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To Do or Not To Do

March 21, 2014

I love Shakespeare. The man has told some of the most enduring stories in the English language. 400 years later, his work is THE most commonly produced in theatres world-wide. There are countless actors out there who have played Juliet or Hamlet and countless more who are coming into your auditions with those monologues. Thus, I ask the eternal question of theatres everywhere: to do, or to not do Shakespeare?

To do:

  • The obvious reason: his plays are really good. And between all thirty-seven of his works, I believe that there is a Shakespeare play out there for everyone, even for my Shakespeare-hating roommate.
  • This is a personal reason for me, but Shakespeare has written some of the most phenomenal female characters. Lady Macbeth, Gonreil, Regan and Cordelia, even stock ingénues like Juliet are fleshed leading roles.
  • Bonus: Shakespeare also wrote in many of his plays the line “They fight”. Fighting plays with great female characters. Let’s do the Shakespeare!
  • As a budding poet who cannot write rhymes or in verse to save her life, I have to give grudging respect to William Shakespeare. One point for Team To Do.
  • Audience recognition. Who doesn’t know Hamlet? These plays are right up there with The Sound of Music when it comes to having a built-in audience. I saw Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth done in kids’ cartoons long before I saw them onstage or even in English class.
  • No pesky copyright laws. Will isn’t going to come around to your theatre and insist that instagramming his show is a violation. He’s not going to argue about your gender-bent, disco-themed, butoh interpretation of Henry V.

To not do:

  • Can you name one other playwright from Shakespeare’s time? Where are the productions of The Changeling? Lope de Vega wrote some great female roles as well! 
  • Thanks to their high school English class, most audience members feel that Shakespeare will bore them. Even those who are well-versed in Elizabethan English must be fed-up with the numerous Romeo and Juliets this past year. I heard of at least five major productions opening last fall. And the last time your theatre held auditions requiring a classical monologue, I want to bet that every monologue performed was written by Shakespeare.
  • For every production of The Comedy of Errors, a new play dies. By doing Shakespeare’s copyright-free play, you are denying some starving playwright their dinner tonight because you didn’t want to pay for the rights for their show and as a consequence, the playwright dies of starvation and no one will ever see a production of their play and that play will never win the Tony.

Obviously, I am in the “To-Do” camp because I have my list of dream roles. But then I roll my eyes whenever I see yet another terrible production on Youtube. To do or not to, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to give funding to new plays and pay royalties to their playwrights or to actually make your theatre money by doing Shakespeare over and over again until I finally get cast in a production…

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