Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A chat with Laura Payne on the endurance of Shakespeare

Q: In this play, a group of actresses (and an actor or two) are working to put together a production of Shakespeare’s Henriad trilogy in the thick of World War II. Shakespeare’s text and stories resonate with the women in the play, and will also likely resonate with Stage West audiences seeing and hearing the production. As he continues to be one of the most produced playwrights in the world, what do you think it is about Shakespeare’s plays that continue to resonate and entertain today?

Laura Payne: Imagine a ten-year-old girl, sitting in front of the television set watching Henry V with Kenneth Branagh absolutely mesmerized. As a burgeoning theater kid, obsessed with the televised production of West End’s Cats, the Brandy Cinderella, and the 1955 Oklahoma!, my mother quickly recognized a pattern; so, in popped the VHS of the 1989 Henry V. This ten-year-old was hooked. I was entranced by the language, the drama, and the poetry. I could watch Henry woo the French Kate over and over again. I was fascinated with the character of “the boy,” and wanted to play him as soon as I could. My mother, seeing this intense reaction, then popped in the 1993 Much Ado About Nothing (also Branagh) and I was hooked again! I loved watching the comedic tricks, the love stories, and the witty language. I loved watching Emma Thompson quip, “a bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours” as much as I had loved Branagh’s rousing “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Soon after, I begged for a complete works of Shakespeare, mostly to have on the shelf and not yet read. But no fear, by age 13 I was reading them all. I attended a reading focused school and in fifth grade we started reading abridged versions of Shakespeare, beginning with Romeo and Juliet (“a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”) and (my favorite) Much Ado About Nothing. We even got the chance to perform Much Ado, and although I did not get to play my dream of Beatrice, I jumped in gladly to play the benevolent Prince Don Pedro. After that, we read a Shakespeare a year, it was Julius Caesar (“e tu, Brute”) in 6th grade, Henry V (again for me) in 7th, and The Merchant of Venice (“the quality of mercy is not strained”) in 8th. Not to mention by 18 I had read As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Antony and Cleopatra. By 18, I had consumed almost a third of Shakespeare’s canon.

I start this way not to make any points about my reading prowess, most of these were read only after watching their film adaptations. But more to turn the question, “why does Shakespeare’s work resonate with audience all these years” back on myself. For why was a young girl who barely understood the language and the poetry (and let’s face it, most of the humor), so enthralled by this playwright?

First, story. Little Laura was simply obsessed with the stories. Whether comedy or dramas or histories, western literature has followed in Shakespeare’s footsteps when it comes to storytelling. Whether it’s the playboy turned king and hero (The Henriad), the antihero (Richard III), mistaken identities (Twelfth Night or As You Like It), or star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet), these tropes and stories are familiar to us now. If acted well, you don’t even need to understand every word of Shakespeare to know where the story will go. It’s an intense feeling of familiarity without even realizing it, and I think that is part of what childhood me loved so much about these movies, and then subsequently the scripts themselves (once she got a bit older and could actually understand them). And I believe that’s why we love seeing Shakespeare still today. Not to mention, these stories are extremely adaptable and is it not such a joy to see them done in different ways!

And that gets me to my second reason why we all love Shakespeare so much, the language. Even if I couldn’t quite understand every word, I understood the feeling. Great poetry is not about word for word understanding, it is about what the words evoke. In some ways, Shakespeare’s plays perform like fairy tales, with heightened language that makes everything seem more beautiful, more important, or more hilarious. Even after saying the St. Crispin’s day speech every day in rehearsal, I still get chills reciting, “then he will strip his sleeve and show his scar and say, these wounds I had on Crispin’s Day.” Try saying this line for example and take note of how many s-sounds are in it. A quick google search and you’ll see this is called sibilance, and sibilance is often used to create a drawing in or immersive response for the listener. I mean, call that genius. To use sibilance during a speech wherein a King is inspiring his men to not fear battle. And this kind of language and poetry is in so much of Shakespeare’s work! It’s why when writing this I can think of a line from every play I have mentioned. It’s why we keep coming back, to watch the fairy tales. Not just the stories themselves but also the way in which they are told.

The Shakespeare nerd in me could go on and on and write speeches and speeches about why these plays are still produced. But I’ll end here. Take a moment to think of your favorite Shakespeare line, and if you don’t have one, just flip through that old Complete Works by William Shakespeare that you probably have on your bookshelf, and I bet you’ll find one you like pretty quickly.

Patron Spotlight: Bill Slater and Elizabeth Doane

Stage West Development Manager, Tonya Wilson-Brown sits down with Stage West board member, Bill Slater and his wife Elizabeth Doane, both long-time supporters and avid theatre-goers:

1. How did you hear about Stage West, and how long have you been attending?

Bill: We have known about Stage West for about 10 years. I was asked to consider coming on the board by an old friend of mine, Bronson Davis, who worked at TCU with me at the same time. Bronson and I had lunch together one day and had a conversation about it. Then I met Dana and was very impressed. I thought it would be a good thing to join the board and help out as much as I could.

2. What is your favorite show you have seen at the theatre and why?

Elizabeth: The Molly Ivins play (Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins) and Ann: The Ann Richards Play. I also liked On The Exhale. It was good. I like the one-person plays.

Both: EVERYTHING is good.

Bill: When we come out to the theatre (we come to just about every performance) we bring another couple with us and have the full experience. The ability to sit down and have dinner is a great addition to the theatre. And Pam is so friendly and warm. The food is good and service is wonderful. It is something Stage West has that others don’t.

3. What is your favorite show of this season and why?

Elizabeth: Witch and Church and State - we enjoyed them both.

Bill: The theatre does a good job of selecting actors. We know we will see good performances every time we visit Stage West.

4. Why do you support Stage West?

Elizabeth: We loved Acting with the Stars. This was one of our favorite events to support the theatre.

Bill: Quite simply, Stage West does good work. You take a look at what the theatre was 10 years ago and you see what type of progress the staff and board have made. The renovation was one thing that was a big project that we all feel a big sense of pride in accomplishing…you, me, anyone who played a part in that happening. We now have a facility that is good for our use. There was good thought put into making the building accessible to the community for education and more.

5. What keeps you coming back?

Elizabeth: We are theatre people. We visit many in the area and have gone to New York and London for theatre.

Bill: We used to go to London over the holidays and see a show every evening.

6. If you had 3 words to describe Stage West to a new patron, what would they be?

In a full sentence: A good performance for your dollar.

We thank Bill and Elizabeth for their long-time support of Stage West our local arts scene!

A moment with Director vickie washington about the gathering

Q: At the first rehearsal for our production of What to Send Up When It Goes Down, you mentioned that the work and spirit of this script are near and dear to you. It is a piece that upends our expectations of what theatre can be and what it can do. Without giving too much away, what excites you most about crafting and sharing the experience of this piece with our audiences?

A: I, vickie washington, am an Afrikan-Ancestored Black Woman, who recognizes the practice of Theatre as a Sacred Gift. With that as my lived and living reality, when the opportunity to direct Aleshea Harris’ What to Send Up When It Goes Down was presented to me, I received it with much gratitude. In the face of the many forms of Anti-Black violence and relentless killings, What to Send Up When It Goes Down gives us the precious opportunity to come together and heal – utilizing song, dance, breath, story, myth, and yes, Ritual… the first theater. To be able to do so at Stage West, with creatives who recognize and honor the value of Black lives; along with this talented and committed cast, is blessing on top of blessing. Nightly we honor the memories of those whose lives have been stolen, and we drop the ugliness and the violence that far too often has been placed on us. In a world and a time that would have us to focus only on the pain, we push through to find the joy and self-love that has far too often been denied to Black folk. So come on and Heal.With.Us. #onandup