In celebration of Juneau’s first Bard-a-thon, which begins Saturday, the Juneau Empire asked a handful of theater artists from our community to share their earliest Shakespearian experience, speculate on an ideal dinner companion from the plays, and single out a powerful stage or screen performance. Here’s what they said.
Do you remember the first character or play that really made an impact on you? How old were you?
• “The fight scene in Mackers (‘Macbeth’) from the BBC on KQED Oakland/San Francisco. Seeing that scene is why I do this.” -- Aaron Elmore
• “Laurence Olivier as ‘Hamlet,’ 10 years old.” -- Shona Strauser
• “Orson Welles’ ‘Othello’ on film, viewed at 21.” -- Ishmael Hope
• “Zeffirelli’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I remember thinking, ‘Now THAT is chemistry.’ and I just couldn’t wait to find someone to hate/love as passionately and with as witty of dialogue. I believe I was 11 or 12. Also, years ago, Theatre in the Rough did a production of ‘As You Like It’ and Patrice Helmar put Shakespeare’s words to music – I would sit backstage every single performance listening to her sing and I would weep it was so beautiful. A perfect combination.” -- Doniece Gott
• “I remember seeing ‘The Tempest’ with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford when I was in eighth grade. We were on this epic camping trip in England’s wettest summer in 50 years and most of the trip was kind of miserable, but the few hours at the theater there were pretty magical.” -- Kristin Garot
• “I remember reading ‘MacBeth’ when I was in fifth grade, and loving it. I remember reading ‘Julius Caesar’ in middle school and not liking it at all. It was only later, in college, that I realized that ‘Caesar’ is such a beautiful, powerful piece. It was taught to me in middle school as history, not as drama. Bummer. -- Ryan Conarro
• “Despite his repugnant personal life, Mel Gibson’s ‘Hamlet’ was my first really enjoyable Shakespearian experience. After a grueling month reading the play in 10th grade English class, we watched the video in class -- while we always looked forward to watching videos, this one starred the guy from ‘Lethal Weapon.’ I know, I know, Olivier’s rolling over in his grave. But we’re products of our time.” -- Geoff Kirsch
What Shakespearian character would you most enjoy having dinner with? Least enjoy?
• “Most: Falstaff (Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor). Least: Malvolio (Twelfth Night).” -- Aaron Elmore
• “Best dinner: Bottom from ‘Midsummer NIght’s Dream;’ worst dinner: Lady Macbeth.” — Shona Strauser
• “For ‘most enjoy,’ Falstaff, of course, by far. For ‘least enjoy,’ probably Polonius (Hamlet).” — Ishmael Hope
• “Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Hands down. Although he would probably do something to my food and I would end up naked in the woods with a stranger. I think that dinner with the Macbeths would be kind of a drag.” — Doniece Gott
• “I think it would be entertaining to have dinner with all of the clergy from various plays — all of those priests and friars who presided over fake deaths, secret marriages, midnight confessions — they’ve got stories to tell!”-- Kristin Garot
• “I’d have coffee or a drink with Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet), but not dinner. I’d probably want to have dinner with Viola (Twelfth Night).” -- Ryan Conarro
• “I don’t know if this counts as “having dinner” with a character, but I had a serious crush on Ophelia, helped in large part by a young Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia in Mel Gibson’s ‘Hamlet.’ What? I was 16. I liked my women angsty. Least like to have dinner with: the Weird Sisters from ‘Macbeth.’ They don’t sound like such great cooks. Although how different from traditional British cuisine, really, is what they’ve got bubbling in their cauldron” — Geoff Kirsch
What’s one of the strongest stage or screen performances of a Shakespearian character that you have ever seen?
• “Both on stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Ray Balentine (about 1982) and or Barzan Akhavan (in 2012) as Pandarus (Troilus and Cressida).” -- Aaron Elmore
• “Stage: Adrian Lester in Peter Brook’s ‘Hamlet;’ screen: Emma Thompson as Beatrice in ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’” -- Shona Strauser
• “Lawrence Olivier as Richard III, film.” --Ishmael Hope
• “I know people who hated Baz Lehrman’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ due to the fact that it was a bit tacky and shallow and that he took liberties with the script; but Paul Sorvino as Father Capulet was amazing. His sweaty joviality/turn-on-a-dime violence toward Tybalt in Act 1, Scene 5, and his brutality with Claire Danes in Act 3, Scene 5. The things that that man can do with his face! I cannot think of Lord Capulet without seeing his face. Actually, come to think of it, every casting choice on that film was complete genius.” -- Doniece Gott
• “I just can’t get enough of the Kenneth Branagh / Emma Thompson film version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Well, really, any Shakespearian character performed by Kenneth Branagh — he’s just such a master. But second runner ups are some videos that my students made years ago — some of them really got the actions as they were intended and that came across so well in their final products. One particular version of a scene from ‘Twelfth Night’ as done by characters from ‘The Office’ will haunt me forever!” -- Kristin Garot
• “Mark Rylance as the title role in ‘Hamlet’ at the Globe Theatre in London. I got to see this production in college while I was studying abroad in the UK. The other performance I remember vividly was a little Off-off-Broadway run of ‘Shakespeare’s R&J,’ adapted by Joe Calarco, in which four men play all the roles in ‘Romeo & Juliet.’ That adaptation really impacted me as a college theatre student — and, happily, I got to be a part of a production of that piece with Generator Theater in Juneau.” — Ryan Conarro
• “Al Pacino as Shylock in the film version of ‘Merchant of Venice’ — he reprised the role on Broadway, and, though I was living in New York City at the time, I couldn’t get tickets. Jeremy Irons is also excellent in that particular version of ‘Merchant.’ -- Geoff Kirsch
If you’re planning on attending parts of the Bard-a-thon, is there a particular scene from any of the plays that you don’t want to miss, even if it’s at 3 a.m.?
• “I don’t want to miss ‘Othello’ at 11 p.m. or ‘King Lear’ at 11 p.m.” ---- Shona Strauser
• “I’d listen in on ‘Corliolanus.’ That’s a great play.”--Ishmael Hope
• “I am hoping to make it to as much of the Bard-a-thon as I can. Even at 3 a.m. Especially at 3 a.m.! I honestly don’t want to miss a minute of it.” -- Doniece Gott
“I’m a sucker for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony scene...” -- Kristin Garot
“I reeeeally love Portia’s monologue to Brutus in ‘Caesar’: ‘Is Brutus sick...’ I wouldn’t want to miss that one!“ -- Ryan Conarro
• “I’m kind of tempted to try and do the whole thing. It’s sort of like a theatrical Iditarod. But warmer and hopefully without as much dog mess.” -- Geoff Kirsch
What role or scene would you most like to perform or watch performed?
• “Five years ago I’d like to do Henry V. Now it’s Prospero (The Tempest).” -- Aaron Elmore
• “‘Merchant of Venice,’ Act IV, scene 1.” -- Shona Strauser
• “I’d enjoy playing Coriolanus, for the gritty greatness of the writing, or ‘Henry V,’ for the pure joy of rallying people.” -- Ishmael Hope
• “I would love to play Beatrice in ‘Much Ado.’ I would have loved to have seen Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet, drunk or no — and Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly. I cannot wait for Aaron Elmore’s Lear, but we’ve got some time waiting for that.” -- Doniece Gott
• “When Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing) overhear their friends talking about how each is so much in love with the other but can’t admit it -- those scenes crack me up every time.” -- Kristin Garot
• “I’d be psyched to get to play Hamlet. Brutus. Benedick. Iago. Down the road a little further, King Lear and Prospero. I guess I can’t name just one.”-- Ryan Conarro
• “Like game shows, superheroes and commercial parodies, Shakespeare is a gold mine for comedy writers. Take any modern situation -- real life or drawn from fiction -- and translate it into ‘Shakespearean;’ or, take any Shakespearean situation and translate that into ‘modern.’ For instance, my old sketch comedy group back in New York once did a Shakespearean ‘Boys ‘N Hood’ -- or should I say, ‘Gentle Sirs of the Shire.’ That was fun. We also performed a whole medley of ‘deleted scenes’ from the First Folio, including ads for used horse dealerships starring Richard III (‘You don’t have to pay a kingdom for your horse at Sal Anthony’s Horse Emporium on the High Road to Manchester!’) and a sequence from the unrated version of ‘Hamlet’ in which the Melancholy Dane enacts the infamous scene from ‘American Pie.’ Point is, from of a comedic point of view I can find any scene or role of any of Shakespeare’s plays enjoyable. I think that’s the key to enjoying any ‘classic’ writer, really -- finding the right approach. For instance, I still haven’t happened upon one for James Joyce.” -- Geoff Kirsch