The Playgoer: Shakespeare on B'way

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Shakespeare on B'way

Is Shakespeare in America destined to be the province of the nonprofits, regionals, and summer festivals? Or does the coming of Jude Law to Broadway signal the Bard may be Boffo again after all?

I'm not sure I care whether Shakespeare can make it on Broadway or not. (They don't deserve him, I say.) But Variety's Robert Hofler does a great job explaining the many economic factors working against classical drama in today's commercial theatre:

Art aside, 20-actor ensembles represent a key challenge of mounting Shakespeare productions. On Broadway, that’s a weekly minimum nut of $32,000. And with 12 weeks being the usual performance sked, recoupment doesn’t allow for the usual snags of illness, strikes, winter storms, etc. The 1943 Paul Robeson "Othello," which clocked 296 perfs, remains the longest-running production of Shakespeare in Broadway history.
Yes, that's 1943, sixty-six years ago. And 296 "perfs" is not quite one year.

So there's the cast sizes, sure. But you're not just paying those actors to perform, but also to rehearse, right?

Oh rehearsal schmearsal:
The [Denzel] Washington "Julius Caesar" went with a lean four-week rehearsal followed by a four-week preview before the crix arrived.

But some artistic directors in the nonprofit sector say that’s generally not enough time. "We usually do an extra week of rehearsal on Shakespeare. We will do five to six weeks, where four to five is normal," says the Public Theater’s Oskar Eustis. The extra time paid off this summer with the org’s staging of "Twelfth Night," starring Anne Hathaway, which the crix adored.

For the much-acclaimed "Henry IV" double-header, starring Kevin Kline in 2003, Lincoln Center Theater’s Andre Bishop recalls the schedule being "six weeks in the rehearsal room, two weeks of tech and a month of previews."

But commercial productions of limited engagements just can’t afford that kind of rehearsal time. Hence the penchant to transfer, a la the Law "Hamlet."

Homegrown productions of Shakespeare simply may need more time."The sad thing about the American theater is that most actors, outside of the Shakespeare Festival, just don’t get a chance to do Shakespeare that often," says Eustis, "and they aren’t as at ease with their Shakespeare lyrics as our British colleagues." To that end, Eustis made vocal coaches available to his "Twelfth Night" actors as soon as they were cast, in some cases six months before rehearsals commenced.

And while having great actors is nice, they also have to be stars if any commercial producer is going to mount a Shakespeare play around them on Broadway. Otherwise, "why would you want to?" says Carole Shorenstein Hays, lead producer of "Julius Caesar." "Art and commerce have to wed. It’s why it’s called showbiz."
Interesting how the box-office draw of the actor seems inversely proportional to the time of rehearsal they might need to actually be ready to perform!

1 comment:

Alison Croggon said...

I know this is off-topic, but still... I've long been transfixed by Variety's pseudo-hip lingo. Crix, thesps, perfs, orgs, sked... does anyone actually talk like this? And if so, does anyone outside the magic circle understand them?