Friday, February 11, 2011

Cutting the Bard

Over at 2AM Theatre, Director Kate Powers talks about where and how to cut Shakespeare:

Granville Barker wrote, “Topical passages …show like dead wood in the living tree of the dialogue.”

Sir Toby Belch, for instance, in Twelfth Night, refers to the Bed of Ware in England; there are great annotations to be read about the estimable size of the bed in question (think John Denver on The Muppets, singing “Grandma’s Featherbed” or The Witches of Eastwick, lounging with Jack Nicholson), but none of that research can be conveyed in performance, so my blue pencil goes gamely through it every time. Conversely, in the same play, Malvolio tells us that “the yeoman of the wardrobe married the Lady of the Strachy” and, even though there is a nearly inexhaustible supply of scholarship amounting to a bibliographical shrug about the meaning of this, it kills onstage, so I always leave it be.

If the production is pressed for time, if is a school tour, for instance, or some other exigency applies, and I have to adhere to two brisk hours’ traffic of our stage, I will cut repetitions of ideas or language. I am comfortable cutting the senators who appear for the first time late in Cymbeline, never to be heard from again; I can sacrifice one or two of Autloycus’ tunes in The Winter’s Tale, because once we’ve established his character, the additional songs don’t shed a correspondent amount of light.

One must take care that one doesn’t start solving one’s own problems through cutting. Cutting, difficult at first, can grow on one, and it can be easy / lazy to say, “well, that language is dense and I don’t get it, so I’ll just get rid of it” instead of working to solve it. It is often to the point in Shakespeare that the language does not immediately yield the heart of its mystery.

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