Monday, February 17, 2014

‘Transformation is the name of the game!’

It’s been a long time since I last wrote about the value of Shakespeare and language to the art of transformation, but I witnessed something pretty spectacular the Friday night before last at The Players worth mentioning here.

The Players hosted a theater troupe from Cape Cod named Elements Theatre Company—and, yes, that’s elements as in earth, air, fire, and water—that performed an amazing “montage,” I suppose I’ll call it, of scenes culled from eight great dramas in a program titled “Labyrinth: A Legacy of Language.” It is part of this theater company’s year-long celebration of this 450th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s birth. These scenes were linked thematically by their explorations of love, trust, infidelity, vengeance, and remorse. They segued into each other obliquely, but effectively. My point is not to write a review, but just for your information the plays sampled, in this sequence, were: The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard; A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams; A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen; The School for Scandal by Robert Sheridan; Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare. The goal was to present immortal moments of the Shakespearean stage and more recent writers’ words clearly influenced by Shakespeare. To showcase the immortality of these words. Words that were here before us, and will be here after we are gone. Words to be acted in “states unborn and in accents yet unknown,” to borrow from Julius Caesar.

The simple set employed by the Elements Theatre Company
at The Players in New York City February 7.

Anyway, after the performance (and an appreciated wine and cheese reception), a panel discussion delved into various implications of transformation in the processes of theater. For instance, there is the obvious external transformation of actors putting on their costumes and make-up. (Take your seat 20 minutes before the curtain goes up at Twelfth Night on Broadway, and you can watch that process.) There is an internal adjustment of the actor as he becomes the role and identifies with it even when off-stage. But there was this other progression they spoke of. Something I would liken to spiritual alchemy—a reorganization of the conscious mind to unlock its greater potential.

Getting back to the title “Labyrinth: A Legacy of Language,” the panelists spoke of language itself as key to the art of transformation. “Transformation is the name of the game!” said Louis Colaianni, a voice coach and author of How to Speak Shakespeare. The panel tore into the concept of “The Word Made Flesh,” to paraphrase St. John’s Gospel. (That actually is the title of another great project the theater company is working on. Click here and check it out.) “We’re in an age when speaking well is suspect,” Colaianni also said, “when it doesn’t sound like telling the truth. We need to foster a natural eloquence in the young.” Panelist George Drance related an anecdote about a friend prompting some laughter by speaking the phrase “burst like a pomegranate” in casual conversation. “No one talks like that!” came the predictable admonishment. “Well, we would if we could,” the guy replied.

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