Shakespeare in Community: Assignment #1 – First Words

“I learn in this letter” – Much Ado About Nothing.

I chose this first line primarily because I have not had the opportunity to do much scholarly work on Much Ado, yet it is one of my favourites to see. This line holds so many possibilities and has been so much fun to explore!

One of my first thoughts about this line was that it gives the feeling that they play is starting in medias res. “I learn in this letter” sets up what is to happen later in the scene, but does not give us any sense of place or time like other opening lines can do, like the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. However this also makes me think that it gives Much Ado more credence as potentially being the lost play Love’s Labours Won (the play was portrayed this way by the RSC this season). To me, this line is a good example of this, given that with the announcement of the Don Pedro’s return, we as the audience are expected to derive immediate meaning and perhaps even recognition from the declaration. I am looking forward to seeing Love’s Labours Lost this summer to see if this theory could really work!

The mention of the letter sets up the importance that language and words are going to have throughout the play. Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship is founded not only on their constant verbal sparring, but also on the second hand information that they gain from their friends. Leonato similarly presents the information in the letter to the characters gathered on stage, thus giving them the information second hand as well. Knowledge and the sources that provide it, as well as the way those sources are able to manipulate language to provide knowledge is a running theme in the play. And letters are often a malleable medium in Shakespeare’s plays, giving characters the opportunity to manipulate others.

In terms of the feeling of the line, I would say that because a letter is a physical thing, it does actually evoke a sense of touch. One must be holding a letter to read it and gain the information, and therefore the mention of it evokes that feeling. The sharing of letters has a rich history and was a feature in both drama and novels long past the Renaissance. Thus a community is able to form around the letter reader, as they share the knowledge imparted through the letter. In this case, the letter not only brings together the community of the people of Messina, but also the men coming home from the war. This scene begins the ultimate goal of the comedy: the creation of a whole community.

Drawing Board Production’s “Working Title: Undecided”

There are few things more exhilarating than getting to see a world première of a play. What can only make the experience better is when you have the absolute honour of knowing the artists involved in such a marvellous creation. Working Title: Undecided was presented at the University of Windsor at the inaugural UWillDiscover Research Conference (they won 2nd place in the performance category), as well as in the Jackman Centre for the Dramatic Arts on March 29th. Never fear! There are still a few more chances to catch this fantastic show!

One person shows should be a category of theatre unto themselves given their extraordinary nature. It is no easy feat to control a room on your own for over an hour, yet Working Title: Undecided’s star Tamlynn Bryson did just that. She was enchanting and amusing, letting us all into the mind of Tess, a woman with a very big decision on her hands. The way she was able to involve the audience in so many ways was wonderful, fun, and impressive, and will continue to work well for their future performances. Tamlynn was able to take the audience on a trip through all of the varying emotions facing Tess in a way that made the audience invested in the outcome of her decision while also having their own hopes for what her answer will be. Tess became very charming, and as an audience member I started to care about the conclusion of the play and what she was going to do because you really felt like you got to know her personally over the course of the play. This, of course, is also not easy to do, but by the reactions of the other audience members at the end of the play, they were similarly affected. Having the ability to not only connect to one’s audience but also to keep them fully engaged for such a long time is, to me, the sign of a well-seasoned actress, and I’m sure that Tamlynn is going to have a bright future in the theatre.

Tamlynn’s partner in crime for this piece was Kyle Kimmerly, who helped to not only direct the play, but also wrote it with her. The topic for the play (which I shan’t reveal, it would give too much away) is a fun one, and one that any audience member can relate to in some way. But then to hear about what a collaborative process it was and continues to be, and the amount of improvisation that is involved (because of the audience involvement) makes it all the more of an amazing feat. Kyle’s direction allowed for that collaborative process to have this beautiful outcome, and really tell Tess’ story in this fun, original way. For two young actors, who are just on the cusp of their careers to create something this impressive and this entertaining is truly awesome. When the play finished, I was blown away to think that I know the two brilliant minds behind this work. The creativity and style of both of these fine artists permeated the work and made it a true pleasure to watch.

I honestly cannot urge you enough to get out and see this wonderful new Canadian play for yourself! They will be showing the play at the Old Walkerville Theatre in May and in June at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Please get out and see this award winning show and support some wonderful local actors!

“Elektra by Sophocles”

I have always been interested in seeing Elektra by Sophocles. Having helped to teach other Greek tragedies but not this one in particular, I was excited to have the opportunity to finally see it. I was certainly not disappointed. I cannot imagine a better experience seeing this play.

The first thing one noticed entering the theatre is that the play is to be performed in the round. The bright light that shone down from the ceiling created the playing space, with our seats in two rows around it. It was a brilliant set up because it forced us to be a part of the play, and be aware of not only all of the characters, but the rest of the audience as well. The next thing I noticed were these draped figures around the very outside of the circle. I said to my friend sitting next to me “Don’t those look like people?” and he said to me “They probably are people!” and of course, they were! I couldn’t believe how long they had been sitting there in waiting, finally taking off the cloth and coming into the light with their respective entrances. The whole atmosphere was amazing, and really put me in the right mindset for the rest of the play.

The performances were downright impressive. The cast told the story in a skilful and impressive manner. To me, I saw in this a culmination of everything that they have studied over the past four (and for some of them three) years of their schooling. There was such beautiful movement, voice, and text work, not to mention their costuming, hair and makeup; you can see the expertise that is taught at the University of Windsor and how it will stay with these actors long into their careers.

Alice Lundy played the title role of Elektra and there was not a moment that I did not believe her pain and suffering. Watching her go through such highs and lows was impressive and entrancing. Likewise, her sister Chrysothemis, played by Kathleen Welch goes through those same highs and lows, but with the respect and reverence that was expected of a proper Greek woman. She provides a stark contrast to her seemingly crazed counterpart, and Kathleen played Chrysothemis with a grace beyond her years. Daniela Piccinin portrayed their mother, Clytemnestra, with a stately presence that embodied matriarchy. Her delivery was beautiful, and her passionate pleas were impossible to ignore. Erik Helle played Orestes, brother to Elektra and Chrysothemis, and the vehicle for their revenge. Erik fully embodied this strong, compassionate and perhaps headstrong young man. Mauro Meo’s portrayal of Aegisthus and Ryan Iwanicki’s portrayal of the Old Man were splendid. While the Old Man acts as a sort of Deus Ex Machina for the play, Aegisthus’ return is feared and loathed, both Mauro and Ryan used these roles to their advantage and played them completely. However for me, one of the highlights of the piece was the Chorus. Portrayed by Brendan Kinnon, Emerjade Simms and Ilya Marvin Ilyashyk, they epitomized a traditional Greek chorus, and yet used the amazing movement techniques of a modern play. Their haunting chants and sound advice paired with the way they moved around the stage and interacted with the other characters made them a play unto themselves. I was so impressed with their costumes and mask work as well, they fit the bill perfectly.

The play itself was rather easy to follow, and I definitely saw how the Elektra complex can be thought of as a parallel to the Oedipus complex. The only thing that I found odd (and it is no fault of the actors, but purely the author) was how determined Elektra and Orestes were, and then they seemed to repent almost immediately after the deed was done! While this is rather true to life (how many times do we do or say something that we automatically regret) it just seemed so out of character, especially for Elektra whose struggles and pains we come to empathize with. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like a really quick 180 for characters who felt so justified in what they had done. Otherwise, it was a fascinating play, totally engaging and fascinating, with many mythological allusions and alluring language.

The whole experience was so powerful, beautiful and moving, that my only wish is that more people could have the opportunity to see this amazing production. I must admit, this production inspired me so much, it made me realize that this is the kind of work I’d love to be doing, something fulfilling and artful and gorgeous. I was blown away by the talents of these wonderful actors, and as always am so proud to have been even a small part of their journey to this point in their careers.