Philadelphia’s most produced playwright this season is eloquent and groundbreaking and his themes are universal.
He’s also long gone. It’s William Shakespeare — by summer’s end, 12 different Shakespeare productions will have run this season on metropolitan Philadelphia stages. (I’m counting the two this summer at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, which just opened for the season in Center Valley, a few minutes north of the Bucks County line.)
Why Shakespeare? Cynics who know about the business of theater might say, oh, because he’s free, hedemands no royalties. Yes, but the Bard is a bear to produce, given all the stage craft often needed to make it work and all those characters: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” may have only two gentlemen, indeed, but it also calls for 11 other roles, plus assorted outlaws, musicians and servants.
Truth is, the man still sets the standard for Western theater, and audiences continue to respond to his plots and his language. We also continue, probably without knowing it, to use the words he either coined or brought into common speech – often simple words like “hint” (“Othello”) or “dawn” and “addiction” (“Henry V”), from playsstaged here within the past month or so.
In January, theater artists and directors who make the Bard their chief artistic passion came from around the nation and several countries to the annual conference of the Shakespeare Theatre Association. The meeting this year was at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, which produces at DeSales University in rolling landscape near Quakertown. Among other topics, the theater artists discussed 2016, which will mark 400 years since Shakespeare died. If the group can carry out even a few of its nascent plans like a roster of performances in each time zone, we’ll all be brushing up our Shakespeare.
That’s what I did, in a conversation about producing and directing Shakespeare posted here. I spoke with two artistic directors — Carmen Khan, of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, and Charles McMahon, of Lantern Theatre Company. We talk about the Bard’s themes, his impact and his general way with a script.
Interested in some upcoming Shakespeare? Here’s a list:
–“Two Gentlemen of Verona,” produced by Delaware Shakespeare Festival, free at Wilmington’s Rockwood Park, July 12-28.
–Measure for Measure,” produced by Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, at De Sales University in Center Valley, July 18-August 4.
–“The Tempest,” produced by Shakespeare in Clark Park, free at the park in West Philadelphia, July 24-28.
–“Henry VIII,” produced by Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, at De Sales University in Center Valley, July 24-August 4.
–“Macbeth,” produced by Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company, at Drexel University’s URBN Annex Black Box Theater, August 8-25.