A recent article in the New York Times about people who travel the world to see all of Shakespeare’s plays in performance reminded me of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s late 1980s and into the 1990s cycle of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Proposed by Joe Papp in 1987 and set to be completed in six years, it was an ambitious undertaking that actually took longer than six years to complete. Still, it gave people in the New York metropolitan area the opportunity to see all of the plays without having to leave the country. And it was a bargain, just four hundred 1987 dollars, exactly the amount of the raise I got as a teacher of English that year after a 30-day strike against the school district where I was working. For me, it was a good way to justify having walked the picket line for a month. Every time I sat in my seat at the Public Theater or at the Delacorte in Central Park I was reminded of what it took to make it possible to see all of the Bard’s work live on stage.
As I read the article, I felt a kinship with the people mentioned in it. While they traveled the globe in search of Shakespeare, I journeyed on NJ Transit and the NYC subway to see the plays. What is it that makes people want to do this? To stop at nothing to see the plays? I can’t really explain it, except to say that once I committed to seeing the canon in performance, I didn’t miss a performance, even when it meant getting dropped off at the entrance of Central Park and hobbling the quarter mile or so to the theater on crutches after breaking my knee. And that was to see King John! Imagine what I would have gone through to see Titus Andronicus!
If you’ve been on a quest to see it all, where have you journeyed? What challenges have you had to overcome to see a particular play? And, has it been worth it? For me, absolutely. I even have the official “I’ve Seen It All” tee-shirt given out at the end of the last play in the series.