Bootleg Shakespeare returns with ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ at the VMFA 11/1
Contrary to popular belief, Shakespeare doesn’t have to be boring. Most of us were probably forced to read Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet in high school and dissect every line ad nauseam.
We watched dated movies (although some of us were lucky enough to view more modern renditions) that did anything but make the words on the page come to life. Our teachers tried to convince us that Shakespeare had energy and humor, but many of us believed otherwise.
Henley Street Theatre, however, knows that Shakespeare can be sporadic and fun by taking everything we ever thought about the playwright and twisting it around a bit. “Bootleg Shakespeare: Antony Cleopatra,” which will be held for one night only this Saturday, November 1 at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, stands out above other Shakespeare productions for its lack of rehearsals until the day of the performance.
In other words, the actors never meet with each other, having to learn their parts on their own. Foster Solomon, the director of this year’s production, said this is the theater’s sixth annual run of “Bootleg.”
Solomon has acted in two of the previous bootleg productions, but things are little different being in the director’s chair.
His job is to make sure that the actors are on-board with the project, who are then given a month to learn their lines.
“They know what the play is, and we get their commitments to be in the show about sixty days out,” Solomon said. “And thirty days before the show I send them the scripts that I have precast.”
All of this sounds chaotic, but that’s the point. It’s not meant to be perfect, as there will be flubs and dropped lines throughout the performance. Without these imperfections, Solomon believes, the crowd might feel let down or even disappointed.
“I think the audience would be upset if everything went perfectly,” he said. “People will call for lines. I’ve called for lines [in past productions], and there is a prompter out in the audience.”
Although madness seems to abound up until opening night, Solomon does keep in contact with the performers to help things stay in some orderly fashion. This allows for the play to look and feel consistent, even though it will be anything but.
“After they were cast, I did one-on-one phone interviews with each cast member,” Solomon said. “Just to see what they were thinking of costume-wise, what they were thinking character-wise, and just making sure we’re all going in the same direction.”
Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s more complex tragedies. The play revolves around the romance between Mark Antony (played by Joe Carlson) and Cleopatra (played by Katrinah Lewis). Antony is one of the head public officers during the Roman Empire, while Cleopatra is known for her role as the queen of Egypt during the latter half of the first century B.C. While their love ultimately ends in death, as all Shakespearean tragedies do, Antony and Cleopatra dives into themes of betrayal, gender roles, and ambivalence.
While it might be tempting to throw in a few modern motifs to coincide with the bootleg atmosphere, Solomon said the production will be by the books, not altering any lines or parts of the play.
“It’s still Shakespeare’s Antony,” he said.
With all of this uncertainty going on, one should expect nothing less. There is no formula, no time to hash out mistakes. But that, Solomon said, is what audiences love and enjoy about “Bootleg Shakespeare.” And for those who haven’t witnessed this type of stage performance, get ready.
“The audience should expect a lot of energy, a lot of fun, and a Shakespeare play that don’t normally see done in an exciting, action-packed way,” Solomon said.
“Bootleg Shakespeare” makes it one-and-only performance Saturday, November 1 at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts at the Leslie Cheek Theatre at 7:30. The show is for free, so money is no excuse for not showing up.
That being said, they are giving out the free tickets at 6, so you might want to get there early to snag your seats.
Given fuller measure are the funny men.July 11, 2016
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