture. Several adaptations of the English play are just that and little more (see, for example, Michael Almereyda’s 2000 film), but Hamlet has more than proven its richness as a source of artistic inspiration. Of course, the Bard borrowed most of his plots; his audience was likely familiar with the cry “Hamlet, revenge!” before ever seeing Shakespeare’s Ghost on the Globe stage. Revenge tragedies dominated Elizabethan stages and pages, and generic conventions—such as murder, usurpation, and the supernatural—certainly perpetuated the popularity of Shakespeare’s play early on. But as Western culture began to focus more on the individual and interiority, directors still found Hamlet easily adaptable to the zeitgeist. From Germany to Russia to Japan, cultures quite different from Shakespeare’s England have interpreted the Prince of Denmark as a man who speaks and thinks for them as well. The role’s versatility helps explain its universality, and in a way, Shakespeare’s play has become everyone’s. Consider as well Kurosawa has acknowledged his admiration for Shakespeare generally and Hamlet specifically on several occasions—though he never mentioned it as an inspiration for The Bad Sleep Well. So, while we can claim Kurosawa does not, strictly speaking, adapt the play in his film, we can hardly deny he appropriates many of the play’s themes to serve his own story of madness, suicide, and especially, revenge.

Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Laurence Olivier famously introduced his 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet as “the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind”; Kurosawa’s hero, Nishi, is not that man. Throughout the play, Hamlet wavers between killing his uncle and killing himself, revenge or suicide. Nishi, however, commits to his plan, avenging his father’s coerced suicide, long before the action of the film even begins. The Bad Sleep Well begins with an accusatory wedding cake and ends with an ominous phone call, and in every scene between the two, the film upsets the expectations of any audience who presumes to know how “Kurosawa’s Hamlet” should play out. Parallels to the play abound, but they are so intricately woven into this tightly knit noir that teasing out each strand would prematurely unravel many of the film’s mysteries. Film critic Chuck Stephens calls The Bad Sleep Well a “gray flannel ghost story in which the living haunt the dead,” and so, we may expect uncanny film noir. Shakespearean Kaori Ashizu claims the film is about “the ways in which an extraordinary mixing of feudal and modern attitudes empowers corruption,” and so, we may expect a sociological analysis of postwar Japan. Kurosawa himself said he wanted to expose those who “hide behind the facade of some great organization like a company or a corporation—and consequently no one ever really knows how dreadful they are, what awful things they do.” And so, we may expect fictionalized investigative journalism. And although no one above mentions the play, we can readily read references to Hamlet in each comment. The more we try to think about the film and the play separately, the more we dwell on their relationship. Should we view the film as commenting on the play’s themes or vice versa? The answer, quite clearly, is yes.

~Brett Chatham

Audio for Richard III

Posted: October 8, 2014 by nrhelms in Audio, Program Notes
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Here you can find a partial recording of October 1st’s staged reading of Richard III, as well as the Richard III, cut. The recording starts with pre-show music, and the performance proper starts at minute 29. Unfortunately, due to the size of the original audio file and the size of the memory card I was using, the recording only goes to act 4 of the show.

Richard III

And here, the cast list and Jacob Crawford’s program notes for the show:

Cast

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (David Ainsworth)

George, Duke of Clarence, his brother (Richard LeComte)

King Edward IV, his brother (Austin Whitver)

Queen Elizabeth, Edward’s wife (Gabrielle Perkins)

Prince Edward (Bert McLel)

Young Prince (Jennifer Sudduth)

Duchess of York, mother of the brothers (Deborah Parker)

Lady Anne, widow of Prince Edward (Dakota Park-Ozee)

Lord Buckingham (Charles Prosser)

Lord Brackenbury (Renwick Jones)

Lord Catesby (Wes Youngson)

Lord Hastings (Emily Pitts Donahoe)

Lord Rivers (Allison Wheatley)

Lord Stanley (Charles Barkley)

Lord Tyrrel (Alex Ferretti)

Earl of Richmond, King Henry VII (Mark Hughes Cobb)

Crew

Nic Helms (Director)

Jacob Crawford (Assistant Director)

Laurie Arizumi (Music)

Improbable Fictions presents

Richard III

A play by William Shakespeare

Sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program of Renaissance Studies

Brief Overview

Richard III is the fourth and final play in the Henry VI tetralogy. It is one of Shakespeare’s first plays, written between 1592 and 1593, and it is one of his longest plays—second only to the quarto edition of Hamlet. (Fear not, my friends! Our version is abridged!) Although it is grouped among the histories in Shakespeare’s First Folio, it is labeled a tragedy in the Quarto edition. That said, it is a witty, darkly entertaining play that offers a bleak view of kingship and the price of power. Its biting commentary on greed, corruption, and authority is still relevant—especially in light of recent events in the Middle East.

History

Richard III was the King of England between 1483 and 1485. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His death at Bosworth Field marked the end of the War of the Roses and represents the end of the Middle Ages. To this day, Richard III remains one of the most unpopular kings in English history. Although he suffered severe scoliosis, most stories and plays about him, including Shakespeare’s play, exaggerate his monstrous afflictions. (Today, we continue this tradition through our casting of David Ainsworth.)

00:01—Pre-show music
28:30—Show Notes
31:40—Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
1:50:30—500 Miles

The Script: R&J cut August

*****

Improbable Fictions presents

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

7:30, September 5, 2013, at the Dinah Washington CAC

Romeo…………………………………………..Michael Witherell

Juliet………………………………………………..Katherine Gates

Capulet…………………………………………………Glen Johnson

Lady Capulet……………………………………..Natalie Hopper

Nurse……………………………………………………..Soapy Jones

Tybalt……………………………………………………Kirstin Bone

Montague………………………………………………..Matt Kelley

Benvolio………………………………………………..Joey Gamble

Prince………………………………………….Mark Hughes Cobb

Mercutio…………………………………………………Exa Skinner

Paris……………………………………………….Colin Whitworth

Friar Laurence………………………………….Charles Prosser

1st Capulet……………………………………………Adella Smith

2nd Capulet………………………………………….Amber Smith

1st Montague………………………………………….Brian Carey

2nd Montague…………………………………….Jamie Howard

Director………………………………………………….…Nic Helms

Assistant Director………………………………Natalie Hopper

Fight Choreographer………………..…….Michael Witherell

Music……………………………………..……Mark Hughes Cobb

Sponsored by

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies.

www.improbablefictions.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ImprobFictions

Firsts

Posted: March 17, 2013 by nrhelms in Program Notes, Shakespeare, Staged Reading
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You can find the program for last Thursday’s reading of Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam here:

Mariam, program and director’s notes

Also, I’m sad to say that I didn’t manage to make an audio recording of this staged reading.  This has been a crazy March for the Strode Program at U of A.  However, there is one more record of the performance you might be interested in:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tragedy_of_Mariam

Improbable Fictions is on Wikipedia as the first group to ever perform Mariam.

Thanks, Kirstin!

~nrhelms

post.Hecuba.post

Posted: October 1, 2011 by nrhelms in Program Notes
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IF’s September reading of Euripides’ Hecuba packed out the Greensboro Room at the Bama Theatre. And I’ve learned that UA’s APO is offering pledge points to students that attend IF events. And the reading was reviewed by The Dome. There’s nothing tragic about that!

Here are a few thoughts on the production from the director, Steve Burch, the cast list, and some rehearsal photos courtesy of Jason Pan.

Hecuba by Euripides

An Improbable Fictions staged reading

Sept. 22, 2011, Bama Theatre

Cast (in order of appearance):

Polydorus: Joey Gamble

Polymestor: Russell Frost

Hecuba: Deborah Parker

Coryphaeus: Karen Baker

Chorus #1 : Susie Johnson

Chorus #2 : Adella Smith

Chorus #3 : Phoebe Threatt

Chorus #4 : Amber Gibson

Polyxena: Natalie Hopper

Odysseus: Nic Helms

Talthybius: James Wesley Glass

Agamemnon: David Ainsworth

Soldier/Son: Tyler Spindler

Soldier/Son: Eric Marable, Jr.

Adaptor/Director: Steve Burch

Hecuba is a prisoner’s tragedy; if a modern analogy be permitted, a concentration camp play . . . . [It] is born out of contemporary experience; it is a bitterly human and darkly profound reflection of the ills of the Peloponnesian War . . . . Thucydides reflected upon the frightful demoralization and deprivation which the war had brought about in individual as well as in social and political life. Euripides, in his Hecuba, presents a similar indictment of this time; and, in its universal meaning, going beyond his time, of man’s insufficiency and cruelty.

As a prisoner’s tragedy, the Hecuba has three main aspects:

  1. the suffering of the enslaved women
  2. the characters of her masters and tormentors
  3. the effect which unbearable suffering has on her.

Here, in this last aspect, lies the real and truly terrible tragedy: Under the pressure of torture beyond endurance, the sufferer becomes as bestial as the tormentors. A most pitiable woman is transformed into a fiery-eyed dog . . . . We will learn [over the course of the play] what it means to be a prisoner . . . . The tragedy of Hecuba, the prisoner, ends in her moral destruction. The forces that destroy her are realistically presented and forever symbolized in Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Polymestor . . . . But who are those who represent human decency, or even greatness, in this play? Not the “kings” who hold the power; but a child who has not lived yet, a [messenger] and unnamed soldiers. They remain on the sidelines of the action, and have no influence on the course of events.

~sburch


Horatio (Amber Gibson) and Hamlet (David Bolus)

Thanks to cast, crew, and audience for making last night’s staged reading of Hamlet a thrilling evening.  I’m posting the program notes below.  As you can see in these pics (more pics here), the cast took advantage of the whiteboard in 214 Farrah Hall to write lines, maxims, and jokes, a cloud of words and ideas that formed both a humorous and a haunting backdrop for the performance.

“To be or not to be.” It’s perhaps Shakespeare’s best-known line. Yet

it’s so often read simply as “To live or to die.” As if death was a

simple way out. As if we could so easily escape our regrets.

Hamlet is a young university student who leaves home with his life in complete order: his parents love him, his girlfriend adores him, and the world makes sense. He is a prince, and his only limit is the stretch of his imagination. Then the news arrives. “Come home, Hamlet. Your father is dead.” Hamlet rushes back to Elsinore, but he’s too late for the funeral. His father lies in the cold ground, and no one seems to mourn his passing. His mother remarries soon after. Even his girlfriend Ophelia seems distant: how can he talk to her? How can she understand?

He has regrets: If he hadn’t left home, could he have seen his father before he died? Could he have stopped his death? Did he make his father proud? Hamlet is living in the past. When his father dies, his world stops. He can’t move on. All he can do is remember. And regret lost opportunities. And then he hears his father’s voice: “Mark me. Revenge my foul and most unnatural murder. Remember me.” Here is Hamlet’s second chance: to prove his love to his father; to set things right; to change the past and erase his regrets. But living for the past has a high cost.

For tonight’s performance, the actors have written their own regrets and remembrances on the whiteboard. I encourage you to do the same. Before the show or at intermission, pick up a dry erase marker and make your own declaration.

To remember. To regret no more. To be.

~nrhelms~

Guildenstern (Jen Drouin), Hamlet (David Bolus), and Rosencrantz (Jonathan Hinnen)