Nicole Dieker is already looking forward to the forthcoming “On Experience, Part 3.”
On Tuesday, I asked the question “how do you create an artistic experience in which the work takes precedence, and audience and creators build a memorable, temporal relationship around a shared idea?”
Then I told you that I’d give you an example.
Here’s a clip from the 2012 Shakespeare’s Globe production of Twelfth Night, directed by Tim Carroll:
I love everything about this performance, but what I love most of all is that the production itself is based on a single unifying goal — to produce Shakespeare as closely as possible to the way it was done in Shakespeare’s day, from the staging to the instruments to the buttons on the actors’ clothing — and yet it is in no way exclusive. It doesn’t ask the audience to know these details, and it doesn’t even necessarily ask the audience to appreciate them as details.
This Twelfth Night simply asks the audience to pay attention and enjoy the story.
And they do.
There are other performances of Twelfth Night that ask the audience to pay attention and enjoy the concept. L and I watched pretty much all the available film and television and bootleg stage recordings of Twelfth Night we could get our hands on, and we were astonished at how many of them minimized the text in favor of an additional artifice — most often, a “unique” setting or time period. One production in particular seemed to assume that the audience wouldn’t be able to follow the text, and so the performance didn’t have to either. The actors could say words words words while their actions and faces demonstrated entirely different things, because it was too much work to get it right and a lot easier to put a gimmick on top of it.
This isn’t to say that every modern Shakespeare, or every “Shakespeare but in the nineteenth century,” is gimmicky. After we watched this particular Twelfth Night, for example, we immediately went back and watched clips of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo+Juliet (because we couldn’t watch the entire thing for free on any of our streaming channels) and the entirety of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (because we could) just to remind ourselves that you can do the extra thing and still make a story-based connection.
That is, you can still do the modern time period thing or the Shakespeare In Space thing or the gender-bent production and put the work at the center.
The real question is what makes Branagh’s Hamlet, which does this so very well, different from Branagh’s Twelfth Night, which falls just a bit short. (At a certain point we had to stop Branagh’s Twelfth Night to say “Okay, they either didn’t understand what they were saying or didn’t think we’d understand it, so they decided to make the actors do rude gestures with their hands instead. It got a laugh, good on them, but it wasn’t an integrated laugh.“)
I mean, the answer is probably that Branagh had eight years of additional experience between his 1988 Twelfth Night and his 1996 Hamlet. He probably had a few more problem-solving tools at his disposal. He might also have had more directorial freedom with Hamlet than he did with Twelfth Night; certainly he had a stronger cast and a larger budget.
At this point I’m remembering that Kenneth Branagh is a real person with access to the internet who could be reading this right now, and I feel kind of bad for assuming things about him.
So enough about that.
More on how to create a work-centered experience — including my own story of staging a non-integrated laugh in a production of Tartuffe — next week. ❤️