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Archive for the ‘The Tempest’ Category

We love actor Louis Butelli’s posts for the Folger Theatre Production Diary. Recently, he wrote about his discovery—after a long run here playing Cassius in Julius Caesar (closing Sun, Dec 7)—that whether Shakespeare’s set a play in Elsinore or Agincourt or Rome he can’t resist talking about the theater. Enjoy this player’s perspective.

Louis Butelli (Cassius), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Louis Butelli (Cassius), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

One of the fascinating things about performing in a long run of a play by William Shakespeare is the way the play continues to unfold over time. Living with such rich and complex language yields new discoveries; I’ve been consistently surprised by Julius Caesar, and how it contains thoughts and notions that I hadn’t remembered about the play.

As a man of the theater, Shakespeare constantly put references to his own craft and its practitioners into his work. Hamlet fans will certainly recognize this from the “advice to the players” speech, wherein the Dane coaches a troupe of actors who are rehearsing his play. Hamlet remarks that “the purpose of playing…was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”

In The Tempest, the wizard Prospero stages an elaborate masque to celebrate the wedding of his daughter. At its conclusion, he says “our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.” In his epilogue, Prospero asks the audience to “release me from my bands with the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails which was to please.”

In Henry V, Shakespeare places a Chorus into the action, which begins the play and each act of the play with a prologue, and ends the play with an epilogue. This Chorus is constantly reminding us that we are in the theater, and begs us to use our imaginations and forgive the short-comings of the performers. Right off the bat the Chorus wonders “can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?”

Lately, I’ve been noticing how often Shakespeare calls our attention to the fact that we are players playing at Julius Caesar.

Early on, Brutus and Cassius question Casca about the offstage cheering they had heard. Casca describes the scene of Antony offering Caesar a crown in the public square, with a crowd looking on. Casca says of Caesar, “if the tag-rag people did not clap him and hiss him, according as he pleased and displeased them, as they use to do the players in the theater, I am no true man.”

Later, when the conspirators visit his garden, Brutus warns them not to let on that they are up to no good. He says, “good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily; let not our looks put on our purposes, but bear it as our Roman actors do, with untired spirits and formal constancy.” Having killed Caesar, and dipping his hands in Caesar’s blood, Cassius asks “how many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown?”

Sometimes the references even leap from play to play. It is believed that Hamlet was first performed very soon after Julius Caesar sometime in 1599 or 1600. Shakespeare had a company of actors for whom he wrote, and with whom he sometimes performed.

It is likely that the original cast of Julius Caesar would also have comprised the original cast of Hamlet. This lends a kind of winking pleasure to the following exchange between Hamlet and Polonius, as the audience gathers to watch Hamlet’s play for the king:

Hamlet: My lord, you played once i’ the university, you say?

Polonius: That did I, my lord; and was accounted a good actor.

Hamlet: What did you enact?

Polonius: I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i’ the Capitol; Brutus killed me.

Hamlet: It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there.

This love for his own craft and his fellow poets and players, this exuberance and joy in storytelling, this warm embrace of audiences are part and parcel of working on the plays of William Shakespeare. His delight in the art form is passed directly on to us, both the artists presenting the plays, and the audiences that come to experience them.

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About Louis Butelli
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Louis has spent the past eighteen years working as an actor, teacher, director, and writer. From 1998-2008, he was Artist-In-Residence and Company Clown for the Aquila Theatre Company. During that time, he played in over 25 productions of the works of William Shakespeare and other classical playwrights, appearing Off-Broadway, at major regional houses, on tour in the US to 49 states and across Europe; taught over 300 masterclasses; wrote, adapted and appeared in a new production of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde; and authored numerous successfully funded grants. Other credits include Folger Theatre; La Jolla Playhouse; American Repertory Theater; South Coast Rep; LA Shakespeare Festival; Shakespeare Theatre Co, DC; Alabama Shakespeare Festival; Yale Rep; Long Wharf; Orlando Shakes; Pasadena Playhouse; Two River Theater, NJ; Alpine Theater Project, MT; La Scala Opera’s West Side Story in Milan, Beirut, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Osaka, and Tokyo; many others. TV: The Knick (Cinemax), The Unusuals, and All My Children (ABC), Law & Order, and L&O: Criminal Intent (NBC). Louis is co-founder and Executive Director of Psittacus Productions, for whom he has produced A Tale Told By An Idiot (LA Weekly Theater Award) which performs again in May, 2015 for Lincoln Center Education, and CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera (NYMF Award for Excellence, 3 LA Weekly Award Noms, Pulitzer Prize Juror Nom) which has played Pasadena Playhouse, Ars Nova’s ANT Fest, and a sold-out and extended run at the 2011 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Previously, he has collaborated with director Robert Richmond to make the short film, Dreadful Sorry, financed by a generous grant from the South Carolina Film Commission, Twelfth Night and Henry VIII at the Folger Theatre in the nation’s capital, for both of which he was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Performer, winning the Award for Henry VIII. He is honored every day he is able to go to work in the service of a great story.

Read more of Louis Butelli’s post on Folger Theatre Production Diary   |   Follow him on Twitter @louisbutelli

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This weekend saw the closing of the historic London Summer Olympics, and I’m sure everyone will still be buzzing about it for days to come! Our own Carol Kelly volunteered during the games, and rejoined us today still bubbling over with excitement, which, she says, is still glowing throughout London, as well.

While the modern games we know were revived in the 19th century (after having been abandoned during the 5th century in Greece as Rome became an Empire), the term “Olympic” was used to refer to  particularly athletic or physically apt men. Shakespeare himself used the term when referring to laudable, brave soldiers in III Henry VI, and again in Troilus and Cressida as Hector’s prowess in battle is described by Nestor.

Near the end of Shakespeare’s lifetime in 1612, a man by the name of Robert Dover organized the Cotswold Olimpick Games. Sports included horse-racing, running, sledgehammer throwing, dancing, and shin-kicking, among others. King James I approved the games, and they continued annually for about 50 years before becoming more well-known for the debauchery that took place there than the sporting events. The Cotswold Games were re-instituted in 1852, even as the Olympic Games were finding their footing on the world stage, again. The Cotswold Games became a regular annual event in 1966, and continue to this day! Yes, they still do shin-kicking.

But now this year’s games are over, and students will be turning again to school (with varying degrees of willingness) and you may be looking for them to reacquaint themselves with writing exercises that aren’t “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.”

Why not bring up the Olympics in discussion, and ask what they thought of the passage that opened and closed this year’s London games? We explore Caliban’s speech in the Music section of Shakespeare for Kids with an activity to connect students to the text aurally. If you have older students, there are several points to consider for discussion or writing prompts!

Sir Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel during the Opening Ceremony

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill during the Closing Ceremony

Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.”

The Tempest 3.2.148-156

The theme “Isles of Wonder” would certainly lend some weight to it as it highlights the long history of England, and the stunning visuals the games afforded. I, personally, found the athletes to be almost modern air spirits – leaping, twisting, sprinting, swimming, and moving with speed and agility it doesn’t seem possible for mortals to achieve.

What does this passage inspire in their imaginations, and what did it mean to the Olympic Games in London? What sort of ceremonial staging would they design to go with this speech? Where were they when they watched either ceremony (if they did?) and how did the speech make them feel?

What did you think of the choice of text for the ceremonies? Do you plan to talk about the Olympics in your class?

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The weather on the east coast has been particularly nasty this week. The wind blows, the lightning cracks, and the rain spit-spouts onto every surface. Soggy socks and gray skies can lead to bored students, though, but with a little help from Bill’s Buddies, I think I’ve found a way to make the weather more fun!

The 2009 Bill’s Buddies show was all about how Shakespeare used the power of his words to create scenery, setting, emotions, and even special effects! THIS HANDOUT is one of my favorite scenes of theirs, in which they introduce the power of dynamic words by creating a raging storm using only words! I’ve set it so you might share it with your class as an activity with 4 helpful volunteers and the whole class’s involvement!

In the Buds’ own words: “Shakespeare could write plays that, 400 years later, are still wildly popular, even without the use of special effects.  It is our imaginations that are the final piece to the puzzle. Shakespeare knew that stories could only truly come alive when imagined by the audience… and that imagination could always dream a bigger storm and a more beautiful moon and scarier woods and a better story than any special effect.”

What is your favorite “Special Effect” in Shakespeare’s plays? How would you share that with your class? Share in the comments, please!

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…when the scolding winds
Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
~Julius Caesar I.iii

It certainly has been a tempestuous beginning to the summer!  DC has seen lots of rain, we had our first ever George Didden Capitol Hill Children’s Festival, and we open our newest exhibit Lost at Sea next week!

One of Shakespeare’s favorite plot devices was a shipwreck (see Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, or especially The Tempest and Pericles).  It sets his characters in new places that they’re not always ready to be, and makes for exciting adventures for them!

I’m banking up some summer reading of books based on The Tempest: Indigo by Marina Warner, Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez, and Ariel by Grace Tiffany.

The summer is a great time for performing outdoors – perhaps an impromptu Midsummer in the woods, a Twelfth Night in a swimming pool?  What sort of activities do you plan to encourage your students to do this summer?

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