It’s the New Year, and already that resolution to have less drama in your life is under pressure.
Because opening weekend at Oregon Shakespeare Festival is coming up fast. And you can’t miss that. If you’re into theatre and anywhere near Oregon, there is no place else to be the weekend of Feb 24-26. So ye best plan to attend for a bard load of drama, fun and food.
As always, the season kicks off with four openings over three days. There are many other unique events over opening weekend that make this a theatre gathering unlike just about anything you’ll ever experience. Think of it as Broadway under the Siskiyou. With plentiful outdoor adventure options, it’s hard to think of a more exciting weekend. Anywhere.
Ski in the morning, consume affogatos in the afternoon, watch Shakespeare at night. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it.
Are you ready, theatre fans? In just a few short days and rain-soaked weeks, the 2016 season thunders forth at one of earth’s great theatres. Behold, way down in Oregon’s sunny south. You know the place of which I speak. The hamlet of Hamlet. Stratford-upon-Rogue. Broadway on Siskiyou.
I’m talking about Oregon Shakespeare Festival. If you haven’t been lately to the mightiest theatre town of them all (ASHLAND, ORE-GONE), ye best hitch up the carriage and make haste. Pronto.
Wondering when to go? Try opening weekend. Of course. This traditional kick off to the season is unique in the arts world. It’s like a three day blow out party with plenty of special events and star-studded local color. You’ll see old friends and make new ones. In addition to four shows and numerous panel discussions, you can go skiing to stay fit and order repeat affogatos at Mix to stay awake.
Tick tock. Prepare to fill these seats. OSF’s Bowmer Theatre was SOLD OUT over and over again last year for GUYS AND DOLLS. [Read the following in the voice of Rodney Gardiner as Nathan]: “Don’t delay – reserve your seats today!”
OSF knows how to roll out the red carpet for opening weekend. And if you’re really lucky, the Cascade weather gods will roll out the white carpet – as pictured above in 2011.
Has #PortlandTheatre hit Peak Shakespeare? We think so. The evidence seems to be everywhere. At least when it comes to asking an audience to pay money for tickets to see Shakespeare.
Tickets for TWELFTH NIGHT at Portland Shakespeare Project (full production with equity actors) have been going for $8 for weeks and you can now get CYMBELINE at Anon It Moves for FREE. That’s right – $0 on Goldstar.
Shakespeare in the park for free is fun. But beware diluting the already declining Portland appetite for theatre with shows people won’t even go see for free.
Doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with quality. Has to do with the number one question for any product: Does the audience want this?
Time to rein supply back to get in synch with actual demand.
With uncounted numbers of shows by the bard indoors and out this summer, PDX citizens are certainly not wanting for opportunities to see 16th century drama – if they want to.
Supply is off the charts. But what about demand?
Is this what the Portland theatre audience wants? More Shakespeare? Is more Shakespeare good for the overall Portland theatre brand – both locally and nationally?
One way you know whether the audience wants something is by looking at how much they’ll pay for it. If they’re willing to pay $16 to park downtown, that tells you they definitely value that service. But if they won’t spend even $8 for a full production on the city’s second largest stage, that says demand for the product on offer is weak.
Interestingly, one of the very last questions a theatre company usually asks (if they ever ask it) when considering that show they want to put on is whether there is audience demand for it. Does the audience want this? Is there anything in the concept of interest to them? Or is the show primarily a vanity project for the theatuh folks – who may have always wanted to do show x or play role y?
The issue is not necessarily one of quality. It is about the appeal of the entire experience on offer. You might open a restaurant that produces absolutely flawless Hungarian cuisine at the highest level. But does the Portland audience want that? Maybe.
One of the reasons Shakespeare is attractive to theatres is because there are no royalties. So shows can be put on for less, which means tickets can be sold for less.
But is Shakespeare attractive to the audience? Sometimes. If it’s free, yes. Who doesn’t like to sit out in the park with friends on a nice night. When done in a unique or compelling way (Kenneth Branagh in the Park Avenue Armory anyone?), the audience will pay a lot. At Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the audience pays over $100 for Shakespeare. But to do that, you have to know what you’re doing and build a serious brand that is highly desirable to the audience – because it’s something they can’t get just anywhere.
But if a real theatre with an indoor space finds donors and foundations to underwrite its costs and is happy to drop ticket prices to almost nothing to try to get people to come see Shakespeare – what’s the harm in that?
The problem is, there is damage done to the Portland audience’s willingness to pay for main stage theatre if it is given away for free. Outdoors in a park is one thing, but inside in a real space is something else. And for venues with confusing brands like the Artists Rep building, where scads of different groups perform, when one theatre does a show with high production values for $8 (25% less than the cost of a Higgins Burger) in the space, the audience thinks that’s what theatre there (and everywhere) costs. And so it becomes a lot harder for someone else to charge $40 (which is where prices should be) for the next show on the same stage.
A cycle of dependency is created. Ticket prices go down and down while more and more of theatre’s funding comes from foundations and the wealthy. When you abandon ticket sales as a serious source of revenue, numerous unintended and mostly negative consequences ensue. One biggie: You lose touch with what the audience wants.
The audience does not necessarily understand all the differences between companies performing in a shared space. Just as if you went to the same restaurant space and one night a steak was $8 and the next night it was $40, you might not understand the nuances of a rotating lineup of chefs with different pay rates.
Doing a show for $8 at a venue like Theatre Theater or the Shoebox or the Someday Lounge is one thing. But at the city’s second largest space, such extreme discounting will only become a race to the bottom if companies don’t watch out.
So what’s the goal here? To put on theatre by any means necessary, whether anyone wants to pay for it or not? Or to create unforgettable experiences that create value and build a brand? I know which one I want.
Remember, whether or not the audience comes is not about price. It’s about whether they want what’s on offer. If it’s something the audience wants, they’ll pay ANY price. If it’s something they don’t want – they won’t come even if it’s free.
Does the Portland audience want more Shakespeare? If it’s close to free, yes.
But is doing free theatre in the city’s biggest theatres what the Portland theatre scene needs to build its brand?
Hollywood ending. Bill keeps body count low and turns on the tears (good kind). Gorgeous production values. Bonus: Michael J. Hume in heels. A little too much focus on “plowing” virgins. Wayne T. Carr gives exceptional performance. Just goes to show, when you’re in a pinch, count on some pirates.
While American theatre goers may by now have grown numb to the ongoing absurdity of trying to sex up or modernize Shakespeare by adding hip hop music and other supposedly current cultural influences into classic plays, the trend is no longer being ignored by the music industry.
At a star-studded press press conference held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills last night, a veritable who’s who of American hip hop artists announced that the expropriation of their art form by the mainstream theatre – and specifically in Shakespeare plays – has got to stop.
And until it does, theatre fans better get ready for a retaliatory salvo: Non stop misappropriation of Shakepseare in hip hop.
“Basically, enough’s enough,” said JAY-Z, Chairman of the newly formed SFPHHMIA (Society for the Preservation of Hip Hop Music in America). “Every time I go to see Shakespeare, it turns out to be hip hop. Don’t get me wrong, I love hip hop. That’s what I do. But that’s not why I go to see Shakespeare. I can’t even get through one of the simple comedies anymore without some dude dressed up like MC Hammer singing one of my songs. Give it a rest, bro. And the history plays? Those things are a [redacted] nightmare. So we’re gonna turn the tables and see how you theatre people like it. You come expecting hip hip? You’re gettin’ Shakespeare. It’s gonna be 24-7 Shakespeare until you leave us the [redacted] alone. And you better believe we’re gonna get it all wrong.”
P Diddy hewed to an equally hard line. “All these aging white baby boomers are gonna take our stuff? Ok. Now I’m gonna take YOUR stuff – and mess with it. Ol’ Bill Shakey? I own that [redacted]. I’m gonna sing it, I’m gonna live it. I’m gonna wear ermine capes and bejeweled crowns in my Rolls like King Richard or whoever if I have to. I guess I already do that.”
50 Cent was livid about the trend. “It’s not cool, not at all. Some white guy with stringy long hair from the 1600’s or whenever? I am not in his plays. I never was. Shakespeare knows nothing about me. DO NOT PUT ME IN HIS PLAYS, PEOPLE. OR I WILL COME AFTER YOU. Now hear this [redacted]: Leave me the [redacted] out of these plays.” Fans at a recent concert nearly rioted when the well respected rapper did an incoherent 20 minute one person adaptation of CORIOLANUS.
Snoop Dogg, always the purist, raised concerns about the authenticity of the transplanted art form. “I was out watching ROMEO AND JULIET at BAM the other night, and the fight scene, you know, the dude’s like “Ima pop a cap in your ass this” and the other guy’s “No, no, Ima pop a cap in YOUR ass that”. First, I go to the theatre for poetry, you know? I get enough violence at work. Second, no one’s said “pop a cap” since like 1994. And you don’t announce it in advance when you’re gonna shoot someone – you just shoot the guy. Right? Now get out the way, I need to practice my Malvolio…”
As a kind of “We Are The World” manifesto for the new movement, a group of top artists performed a scorching 25 minute rendition of their founding anthem, “Is this a 9 mil which I see before me?”. The evening ended with a surprise visit by Dr Dre who performed “2b”, and also a reworked “guns, guns, guns” monologue, which was temporarily interrupted when an elderly irate theatre fan, upset at the alteration of “the [redacted] text”, hurled a bottle of Grey Goose across the stage.
“You see? That’s what I’m talking about. Now you know how we feel!” Dre shouted as the heckler was taken away. “This shit’s about to get real, folks. So real.”
Reached in New York City where he is currently giving the performance of a lifetime in the Shakespeare’s Globe (London) rep productions of RICHARD III and TWELFTH NIGHT, two shows which contain 0% hip hop, Mark Rylance had a lot to say about the phenomenon SFPHHMIA is protesting – but unfortunately almost no comments that are printable in a family magazine.
Rylance voiced total support for the group and said he would send in a contribution to their Kickstarter.
Going, going, gone. Over the wall, out of the park, and off the charts. Mark Rylance and company deliver an unforgettable evening of timeless theatre. No gimmicks, no hip hop bands, no awkward modern transpositions. The real deal. Wonder and awe. The bar is reset high. Shakespeare lives. And laughs.
Open staging allows play to live through language. Cinematic sound design at times distracts from story. Daniel Sunjata a formidable Macduff. Ethan Hawke’s voice not sufficiently musical or descriptive at upper volume level. Tends to settle into two-tone growl / shout. Watching Birnam Wood on the move never grows old.
Before this evening’s performance of the intensely imagined R3, PETE hosted a lively discussion about Shakespeare, how and why Wild Bill remains so relevant (and popular) today, and specific nuances involved when producing his work in our time.