AYL: dramaturgical readings and a quasi-manifesto

OK, so in my preparation for doing As You Like It in the winter time, I’ve been doing some reading on past productions… you know, as a kind of dramaturgical due diligence.

And I’m finding some pretty good stuff…

But what I’m really finding is that so many directors try to bring a sense of realism or even pessimism to the play. And I get it, it’s nice to find basic universal truths in these plays. But at what cost? I’ve read about a major production in the UK in the last decade that ran nearly 3 hours… It’s not a tragedy, people.

Jeez, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I find the world such a screwed-up place right now, but man, I just want this production to be FUN. Make the forest of Arden as a setting, a safe place for the audience, too, a place to forget the real world for a while.

And so I’ve come up with a very early, very tentative draft of what could become director’s notes for the program… if not, at least it’s a kind of manifesto for the production…

Director’s Notes (or “Confessions of a Bardophile”)

Confession: I LOVE Shakespeare and theater.

There is something magical that happens in the theater, and nowhere is that in better display than in As You Like It. It is not only comic theater in its highest form, but it is–in a sense–about theater, and playing.

The melancholy Jaques, in the play’s most famous speech, says that “all the world’s a stage” and that all men and women (including you and me) are actors. Performance and play-acting run throughout the play: Rosalind (which in Shakespeare’s day was pronounced to rhyme with “kind” and “mind”) plays “Ganymede” and Celia “Aliena.” Orlando plays the schoolboy to Ganymede’s tutelage, after, of course, he performs in a wrestling match. Charles is a professional wrestler for Frederick’s entertainment. Touchstone is a professional as well–the court fool or jester. Amiens sings for Duke Senior, who also gets to hear a mocking performance by two of his lords of Jaques’ melancholy. Jaques himself relates his meeting of Touchstone in the forest. And for each of these acts, there is an onstage audience. So, if we are all actors, then we’re all audience as well.

Shakespeare titled his play–rather cheekily, if you ask me–“As You Like It.” In other words, here’s a play for you (you know, the audience) to like, to enjoy. While there is the threat of violence, none ever takes place. The Forest of Arden is a magical and safe zone for people (the poor deer catch an arrow or two, but Shakespeare didn’t write for vegans). Even when–SPOILER ALERT–Frederick gathers an army to invade Arden and kill his brother, the moment he enters the forest, he changes, repents, and restores Senior to the throne.

Could a director layer a bunch of dark themes onto the play? Sure, but where’s the fun in that? And fun is our aim today, which is why I’ve set the play in the 1980s, filled with candy-colored pastels and pop music… you know, something to like, to enjoy. A magical safe haven from a crazy world out there.

Confession, part two: I HATE “museum” Shakespeare… you know, Shakespeare that is so reverently directed, designed, and performed that it sucks the life out of it, rendering it a museum piece to be examined, not enjoyed, studied, not relished; often performed quasi-period by men in tights spouting fake British accents.

If that’s what you want, sorry to disappoint you. But stick around… you might just find this production “as you like it”…

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