Thursday, May 29, 2008

Storytelling via Theatre

Another attempt to catch up to Dewey's assignment this week, looking at storytelling in other forms than books. This week I thought it would be appropriate to discuss live theatre as a story form. Appropriate especially because this is opening week at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Hamlet through the generosity of a friend with an extra ticket. Now, I think I've mentioned before that Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare, as far as you can call favourites with Will. I've read Hamlet more than once, and have seen many versions performed on film and on stage. This week's performance was set in Edwardian times, mostly apparent through the costuming. The set was very sparse, as appropriate on the theatre's thrust stage, and the effect of lighting and of orchestration and on-stage musicians was to provide that illusory setting. It was really successful, though I did find some of the background music a little intrusive -- of course, I am a person who can't stand having the radio on when I'm trying to do something requiring thought, so maybe that's just me! Ben Carlson as Hamlet was able to speak those almost too familiar lines in a fresh way. (he also performed Hamlet in Chicago recently, and won a theatre award for the part). I enjoyed it, and hope to see it again, to glean more from it. Here's some of his own thoughts on the part:

I think I'll need another viewing or two to see it as it's own performance -- right now I still have the last staging done here overlaying it in my mind. Paul Gross played Hamlet in 2000, and I have never seen anything like it. He was absolutely electric, the epitome of Hamlet-ness, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to totally believe anyone else in the role. His charisma fueled the play.

Now, as for "Theatre" itself:

I love to watch live theatre for the immediacy of it; the audience plays a big part in the success of a show. I've experienced this myself in a smaller setting, while reading or telling stories to children -- if they are with you the energy is great, if not, it can be exhausting. Theatre takes this to a much higher level and I'm always interested in how a show, carefully staged and rehearsed, can seem so different in different performances. Living in a theatre town, I've been able to attend shows more than once over the season, and while a show may run along in its accustomed course, there are always subtle variations. (and sometimes huge ones, when an understudy goes on and changes the whole tenor of the cast). I've seen Shakespeare in the park, in a tent on the riverbank, and of course at the much respected Stratford Festival. The first professional performance I ever saw on stage, in grade 12, was Hamlet at Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre. So seeing it again this week reminded me how much theatre fascinates, as an ever-changing story which takes on shadings of director, cast, design, and the audience's participation in these elements. It's a great way to see an old story newly apprehended by another mind; unlike reading a book, when watching theatre you see someone else reading a story and then telling you what they see.


  1. thanks for the great post - personally, I've never wanted to see a play more than once but I can see now why that might be interesting ... it could change your entire perception of the story

  2. I haven't seen Ben Carlson's Hamlet yet, although I'm looking forward to it, as I've enjoyed his other stage performances immensely.

    But I must say I agree with you on Gross' Hamlet. I'd seen so many other Hamlets before his (my favorite play) and thought I was "done" discovering the play. That 2000 Stratford production was like seeing Hamlet for the first time. I saw it 6 times and had at least one revelation each time and wish I could've seen it at least 6 more times!

  3. Heather - I never used to attend plays so often, but in the past few years I've found it really enjoyable

    Mary - I know! I'd have seen Gross' Hamlet 26 times if I'd had the opportunity. He was amazing. I think you'll find Ben Carlson's interesting as well, though the production is a little more sedate.


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!