Project Shakespeare: month #9 wrap up

Well… we did it! We have officially performed every* Shakespeare play in quarantine over Zoom. We started this in March – my friend Abby had the idea to invite a group of her friends to read Midsummer together, and then it just… blossomed into this constant and extraordinary thing that I am so grateful to be a part of.

(*except the ones with non-white characters. As a predominantly white group we opted out of performing Othello, Antony & Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, and Titus Andronicus – instead I ran book clubs on each of those over the last few months.)

So without further ado… the final Project Shakespeare wrap up of Round 1 (more on that in a minute). See all wrap ups here.

Macbeth
★★★★★
my roles: Third Witch, Duncan, Siward, Second Murderer, Porter, Old Man, Third Apparition

For the eagle-eyed among you: yes, we already did Macbeth back in April. But as Halloween fell on a Saturday this year, we thought what could be more appropriate than doing Macbeth again? We did the casting a bit differently too – ordinarily Abby and I cast the plays every week (taking people’s preferences into consideration and also making sure to alternate people playing leads vs. ensemble), but for Halloween Macbeth we decided to make the casting entirely random. This actually resulted in Abby playing Macbeth, which ended up being such an extraordinary performance that I think we were all thrilled with that outcome – and I ended up with the Old People Track, which I found rather amusing since I almost always play young gen characters. This was a great time.

Henry VIII
★★☆☆☆
my roles: First Gentleman, Duke of Suffolk, Porter, Brandon, Servant, Vision

I fucking hate this play. What a SLOG. Our performance was as good as it could possibly have been given that the material is hot garbage. But there was plenty of silliness and an amazing performance as Katherine, as well as an utterly bonkers interpretation of the vision scene, so, still a good time. (Oh, and Biden had been declared the president elect a few hours before so… very good, very weird energy that night.) But if I never have to read Henry VIII again it will be too soon.

Troilus and Cressida
★★★★☆
my roles: Achilles, Paris, Boy, Andromache

I love this play, but not because it’s particularly good – I’m just a big Iliad nerd (I don’t know if you know that about me) so I’ll take any excuse to spend some time with these characters. Playing the little bitch himself, Achilles, was a DREAM – and my friend made me armor so… what more could you ask for.

Richard III
★★★★☆
my roles: Lady Anne, Sir Richard Ratcliff, Second Messenger, Second Citizen

And… the last one! It felt fitting to end Project Shakespeare as a tragic history woman when they have consistently been my favorite characters to play throughout this whole thing. Anyway, as everyone knows Richard III is a fantastic play and it was a great one to end on.

Now let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. Looking at these photos is just… I don’t know; I know I’ve already talked a lot about how shy I am and how outside the box this has been for me, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but also, if you had told me a year ago that I was going to spend 2020 acting and being silly on camera I’d have told you to get your head tested. This has just been such a special and unexpected thing in my life.

So… THERE WE HAVE IT.

But it’s not quite the end. As anyone living in the U.S. knows, quarantine does not appear to be ending any time soon, so we are… diving right back into the plays and beginning Project Shakespeare: Round 2 this weekend. What can I say – the consistency is nice.

Now my question for you all is whether there’s any interest in me continuing to do Project Shakespeare wrap ups for Round 2? On the one hand, I think the majority of my blog audience could do without these in their lives (trust me, no hard feelings – none of us signed up for this); on the other hand, it might be cool to document my evolving relationships with the plays…? Anyway I’m on the fence so let me know! See you soon for my (ir)regularly scheduled blog content.

Project Shakespeare: month #8 wrap up

Can you believe I’ve done so many of these I just forgot about this one…

Anyway, here we go: see all previous wrap ups here.

Two Noble Kinsmen
★★★★☆
my roles: Wooer, First Queen, Prologue, Epilogue, Messenger, First Countryman, Third Countryman, First Knight, Taborer

This was a lot of fun! I like this play, and I couldn’t even tell you why; I just think it’s a bit fun and stupid in a way that really charms me (similar to Comedy of Errors and Merry Wives of Windsor). Arcite and Palamon are such a charming and dynamic duo and our two actors in those roles did such an amazing job coordinating that it was such a pleasure to watch. And shoutout to Abby for playing Jailer’s Daughter as Eponine, a truly inspired choice.

Henry VI Part 2
★★★★☆
my roles: Queen Margaret, Mayer of St. Albans (lol)

As discussed in my last wrap up, I LOVE the Henry VI plays. This one is actually my least favorite of the three, but only narrowly. I find it a little more unfocused than the other two but its saving grace is Margaret of Anjou, simply one of the BEST female characters, and I had such an amazing time playing her. This monologue is one of my favorites:

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“Die, Margaret! For Henry weeps that thou dost live so long.” I LOVE HER. Also, Suffolk 😦

Two Gentlemen of Verona
★★★☆☆
my role: Thurio

Guys… I don’t even know what to say. We cracked. Project Shakespeare finally cracked.

Well, first off – this play is not very good at all. It’s funny because I saw a production of this in college, I remember very few details but I do remember being VERY charmed by it (in hindsight I think it was just the dog…). So, this ENTIRE TIME that I’ve been reading Shakespeare this year I had in the back of my mind that Two Gentlemen of Verona was one of my favorite comedies. Then I finally read it and… yeah it’s absolutely one of the worst. 3 stars may be generous actually but I’m going to revisit all of my star ratings at the end of this project anyway so take them with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I don’t even know why but a few minutes into this play we all just… lost our goddamn minds. Every single person was laughing so hard that we had to stop for like five minutes which has NEVER HAPPENED, IN 8 MONTHS OF DOING THIS!!! So this actually ended up being my second favorite Project Shakespeare experience (after King Lear), it was just… very very joyous. For reasons I absolutely cannot explain.

Henry VI Part 3
★★★★★
my roles: Henry VI

UGH THIS PLAY. The thing about the Henry VI cycle is that none of these plays really works on stage as a stand-alone; you have to perform them all in succession which is a lot to ask of an audience and so I understand why these aren’t exactly crowd-pleasers, but… ugh, this play, these characters, this story. In my opinion this is hands down the best history play. It’s brutal, it’s devastating, the characters are all flawed and heartbreaking. The Margaret/Richard of York scene in act 1 is almost painfully savage but it’s also one of the most compelling scenes of all time – the paper crown, ugh, I just —

Also I ADORE Henry VI as a character, flawed as he is as a ruler – I’m charmed and saddened in equal measure by his gentleness. I had a blast playing him.


We’ve done a couple more since 3H6 but those will have to wait for the next post. Stay tuned for the 9th and FINAL WRAP UP of Project Shakespeare: Round 1…

Project Shakespeare: month #7 wrap up

Mamma mia here we go again…

Henry IV Part 2
★★☆☆☆
my roles: Lady Percy, Francis, Bardolph, Prince John, Servant, Harcourt, Porter, Simon Shadow, Second Groom

I have made no secret of the fact that I kind of hate the Henriad – sorry @ all of Shakespeare scholarship but Henry IV Part 2 is hands down my least favorite play of the 31 that I’ve read so far. The thing about this play is that I just don’t care – I know that’s on me and that it’s not an objective criticism in any way, but it is what it is. I think Hal is a tremendously well-written character whose arc is decently compelling (and those scenes with Henry IV at the end of this play are god-tier as far as emotional devastation goes, which isn’t even to mention Henry IV’s final lines – sob), but that just isn’t enough to really earn my investment in this nearly 3-hour long affair. And as I mentioned in my review of Henry IV Part 1, I find Falstaff insufferable and the comedic subplots in these two plays are frankly painful to slog through.

ALL THAT SAID I haven’t even mentioned the LIGHT OF MY LIFE, Kate Percy. She only appears in one scene in this play and still she delivers what has to be in my top 10 Shakespeare monologues, roasting Northumberland for letting his son Hotspur die in battle 1H4 at the hands of Hal (Monmouth) without sending backup:

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MIC DROP. I ADORE HER.

Anyway, this wasn’t my favorite Project Shakespeare simply because it’s so Falstaff-heavy (though our Falstaff was brilliant so plenty of credit where it’s due to her) and because I was really failing to follow along with the story even though I’d already read it (I don’t think ANYONE was following along with the story that night, idek), but the individual performances were really shining! Oh and I had something like 16 costume changes and my bangs were a complete mess by the end of the night from swapping John’s crown with Bardolph’s baseball cap.

The Merry Wives of Windsor
★★★★☆
my roles: Caius, Pistol, Anne Page, Servant, First Servant, Second Servant

Yes, I know, I just said that I can’t stand Falstaff – no one is more surprised than I am that I didn’t hate Merry Wives. And actually, far from it – it’s probably one of my favorite comedies. It helps that even though Falstaff is the protagonist he is very much the butt of the joke, and it’s lively and refreshing and downright charming to watch all these clever women playing tricks on him. This one was very, very fun to perform.

Coriolanus
★★★★☆
my roles: Menenius, First Roman, Citizen, Seventh Citizen, Third Lord

I might change my rating of this one to 3 stars… I don’t know. I firmly believe that Coriolanus is the single most frustrating Shakespeare play. This play has greatness within its grasp and it is so close to achieving it but it just misses the target. The conflict it sets up is brilliant but it takes an agonizingly long time to get there (I have yet to find a single compelling reason why acts 1-3 can’t be condensed), the play never justifies its length, and the titular character’s lack of interiority can make the reader/viewer feel as though they’re running up against a brick wall. What I do adore about this play though is the dynamic between Coriolanus and Aufidius which I think is one of the most fascinating things Shakespeare ever wrote (I mean… this monologue…..!!) I don’t know – on the one hand this play just has this je ne sais quoi that hooks me and on the other I find it dull and tedious.

Anyway, when I read this play and subsequently watched two different productions Menenius didn’t make much of an impression on me despite his 500+ lines, but I unexpectedly loved playing him, so this was a lot of fun.

Henry VI Part 1
★★★★☆
my roles: Suffolk, Vernon, Bastard of Orleans, Third Servingman, First Warder, Porter, Scout

As my unconventional taste in the histories continues to thrive, I loved the first installment of the Henry VI saga. This play arguably suffers from a lack of a central, cogent narrative conflict (while England v. France is obviously that conflict in a broader sense, it’s rather sweeping in scope), but for whatever reason I find all the mini-conflicts to be equally fascinating, and I thought this play was incredibly entertaining from start to finish. Also, the two back to back scenes where Talbot urges his son to flee when he knows he’s at the brink of death but his son refuses to leave his side are legitimately DEVASTATING. I mean:

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It’s just one small moment in the play but I also think it effectively captures the tragedy of war better than anything.

I also loved playing Suffolk and I think his scene with Margaret is just delightful and utterly absurd and I cannot wait to see her character development over the next two (well, three) plays.

Next up – Two Noble Kinsmen which will surely be a delight. Stay tuned to hear about that in four more weeks.

Project Shakespeare: month #6 wrap up

This is my first ever post with the block editor so… oy, bear with me, confused is an understatement.

Anyway, that’s right, we’ve apparently been doing this for SIX MONTHS (read: 4 calendar weeks x6 – not quite six months but close enough). You know the drill by now. Previous wrap ups here.

The Taming of the Shrew
★★★☆☆
my role: Lucentio

This is a play that I want to hate for obvious reasons, but the reality is that I don’t, at all. It’s lively and charming – the B plot with Tranio, Lucentio et al is nothing short of delightful – and I actually find it more (a) entertaining and (b) intellectually stimulating than the vast majority of the comedies that I’ve read. That said, the misogyny is, obviously, a hard pill to swallow, and I find it almost impossible to navigate that element in a contemporary production in a way that feels palatable without going against the text. (Incidentally, The Public Theatre’s recent radio play of Richard II includes an interview with a professor who mentions her opinion that we should halt all stagings of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and Shrew until we figure out a way to navigate their unfortunate optics, and the more I think about that comment the more I agree.)

There’s been a recent trend of playing Kate’s final speech (an infamous ode to patriarchy which, addressed to a group of other wives, literally contains the line “place your hands below your husband’s foot”) as sarcastic; implying that the shrew has not been tamed, she has merely learned to perform subservience. It’s a reading that doesn’t totally sit well with me – I just have to wonder, if Kate is performing, to what end? She’s still tied to a marriage with an abusive man, and if her spirit has been broken enough to even perform sincerity rather than continuing to obstinately refuse, to me that feels like a hollow triumph. Of course, watching the alternative, where the shrew has been tamed and Kate’s spirit is irrevocably broken, kind of feels like swallowing glass, especially in the context of a play which is otherwise jovial. It’s hard to walk away from this play feeling the sort of warmth you’re generally meant to experience while watching the comedies.

Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Project Shakespeare’s Kate and Petruchio were actually cooking up a third avenue: they choreographed it so that after Kate’s final speech and Petruchio’s final lines, Kate murders Petruchio. (Click that link to witness 10 people’s complete and utter shock unfold in real time, and scroll down to watch the full 30 second video.) Is it tonally incongruous, PERHAPS, but it was wonderfully cathartic when performed to an audience of feminists and staunch Petruchio haters. This was honestly the only acceptable way for this night to end.

Henry IV Part 1
★★★☆☆
my roles: Lady Percy, Vernon, Francis, Carrier, Welsh Lady

Probably my most noteworthy unpopular Shakespeare opinion thus far is that (with the exception of Richard II) I strongly dislike the Henriad. (Seriously side-eying everyone who promised me that Henries IV-V would be my favorite history plays, when they are all… solidly my least favorites. JUSTICE FOR KING JOHN.) This one gets a generous 3 stars because I find the conflict between Hal and Hotspur decently compelling, but otherwise… there is not nearly enough here to hold my interest. I also have to confess to zoning out every time Falstaff opens his mouth.

Cymbeline
★★★★☆
my roles: Queen, Guiderius, Lady, First Brother, First British Captain

I really love Cymbeline. I’m not sure I could argue that this is one of Shakespeare’s better plays – it’s a bit of a mess in the same way Pericles is a bit of a mess, which I adore it for – but god it’s entertaining. I’m weirdly charmed by the genre-hopping in his later plays. Also, this was one of my personal favorite Project Shakespeare performances. Even though it lasted three whole hours (it’s the third-longest Shakespeare play), I was weirdly sad when it ended. The ghost sequence is the hardest I’d laughed in ages.

Julius Caesar
★★★★★
my roles (first show): Calpurnia, Cinna, Second Citizen, Soothsayer, Second Commoner, Lucilius, Ligarius, Lepidus
my role (second show): Brutus

When I first read Julius Caesar earlier this summer, it quickly became one of my favorite plays; I’ve since read it a handful of times, watched three different productions, and now performed it twice, so… it’s been a whirlwind love affair. One of the reasons I love it so much is purely sentimental so let’s just get that one out of the way – I have never loved anything academically as much as I loved all four years of my high school Latin class, so part of what I love about Julius Caesar is simply that it continues the dialogue around a historical event that I first learned about in a context that I adored. But beyond that, I just think it’s a damn good play. The theme of human fallibility is one that I particularly gravitate toward – and I love the inherent ambiguity built into this play. Whether the assassination of Julius Caesar was ‘correct’ – morally or politically – is a question that has given historians pause for centuries, and what I love about this play is that it has no interest in answering that question. This isn’t a play about heroes and villains, it’s about people making impossible choices and suffering the consequences. And getting to play Brutus was a dream. What a role.

Next up: Henry IV Part 2 – solidly my least favorite play of the 25 I’ve read so far – and then I can be done with the Henriad ONCE AND FOR ALL (we’ve already done Henry V).

Project Shakespeare: month #5 wrap up

I’d like to point out that I’m titling these wrap ups somewhat misleadingly: I’m not going by calendar months, but rather, posting once every 4 performances.  So we haven’t quite been doing this for five months… but we have been doing it for a pretty damn long time.  Previous wrap ups here.

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King John
★★★★☆
my role: Constance

I think King John is a marvelous hidden gem; I’m sure it’s one of the less popular ones for a reason, but I don’t care, I honestly love this play.  Part of that is simply down to what interests me (I love a good succession drama and find the central conflict in this play so much more compelling than the histories which have a bigger focus on battle), and part of it is how insanely brilliant this ensemble of characters is.  Philip the Bastard is great fun, the Arthur/Hubert scenes are filled to the brim with pathos, Elinor/Eleanor has some of the sassiest banter, and my fierce, prideful, savvy girl Constance is – I am not exaggerating – my favorite female character that Shakespeare wrote.  I read this monologue and decided that if I didn’t get to play her I WOULD DIE:

Thou mayst, thou shalt; I will not go with thee:
I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble; for my grief’s so great
That no supporter but the huge firm earth
Can hold it up: here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.
[Seats herself on the ground]

But that’s not even the best one!  I MEAN:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!

If that’s not the most gutting thing you’ve ever read I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU.  (I wrote about the potential influence of Hamnet Shakespeare’s death on this monologue here.)

I think the titular character is probably one of the weaker titular roles in all of Shakespeare’s canon and perhaps that is the reason why this play is so oft-overlooked, but weakness is an intrinsic part of John’s character in a way that I find very effective.  So yes – I really really love King John and playing Constance was a personal highlight for me.

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Evening of Scenes & Othello Book Club

I talked about this in my review of Othello, but since our small group is mostly all-white, we will not be performing the plays with non-white characters.  Instead, we did two things: we had a bookclub discussion of Othello on Sunday, and on Saturday night, we had what we called an ‘Evening of Scenes’.

In the weeks leading up, Abby (our fearless leader) and I probably spent about five hours on Zoom reading and acting out various scenes from various plays.  We then chose a selection of scenes that stood out to us, had everyone in the group request a scene they’d like to do, and divvied them up.  I think we ended up doing fourteen scenes in total, from the following plays: Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado, Hamlet, and Othello (Iago/Cassio and Iago/Roderigo scenes only), and in between scenes we also had people perform monologues.  We had: Viola’s “I left no ring with her,” Malvolio’s “O, ho! do you come near me now?”, Lady Anne’s “Set down, set down your honourable load,” Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger,” Hal’s “Once more unto the breach,” something of Queen Margaret’s, Macbeth’s “To be thus is nothing,” Miranda’s opening monologue, and of course “To be or not to be.”

The whole thing was a goddamn delight.  I ended up playing: Olivia in Twelfth Night, Titania in Midsummer, Cassio in Othello, and Gertrude in Hamlet, and I did Macbeth’s “is this a dagger” monologue (which I’ve had memorized for about a decade for no particular reason, so I finally got to put that to good use).  I think everyone had an amazing time and we will definitely be doing this again.

As for Othello: you can read my review if you’re interested in my thoughts, but in short: I think it’s an incredibly engaging and dynamic play but the racial optics are a nightmare to untangle, to say the least.

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Richard II
★★★★☆
my role: Aumerle

It was Abby’s birthday this week, and her birthday present to us all was playing Richard and doing a really really really extraordinary job.  We took inspiration from the David Tennant RSC production (which you can watch on Marquee.tv – it’s a paid subscription but there’s a free trial) and erased Sir Pierce Exton entirely – I just read his lines still in character as Aumerle.  While the Richard/Aumerle romance from that production was really shoehorned in there (in a way that I didn’t mind!) I feel like the decision to have Aumerle kill Richard actually works well with the text and is a much more compelling end to the arc of the Richard/Aumerle dynamic, and more narratively satisfying than some rando off the street killing Richard.  Anyway, I like this play; it’s not my favorite, I find the ensemble characters uniformly uninspiring, but Richard is a tremendously compelling character and the language in this play is outstanding (‘for god’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings’!!!!!)

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Love’s Labor’s Lost
★★★★☆
my roles: Maria and Holofernes

What a bizarre play.  When I inevitably do a ranking of all Shakespeare plays at the end of this, I already know that Love’s Labor’s Lost is the one that’s going to give me the most grief.  I don’t think this is a good play, at all – I think it’s disjointed and a structural mess and the narrative is incredibly flimsy and it feels insane that I’m giving it 4 stars when I gave 3 stars to Twelfth Night and Much Ado… but for a comedy, I actually really, really enjoy this?  I love the characters and the wordplay and the incongruously somber note at the end.

This is also a really great ensemble show; we all had such fun performing this one.  I also created a whole schtick where I performed Maria as Maria from The Sound of Music… even though my character’s name was technically supposed to be pronounced Mariah, but, you know.  Artistic liberties.


What’s your favorite Shakespeare scene?  I need inspo for Evening of Scenes round 2!

Project Shakespeare: month #4 wrap up

I know I start all of these wrap ups by going ‘how are we already x months into this’ but HOW ARE WE ALREADY FOUR MONTHS INTO THIS?!  That is absolutely wild.  Well, let’s jump straight in, shall we?  Previous wrap ups here.

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Romeo & Juliet
★★★★★
my role (first show): Chorus, Lady Montague, Servant, Third Musician, Page
my role (second show): Romeo

I wholeheartedly love this play, and it’s fine if you don’t but honestly I’ve never heard a single criticism of it that I don’t find inane (‘it’s just instalove!’ completely disregards the fact that theatre has different storytelling conventions than novels and that you can’t be sat there for eleven hours while a slow-burn romance unfolds before your eyes; not to mention – the fact that they’re rash young teenagers is one of the play’s significant themes; their romance isn’t narratively treated as Rational).  Anyway, to each his own, but Romeo & Juliet is very much my cup of tea – compelling characters, engaging story, beautiful language, and a devastating yet inevitable conclusion that reads like a punch to the gut every time.

This probably sounds silly given that we are not performing these on stage but rather to a group of about 10-15 people (friends) on Zoom, but playing Romeo is literally one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.  I was petrified.  The thing about Project Shakespeare that makes it so fun and magical is that people actually try; everyone allows themselves to be vulnerable and actually act rather than sitting there and reading the lines with a straight face.  As I’ve talked about before, I’m not an actor, this is all new territory for me.  So the morning of the second performance, I was just hit by the most crushing self-doubt, because… I asked to play Romeo?  Romeo?  I actually asked for thisWho the hell do I think I am?!  So, it was hard, but it was also one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done.  I just adore this character so much and I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life if I had chickened out of doing this.  Plus I played Romeo opposite my good friend Will (of Books and Bao)’s Juliet (+ the night before we had a female Romeo and female Juliet), so we kind of just gender-fucked the whole play all weekend and that was a fantastic choice.  Just, amazing times all around, this was one of my favorite weekends.

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All’s Well That Ends Well
★★☆☆☆
my role: Widow, First Soldier

In contrast, I… do not love this play!  In fact, it’s solidly my least favorite of all 19 I’ve now read.  I’ve talked about this before, but in general the comedies really do not do it for me; I rarely find them amusing and find that they lack a certain heart, which I feel is the case with All’s Well.  It has some great characters, I’ll give it that, but it really doesn’t come to life for me on the page, and reading it was a pretty massive chore.  Which is why it surprised me that our performance of this ended up being one of my favorites yet – it was just so damn camp and delightful.  Our talented Helena and talented Countess were giving Broadway-worthy performances while the rest of us just acted like complete clowns for a couple of hours, and I just had the best time.  I still don’t love the play and I don’t think I’d even enjoy watching it on stage, but getting to be a part of it (in peak melodrama form as the Widow) was a delight.

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Pericles
★★★★★
my roles: Lysimachus, Lychorida, Lord, Escanes

The biggest surprise for me so far as I make my way through the Complete Works – and probably my biggest Unpopular Opinion to date – is that I FUCKING LOVE PERICLES.  This is – and I cannot stress this enough – the stupidest, most absurd play I have ever read.  It starts with a comically unnecessary riddle about incest; it takes place over twenty years in approximately twelve different countries and it feels like it’s trying to be about eight different genres along the way; at one point a major character is about to be killed and right as the murderer draws his knife she’s kidnapped by pirates who then leave the play about two seconds after they deliver her to a brothel… this play is just a hot mess all around.  So, why do I love it?  You know the lack of heart that I was just talking about; I find the opposite of Pericles – I think it has heart in abundance.  The titular character’s journey is really quite devastating, but it culminates in two beautiful reunions and the final scene is one of my favorite things that Shakespeare wrote (there are plenty of authorship questions surrounding Pericles but it’s generally believed that the first two acts were written by George Wilkins and the final three by Shakespeare).  I also just think it’s an unapologetically fun time – I dare anyone to read this and not be entertained.

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Measure for Measure
★★★★☆
my role: Escalus

Measure for Measure was also a pretty big surprise though, I must say.  Only a comedy by technicality, this is genuinely… one of the darkest plays I’ve read so far.  I knew nothing about this play going in, but interestingly, though it’s set in Vienna, I could tell within two minutes of reading that the source material it’s based off is Italian (not just the character names – the setting and the themes in particular are undeniably Italian).  I have a (useless!) major in Italian Lit and this brought me back to… literally every novel I ever had to read in college, so there was something sort of comfortably familiar about it that I think endeared me to it.  It’s not my favorite play and I won’t be in a hurry to read it again any time soon, but I also found it rather interesting and unsettling in a way that stuck with me for days.  Performing it was good fun too and it was a rather cathartic choice to do the ultimate ACAB play on the 4th of July.


Up next: King John, which I read for the first time a few weeks ago and which is one of my new favorite plays!  I’m really looking forward to this.

Also, before I go, I just want to briefly comment on the fact that I’ve been rather terrible at blogging lately.  I had a week off work last week and I thought I mind find my blogging motivation then, but that didn’t happen; but upon reflection I actually think I work blogging into my life more easily when my days have more structure.  So, I’m sorry that I haven’t been more active on here – not only on my own blog, but especially everyone else’s – but quarantine has been weird times.  I’m optimistic I’ll soon get back on this horse, but, I’m sorry again – I do miss all of you guys.

Anyway, leave a comment to talk about Shakespeare or anything else!

Project Shakespeare: month #3 wrap up

It’s kind of mind-blowing that we’re three months into this already, but let’s just dive straight into this!  Months 1 and 2 wrap ups are here and here respectively – see month 1 if you’re unsure what this whole thing is all about.

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Much Ado About Nothing
★★★☆☆
my role (first show): Leonato
my role (second show): Hero

We had another double feature, doing our regular Saturday evening show and then a Sunday matinee.  I played Leonato one day and his daughter Hero the next, two rather different experiences.  Hero is the character that I like and connect with the most in this play, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to play her.  Leonato I didn’t ‘get’ quite as much, so when in doubt, overcompensate by laying on the drunk, corny dad energy thick.

Much Ado was new to me, and I had high hopes as this seems to be everyone’s favorite play – or if not their favorite, at least in their top 5.  I can see why; it’s charming and witty and a healthy dose sassier than its oft-compared Twelfth Night.  I desperately wanted to like it more than I did.  This is the play that really confirmed for me that I’m never going to love the comedies (at least, not this type of comedy; something like The Tempest is a different story).  This week more than most made me really reflect on what works for me in Shakespeare’s plays (and literature in general, more broadly) and what doesn’t.  Ultimately I just need there to be something of consequence at stake, and ‘whether or not Beatrice and Benedick hook up’ just doesn’t do it for me.  I don’t dislike this play at all but neither is it a new favorite.

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The Winter’s Tale
★★★☆☆
my roles: Florizel, Time, Gaoler, First Lady

This play is very tonally uneven, so my thoughts about it are all over the place.  The thing is, I can enjoy both halves of what Shakespeare is doing in this play.  I can get behind an aged ruler making terrible and selfish decisions that lead to the death of his loved ones (Lear) and I can get behind jaunty forest shenanigans (Midsummer), but the fusion of the two… does not work for me here, probably because I don’t find a single one of these characters interesting or compelling in the slightest.  I like isolated moments in this play but overall it really fails to move me.  I do like Florizel well enough though, and playing Time was fun.  This was an enjoyable read-through; we went a bit wild with “exit, pursued by a bear” with everyone providing their own interpretation of The Bear.  But, I don’t know, this one is just a bit too weird for me overall.

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Timon of Athens
★★★☆☆
my roles: Painter, Varro’s Second Man, Third Friend, Some Speak, Third Bandit

Speaking of weird plays… Timon was also new to me and I find it both interesting and underwhelming in equal measure.  Interesting in that it reads more like a fable than a tragedy, and its tone is probably the most singular of any Shakespeare play I’ve read so far (which would make sense, given that it was cowritten), so it was just a bit of a different experience overall.  Underwhelming in that I found the language in this one rather static and not terribly moving (though once Timon begins to descend into madness he does get some poignant monologues), and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly intriguing.

This read-through was just as chaotic as you would expect from a play with 50+ characters, only 4 of whom really have any kind of significant role.  But chaos can be fun sometimes, and that was absolutely the case here.  There were ridiculous accents everywhere, me and Abby poured glasses of water over own heads in a scene where Timon throws water over a crowd of spectators, and the whole thing was grounded by a brilliant, elegant portrayal of Timon by Will, who stayed up until 3 am for this nonsense, for which we were all SO grateful.

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Henry V
★★★☆☆
my roles: Katharine, Duke of Orleans, Duke of York, Sir Thomas Grey

I had a somewhat lukewarm experience reading this script, but while I was reading I had the thought that it would be a terribly compelling play to see on stage.  And indeed, if our performance is anything to go by, damn, this is a brilliant piece of theatre.  This was my favorite Project Shakespeare performance since Lear, and I loved every second of it.  Seeing my college roommate and name twin Rachel shine while playing Hal was probably the highlight, but the leek scene had everyone in hysterics, and getting to perform a whole scene in French is one of my favorite things that I’ve gotten to do in weeks.  She’s a small role, but Katharine quickly became one of my favorite Shakespeare characters – I dare anyone to read this scene of Katharine learning English (linking to No Fear Shakespeare for the English translation) and not be overwhelmed by how cute it is.  I just can’t even explain how great everyone’s energy was for this performance.  Bring on the rest of the histories, tbh!


Up next: a Romeo & Juliet double feature, with me playing Romeo on Sunday, which is… an exciting and terrifying prospect!

Project Shakespeare: month #2 wrap up

As you’ve probably noticed, Shakespeare has utterly taken over my life lately, in the form of weekly readings over Zoom.  If you missed my first Project Shakespeare wrap up you can read that here, but now we’re done with month #2, which is a little surreal to think about.  Anyway, let’s talk through these plays:

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As You Like It
★★★☆☆
my role: Celia

The thing about As You Like It is that it’s… really fucking weird?! The conflict that’s set up in the first act never really materializes into anything (what even happens to Frederick?), character development happens entirely off-stage or without reason (Oliver’s a good guy now! because… Celia needs a husband!), there is an OFF-STAGE LION ATTACK? IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FRENCH FOREST?, there’s a wedding in which two people are married by… an actual god?! What even is this play???!  (Potentially a satire of the pastoral genre, I know; still, regardless of its intentions, it’s weird as hell and it’s hard to totally warm up to.)

But it’s equally hard not to be at least a little charmed by it. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is one of the most pure and touching female friendships that Shakespeare wrote, and I had a blast playing Celia, who starts out sweet and simple and becomes increasingly more jaded and frustrated by Rosalind’s shenanigans, while still lending her support.  Celia is truly the unsung MVP of this play.  Though, shout-out to Patrick for his minute-long dramatic entrance as Jaques (Jay-kweez).

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Hamlet
★★★★★
my role: Laertes

I mean… it’s Hamlet.  This is actually only one of two Shakespeare plays I ever studied in school (the other being Macbeth), so I feel like I have a stronger grasp on it than some others, and I do enjoy it immensely.

As a group, I think we were all a little nervous about Hamlet – it was only the second tragedy we’ve done after Macbeth, and Macbeth is still a ‘fun’ play in a way that Hamlet isn’t.  The prospect of putting on a 3+ hour Zoom production of Hamlet was a little daunting, but those 3+ hours positively flew by.  We divided the role of Hamlet into two (everyone knows that Hamlet is a massive role, but for context, he has twice as many lines as Prospero in The Tempest, which is… already a massive role), jokingly into Ham and Let, and both halves of our Ham/Let duo brought so much heart and passion (and sass) that it was a joy to watch.  The two other clear stars that emerged were our Claudius and Ophelia; two characters I’ve never given much thought to, Claudius being so easy to portray as a mustache-twirling villain and Ophelia being The Generic Tragic Ingenue.  But Abby brought such a pathos and humanity to Claudius that this monologue gave us all chills, and Pamela broke all of our hearts with her tender portrayal of Ophelia.  Really incredible acting all around this week.

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Comedy of Errors
★★★★☆
my role: Solinus

Following Hamlet, we opted for the shortest play.  And what an unexpected breath of fresh air this was!  All I knew going into this was that it was one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and that it was about two sets of twins and mistaken identity, and, indeed, that’s pretty much all there is to it.  Heavy on the commedia dell’arte vibes, Comedy of Errors is just an unapologetically stupid romp, and I enjoyed every second of it.  Its short length is absolutely part of its charm, because it smartly does not overstay its welcome (these dumb characters already take far too long to catch on to what’s happening), but by the time it ended I think everyone wanted another hour of it.

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King Lear
★★★★★
my role: Edmund

I actually have no words for this experience but I’ll try to come up with something.  King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play – I’m utterly obsessed with the high-stakes drama and scale of tragedy.  It’s also thematically satisfying and narratively ambiguous in a way that REALLY works to my tastes, and I think it has the most devastating ending of any Shakespeare play.  Edmund is my favorite character – he’s the one I’ve always been the most compelled by, and I think he’s one of Shakespeare’s more interesting villains.  Because in a lot of ways, he’s set up to be a sort of underdog hero – most of his ‘thou nature art my goddess’ monologue appeals directly to the audience and is actually disturbingly compelling.  Because yes, who among us has not been screwed out of something we deserve; why shouldn’t he fight for what’s been denied to him by unjust social custom?  Of course, that’s up until his line ‘well then, legitimate Edgar’ when the monologue takes a turn for the sinister and you realize that Edmund’s ambitions are naturally at the expense of his own family.  But even after he is set up as the play’s chief antagonist (along with Goneril and Regan), his motives remain clear and cogent and perversely sympathetic – and his dying moments show a flicker of tenderness toward his brother that suggest that power for power’s sake was never the goal so much as being accepted by the family that he betrays – and I am unendingly interested in untangling the knot that is his character.

Anyway, much as I love Edmund, I felt nervous about requesting him.  If you’ve been following the roles I’ve been taking, you will see a very clear pattern: Straight Good Men and ingenues.  Both of which I’ve had a lot of fun with, but neither of which require a whole lot of… acting?  (Or at least, you can get away with less acting; I should put it that way.)  But I decided fuck it, I would never have this opportunity again and I would be kicking myself if I requested Cordelia out of fear (though I do quite like Cordelia).

Everything about this production was magical.  I know it probably sounds hyperbolic to call it a production, but the caliber of everyone involved blew me away.  (You can watch the eye gouging scene here; I truly cannot recommend it highly enough.)  Abby and Rachel choreographed that scene beautifully and Abby, who was a brilliant Gloucester, played the rest of the show with a blindfold onMaggie played Kent’s disguise with an Irish accent; Ashley played Edgar with FOUR ACCENTS.  And Pamela and Chelsea were the absolute heart and soul of this production as Lear and Cordelia respectively; I have chills just thinking about the final act and how much the two of them broke my heart (and has there ever been a more chilling line than ‘Never, never, never, never, never’).  Anyway, it’s hard to evaluate your own performance with any kind of objectivity, but I am proud of having pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this, as playing Edmund was an absolute dream and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Doing a play a week has been brilliant but I’m finding it a little hard to move on from this one!


So that’s that!  Up next: Much Ado About Nothing.  Stay tuned for the next installment in a month.

Shakespeare question of the day and in honor of me memorizing both ‘thou nature art my goddess’ and ‘this is the excellent foppery of the world’ this week – what’s your favorite Shakespeare monologue?  Comment and tell me!

Project Shakespeare: month #1 wrap up

Since Shakespeare has been dominating my reading of late, and because I suck at writing up full-length reviews of classics, I thought I’d take you through the first month of this #ProjectShakespeare experience with me.

Project Shakespeare, if you didn’t see me mention it before, was an idea that my friend Abby came up with, to gather a group of friends and read/perform a different Shakespeare play every Saturday night until we’re out of quarantine.  We’ve done four plays so far, so let’s go through them:

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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
★★★★★
my roles: Hippolyta, Snug, Moth

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I go way back.  My acting debut (and also… the last time I acted) was in a performance of Midsummer that my fifth grade class put on.  At the time I desperately wanted to play Puck, and given the fact that in fifth grade MY NICKNAME WAS PUCK, not being given the role of Puck felt like a personal attack that I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from.  (I spitefully memorized Puck’s if we shadows have offended monologue, which I can still recite to this day.)

Despite this traumatic event, I have a very strong fondness for Midsummer.  Being eleven at the time this was obviously my first exposure to Shakespeare, and I found it weird and enchanting.  Fairies, mischief, a play within a play… what’s not to love?  What struck me as an adult is how good of an ensemble play this is – is there even a main character?! – it’s no wonder that so many schools and community theatres opt for this one.  It’s also just unabashedly fun in a way that entertains rather than grates.

And shoutout to my friend Patrick for serving us the hammiest portrayal of Bottom that the (virtual) stage has ever seen.

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THE TEMPEST
★★★★☆
my role: Miranda

In contrast, The Tempest was new to me!  I knew it was Abby’s favorite play and had been looking for a good excuse to read it for a while now, and I’m glad I did.  Before I read it she predicted ‘you’ll like it but it won’t be your new favorite’ and I’d say that’s an accurate assessment.  Though I suppose it can technically classified as a comedy, it’s decidedly less comedic than Shakespeare’s more carefree plays – there’s a real thematic heft to it that compelled me so much that I think if the ending had culminated in tragedy and bloodshed, it would have been a new favorite after all (sorry, I’m predictable).

Reading the script a few days before requesting a role, I was most drawn to Miranda, so I decided to throw my name in the hat for the play’s only canonical female character, who I did end up playing.  Miranda has been my favorite character to play so far – in some ways she’s the archetype of The Ingenue; innocent, loving, trusting, filled with more compassion than experience.  But her upbringing adds a layer of complexity – she’s never seen the face of another woman, she’s lived a life entirely subservient to her father in the microcosmically patriarchal society that he’s created on this island.  Still she shows an inherent moral goodness which at times is in conflict with her father’s own agenda; in fact, the first time we’re introduced to Miranda it’s in the context of her challenging her father; the play’s hero automatically taken down a peg by his teenaged daughter.  (The scene that results from this argument also reminded me so strongly of the dynamic between Valjean and Cosette in Les Misérables that it tugged at my heartstrings.)

Anyway, The Tempest was a joy to read and perform, and one that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who’s a little intimidated by Shakespeare and isn’t sure where to start.  The language was some of the most accessible yet beautiful that I’ve read in any Shakespeare play – O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

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TWELFTH NIGHT
★★★☆☆
my roles: First Officer, Curio

Twelfth Night is not my favorite, and not just because my first exposure to it was an incredibly bizarre community production which was entirely period except for the unexplained choice to make Fabian a surfer dude.  (Who is Fabian, anyway?)  The thing about Twelfth Night is that none of the couples are particularly worth rooting for – Viola is great, and naturally we want her happiness, but Orsino is such a dunce it’s hard to be thrilled about that conclusion.  It’s also hard to rejoice in Malvolio’s comeuppance, because what has Malvolio even done that that’s outrageous other than be a bit of a Squidward?!  (High literary analysis you’re getting here.)

Nevertheless, I enjoy it.  It’s gay, it’s chaotic, it’s got some strong characters (I particularly love Viola and Olivia) and great comedic moments.  I just find it curiously cold overall.  Still, another strong week for Project Shakespeare, with people going harder and harder each week both with props and acting choices.

[changed my 4 star rating to 3 stars a few weeks later – I need to be honest with myself, I am not a big Twelfth Night fan.]

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MACBETH x2!
★★★★★
my roles (first show): Lady Macduff, Gentlewoman, Angus, Lord, Third Apparition, Soldiers
my role (second show): Malcolm

That’s right – we put on TWO performances of Macbeth.  Since there were so many requests to play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and since it’s everyone’s favorite play (I’m not going to say you’re lying if you say your favorite play isn’t Macbeth, but…), we decided to do our usual Saturday evening show and then put on a Sunday matinee.  I think five or six of us did both shows, with our roles incredibly shuffled up on the two days, but some people just did one or the other.  On Sunday we were joined by my friends Will and Jess who were a most welcome addition – Will played Macbeth and put on a Scottish accent whose authenticity is dubious but which utterly charmed the group of Americans who were watching it.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to my college roommate Rachel for getting into her bathtub and slathering herself in fake blood for her role of Lady Macbeth – the commitment bar has been raised so high I’m not sure how we’re ever going to top it.

Anyway, Macbeth, what is there even to say?  Another fun thing about this is that it’s the first time I’ve read the play since becoming utterly obsessed with Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, an avant-garde Macbeth retelling set in an abandoned hotel in Chelsea (Manhattan).  Hearing lines read aloud by my friends which have been whispered into my ear by performers in the McKittrick was chilling (‘blood will have blood!’)

I also had an excellent time playing Malcolm, a rather uninspiring character for the fact that he’s one of the four characters with the most lines – still, I tried very very hard to breathe some life into him and I had a great time doing it.


I feel like I can’t talk about any of this without talking about the fact that – and I don’t think this comes through very well with my online persona, so I do have to stress this – I am painfully shy.  Something like this even five years ago would have mortified me so much that the thought of participating would have made me physically ill.  I don’t know what it is that inspired me to finally put myself out there and actually try at something for once in my life that I’m not naturally gifted at, but I think the fact that the stakes are so remarkably low has been soothing my anxiety.  Project Shakespeare has also been the one constant in my life that has broken up the monotony of the weeks, so I think I really needed something like this to occupy me as I struggle to concentrate on most other things.

Anyway, that’s all.  Tomorrow night we’re doing As You Like It (I’m Celia) and the week after, Hamlet.  I will report back in another four weeks on how those went.

Tell me two things in the comments: what’s your favorite Shakespeare play, and what’s the silliest, lowest-stakes thing that’s been a comfort to you during quarantine?

And if you have a group of nerdy friends who could join you as you read early modern plays over Zoom, I cannot recommend something like this highly enough.

Stay safe and stay inside if you can.  xx