Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ban the Bard?

To a Weisenheimer just returned from a week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it's interesting to read that theater companies need to declare a five-year moratorium on performances of Shakespeare in order to survive. That's part of the advice Brendan Kiley of The Stranger offers in his article "Ten Things Theaters Need to do Right Now to Save Themselves."

While Kiley serves up his advice "in no particular order" his points are numbered, and number one, in big bold letters, is "Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already." Gladly, Kiley calls the Bard "the greatest playwright in history" but then goes on to write that Shakespeare has, for theater companies, "become your enabler and your crutch, the man you call when you're timid and out of ideas."

In a way, he has a point. Theater producers must know that there's a certain guaranteed audience in Shakespeare. Weisenheimer loves the Bard and is delighted to find him on the schedule. We go to as many Shakespeare productions as we can. But I don't agree with Kiley's contention that staging Shakespeare is a signal of a lack of imagination and the end of creativity. This can be the case. Intiman's 2006 production of Richard III was a total dud. But there's plenty of room for new ideas in Shakespeare productions. One can re-think the most often- produced plays, or tackle those that are rarely seen. Coriolanus was a pleasant surprise at OSF this year.

There's a lot to like in the rest of Kiley's list. While we're not on board with his notion of busting up the unions, we're certainly open to new material. But we love the classics, too. As for getting younger people into the seats, it's not just about the new; the school groups at Ashland this year seemed most impressed by OSF's marvelous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It's a bad idea for theater companies to ban the Bard. The next suggestion would be for chamber music companies to get over their fawning reliance on Mozart. We don't just want to see Shakespeare, we want to see GOOD Shakespeare. And good theater, whether classic or modern.

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