Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 73 - Seeing Shakespeare/Attending Outdoor Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra
I have never seen a live Shakespeare play. Now, this may come as a surprise to many people that grew up in schools that devoted time and resources to discussing and performing Shakespeare’s works. While seeing Shakespeare may be commonplace in many school districts throughout the country, my hometown school spent little-to-no time discussing his works. In fact, drama in the Princeton school district was largely limited to an annual performance of one play, which was often a contemporary piece of drama very far removed from the classical works of Shakespeare. As a result, my exposure to Shakespeare was limited only to my independent efforts to pursue his work in my free time; however, these efforts never resulted in me seeking to attend an actual performance of a play. Given this was the case, I figured at 30 years old it was likely time to see Shakespeare for the first time. In turn, I made plans to attend a Madison Shakespeare Company presentation of Antony and Cleopatra on its opening night, which would help me gain the new experiences of seeing Shakespeare and attending a performance at an outdoor theatre for the first time.

I planned on arriving home quickly after my workday today in an effort to give me time to prepare for the play and still make its 6:30 pm start time. Unfortunately, work obligations and heavy traffic stood in the way of that effort, resulting in me arriving home a little before 6:20 this evening. Although the performance of Antony and Cleopatra was being held at Breese Field a few blocks from my house, I knew my late arrival home would make it a challenge to get to the performance on time. As a result, I rushed around the house to get ready for the evening, doing my best to juggle multiple tasks at once in my flurry of activity. Luckily, Rachael had already prepared the food, drinks, and seating we would need for the show, which helped me quickly address the few obligations I had remaining before we left. Finally ready to leave, I bolted out the front door with an armload of things and greeted Rachael and our friend, Allison, who had been waiting patiently for me. With the clock quickly winding toward 6:30, we immediately began our walk to the field, our pace quickened by my delay.

Breese Field

Our walk was brief given the close proximity of the field and our pointed effort to complete the trek as fast as possible. Arriving to the field, we promptly identified the entrance and climbed the stairs to the stadium seating ringing the performance area. After grabbing our tickets, I turned to face the crowd and locate acceptable seats. To my surprise, the seating area contained a substantial crowd, which gave us pause as we tried to isolate a free area of three consecutive seats. With the play already beginning, we focused in on a block of space near the far side of the stage and made our way to the area. Doing our best to not disturb the performance, we quietly set up our space and took our seats, finally ready to take in the show.

The audience

Settling in to my seat, I focused intently on adjusting my brain to the linguistic loops of Shakespeare’s writing. Although I was familiar with the language in his work, hearing the words acted out and spoken on the grass stage before me was a new and different experience. As I honed in on the cadence and recalled the Shakespearean lexicon, I took stock of the performance area before us. The three separate performance areas provided unique and well-constructed sets, which respectively represented Rome, Alexandria, and the open settings of palace courtyards, temples, and monuments. I watched on as the actors worked through the opening scenes of the play with surprisingly sound execution, making use of the full range of scenery spanning the width of the field.

Bonds made...

...Bonds broken

Finally finding my place in the story, I became entangled in the establishment of the plot and the independent schemes of Antony and Cleopatra’s main characters. With bonds being built and broken at the whim of personal pursuits and desire, the play quickly laid the foundation for the dramatic sequence that would ultimately lead to Antony and Cleopatra’s deaths. Intrigued by the development of the betrayals, war sequences, and cunning acts at the hands of Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra, I remained fixed on the presentation and the unraveling of dramatic sequences driven by the personal pursuits and arrogance of the play’s protagonists. With the story building, I was completely engaged and prepared for the inevitable consequences of the main character’s actions.

The last shot before sunset...
A warning of betrayal
The story continued as the tides of battles turned and roared back again, sending Antony and Cleopatra’s worlds crashing down around them. Their personal ambitions, wealth, and lives at risk, I watched as their relationship became an unpredictable array of emotions, which ultimately led to Cleopatra’s escape behind a rumor of her death. Then, in classic Shakespeare fashion, we observed Antony conclude his only just and respectable outlet to absolve his wrongdoing was to take his own life, which drove Cleopatra to make the same sacrifice before the hands of Caesar after seeing Antony’s last breaths. Although the conclusion came as no surprise for a Shakespearean work, the story’s end was as powerful as any comparable drama and left a resonant, heavy emotion lingering in the air. With Caesar’s closing words the play then drew to a swift end, leaving all of us in the crowd to ponder the meaning and value of the actions taken by Egypt’s once great king and queen.

After the final act of the show, Allison, Rachael, and I gathered our things and started our walk home. On the walk we talked about the performance, the actors, and the story that we had witnessed over the previous hours. We agreed the time spent at Breese Field was a worthwhile event on an otherwise ordinary summer evening and concluded our decision was better than alternative events that could have occupied our evening. After today’s event, I can now say I have seen Shakespeare, and I can easily say it was worth it. Although it took me 30 years, my first experience watching the work of the father of modern drama proved insightful and entertaining. As a result, I’m sure I will attend another one of Shakespeare’s plays at some point in the future, even if it is only to experience the mastery of language in his work. I just need to find the time to make it happen...

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