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Shakespeare In Love

Posted by on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 in Blog posts.

Gabrielle Blackburn and Gabby Blum met in Kissam Center on April 14th on a rainy evening to discuss Shakespeare in Love. Other people were studying and socializing, so the room was noisy.

Gabby Blum is currently a sophomore studying Economics, Human and Organization Development, and Business. In her free time, she enjoys doing art and hiking. She worked in both set and prop design in high school.

Gabrielle Blackburn is a sophomore majoring in Cognitive Studies and minoring in Theatre and Quantitative Methods. She is often involved in the production of VUT and VOB performances, in many different areas of technical theatre.

Gabrielle: What was your first impression of the show?

Gabby: Well, to be completely honest with you, I went into the show knowing nothing about it.  I did not think that it was going to be your traditional Shakespeare play, so I was not shocked when I realized that it was not.  I think that the storyline of the play was written very well. It was clear that the writers put a lot of thought into creating a storyline that explained the creation of Romeo and Juliet.  However, I also think that it was a bit confusing at some parts.  There was a lot of different storylines and a lot of information that was put into two and a half hours of performance.  

Gabrielle: Yeah I agree. It was definitely confusing at some parts. I think that the plot line definitely calls to a lot of Shakespeare comedies where you have all of these different story lines happening and they all cross.  So I think that the writers used the typical Shakespearean structure in a lot of ways.

Gabby: And I also really liked how a lot of Shakespeare references were used throughout the play.  I am not the biggest Shakespeare fan, so I did not catch all of the references, but I did understand a lot of the Macbeth ones. I remember at part in the performance the actors were trying to get the dog off of the stage and were screaming “Out Damn Spot,” which is a line from Macbeth. It was fun to hear the Shakespeare references throughout the play and I appreciated how they were added in a very flawless manner. This play was very smartly written and it was very obvious the writers put a lot of work into it. What about the production did you find the most interesting, or uplifting, or surprising?

Gabrielle:  I thought that the set was really pretty. So even if the story was not that engaging, I was really drawn in by the set. I really liked the proscenium arch that they kept turning around to towards the end of the performance to show when the actors were on stage and backstage.

Gabby: Yes, that part at the end where they kept on turning the arch to represent the actors being on stage and backstage was really exciting to watch.  It was interesting how so many different locations could be represented just by turning the arch. I think that the end scene where Romeo and Juliet was actually performed was my favorite part of the play.

Gabrielle:  Yeah, I think that that is a representation of a lot of Shakespeare plays.  The final act is always a big, exciting moment where all the plotlines converge.  That was also what happened in Shakespeare in Love which again shows that the writers were probably drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays.  

Gabby:  What did you think of the ending?

Gabrielle: It was really poignant when he is sitting at the desk and writing Twelfth Night. I also did not expect the ghost of the other playwright at all. But it was cool how they tied it into Shakespeare’s other works like you said before.  For Twelfth Night, they definitely made it seem like it was based off of a true story. Even though it probably was not, you could see where the writers got inspiration from.

Gabby:  I really liked how the beginning and end of the play tied together.  In the beginning scene of the play, they have Shakespeare sitting at a desk struggling to write a play that will eventually become Romeo and Juliet. Then, in the final scene they have Shakespeare sitting at his desk again trying to write a play that eventually will become Twelfth Night.  I really appreciated how the play had similar beginning and ending scenes y because I think that it tied the whole play together very nicely.  

Gabrielle: Yeah, in the first scene, Will Shakespeare [Joe Leitess]  is struggling to find something to write about and he has eventually been inspired by this woman, Viola [Cailen Fu], who encourages him to continue to write. This was the opposite of the writers block that Will had at the beginning of the play.

Gabby:  Who was your favorite character?

Gabrielle: I think it was Viola [Cailen Fu] because she was the most dynamic character and she clearly knew what she wanted, even though she couldn’t get it.  She also really pulls on the audience’s sympathy.

Gabby: She was also my favorite character.  I thought that she was a very strong female character.  And I think that Cailen Fu played the role incredibly well.  I also really liked Will’s friend, Marlowe [Joel Diggs]. I really enjoyed the scene where Will and Viola are representing Romeo and Juliet as Will stands below her balcony.  I thought it was hilarious to see Marlowe feeding Will the words that would eventually become the most famous scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Gabrielle:  There’s a lot of controversy over who Shakespeare actually was because no one really knows. There are some conspiracy theories that Shakespeare’s works were actually written by different people. One is the Marlovian Theory of Shakespeare Authorship, which says Christopher Marlowe was actually the author who wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays.  That’s an interesting Easter egg. I think that this show is similar to Puffs because if you have that deeper understanding of Harry Potter or Shakespeare, you get all of these references, but you do not need to in order to still enjoy the performance.  

Gabby: Yeah I agree with that.  I think because I had performed Macbeth before in high school, and I really know that play, I understood a lot of the Macbeth references and found a lot of them to be really funny.  So I think that I was able to enjoy those moments a lot when I could be like “Oh, I understand that.”  

Gabrielle: What do you think about the casting choices? White is often the default for a lot of Elizabethan era shows.

Gabby: Especially the queen and king roles. For example, in Hamilton, the King is the only white person on stage. In Shakespeare in Love, the queen was one of the only people of color on stage. Now that I think about it, that’s interesting. I feel like that’s something that wouldn’t have been done in the past.

Gabrielle: I feel like I’ve seen people use the cop-out of “there were no black people in Elizabethan England,” which is entirely false. In most media about that time period, it’s 99.9% white actors and performers. In this production, the queen, Marlowe, and two of the ensemble members were black.

Gabby: Yeah, the twelve-year old kid was black, who I actually liked a lot more than Shakespeare. I wonder if the director was trying to make a point by doing that.

Gabrielle: What did you think of the music?

Gabby: I loved the three people on the side of the stage who were playing music throughout the performance. I spent a lot of time watching them and their reactions. They made really good facial reactions. I thought the live band was really good.

Gabrielle: Did you think they were distracting at all?

Gabby: They might have been a little bit distracting because sometimes I was watching them instead of what was happening on the main stage, but it didn’t bother me. They were just fun to watch. What about you?

Gabrielle: Because there were so many transitions with lots of pieces moving on and off, I think the live musicians really helped make those more interesting than if they had just played music over the speakers. The audience had something to watch during the transitions, which otherwise might have felt tedious.

Gabby: Especially since this is Shakespeare, live music fits much better than if they had played music over a stereo system. I also think music played live always genuinely sounds better and it makes it feel more live.

Gabrielle: I noticed a lot of music came from other Shakespeare plays. There were lyrics I recognized from Twelfth Night, so I’m assuming all the lyrics were pulled from Shakespeare’s plays. There’s no written music to any of Shakespeare’s songs, so that’s an opportunity for choices by the directors.

Gabby: What did you think of the props? I really liked the boat. I was really confused about how the boat was moving though.

Gabrielle: I think it was remote controlled because there were no tracks in the floor for it. The only other thing I can think of would be an empty bottom and the actors moving the boat with their feet.

Gabby: That’s what I was thinking they did.

Gabrielle: I think it was moving too smoothly for that though.

Gabby: I think that is what made it stand out from a normal play that I might have seen at a school. The props made it seem really professional. The set was also really beautiful.

Gabrielle: I liked how versatile the set was, since the characters had to be in so many different places. They were able to use the balconies, the stairs, the alcoves, and the cavity below the balcony where the bed was. The set design was really impressive and worked really well to show all the places they needed to be. This production was also just really pretty.

Gabby: It was.

Gabrielle: The cyc in the back behind the balcony helped give an indication of time and mood. During the thunderstorm, it was a stormy blue, gray, and green colors. During the end, they had a sunset in the back, which was really pretty. To distinguish the scenes when the characters were on stage in very performative moments, they had classic bright “jewel” lighting, which is when you surround the actor with light. It was very front-light heavy and white, which feels very performative. In the rehearsal room, it was darker and more spread out.

Gabby: I really liked that final scene. They were able to make one set seem like so many different areas. I also really liked when they locked Tilney [David Wilkerson] and Wessex [Nat Mclyntyre] up in the side of the arch. They were still moving the arch around while he was in it.

Gabrielle: That was really clever. I was so surprised they stayed in there the whole time.

Gabrielle: Why do you think this production now?

Gabby:  I think that Shakespeare has become a brand.  It is still performed around the world centuries later. It is timeless and because of that they were able to make a play about Shakespeare that would attract a large audience.  In class, we have talked about how Harry Potter has become a huge brand that everyone loves. And because of that, they were able to create Puffs.  Even if Puffs was not the most quality production, it still gained a lot of attraction because people love Harry Potter just as many people love Shakespeare.  So because of that, they were able to make this play.

Gabrielle: Yeah I think that like you said, Shakespeare is timeless.  I think that it fits into the Nashville Repertory season because some of the earlier shows were more serious, while this one is a more exciting comedy.  Even though it does not have a happy ending, it has the uplifting music and funny scenes that some of the earlier shows did not have. Looking at the director’s note, she framed Shakespeare in Love as an opportunity to escape from all the bad events in the world right now. It’s spring and people want something light and happy, so this was a good chance for theatre as escape.

Gabby: Yeah, I agree.

11 Comments on “Shakespeare In Love”

Shakespeare in Love was an excellent adaptation of the screenplay it was based on. the Gabbys analysis of the plot as a reference to Shakespeare’s own work and Blackburn’s deep knowledge of set design brought many new fun aspects to the performance that I hadn’t recognized, due to the fact that I know very little about Shakespeare and set design. In terms of why this now, I think there are a lot of elements that could answer that question. As Gabrielle noted, this play is good fun for the most part and contrasts against the dire circumstances our world seems to be in at the moment. Moreover, it challenges convention, by showing us that gender isn’t particularly important when it comes to casting a character. Both Viola and Will disguise themselves as members of the opposite gender to play roles and successfully deceive people in the real world. If they can do that, why not cast whoever you want in whatever role you want? This ties back into the Gabbys discussion of casting choices. It doesn’t matter whether somebody is a person of color for a role in Victorian England, good acting is good acting.

Cameron Nix on April 18th, 2019 at 4:18 pm

I appreciate the breadth of Gabby and Gabrielle’s discussion; they noted some aspects of the play that I did not realize myself, especially some of the references to Shakespeare’s work and legends about his life. I agree that “this play now” is partly due to the fact that, as Gabby notes, “Shakespeare is a brand.” As Christin has said several times with a dramatic arm swing, “Everybody loves Shakespeare!” For whatever reason, Shakespeare’s works are classics and are read and performed all of the time, and it is a body of work that is accessible to anyone. So this play is a part of the public’s fascination with his stories and especially the mystery surrounding his own life, which is not well-known. The movie upon which the play is based was and is very popular, so I found myself wondering why it has been important and successful to transform the story for the theatrical stage. This production is a play about theatre and the world of theatre, and particularly an era of theatre that is considered foundational to modern Western drama. And so it is incredibly natural that those in the theatre would want to honor the legend of Shakespeare through this play. I also appreciate Gabby and Gabrielle’s discussion of the choices that the Nashville Repertory Theatre made in casting this show. Having Queen Elizabeth played by a person of color was of course unexpected, since the royalty of England is and always has been white. But I think in a manner similar to Hamilton, where the diversity in casting choices is intentional to show how the story of America is a story of all people, this production of Shakespeare in Love is also able to show how the classic stories of Shakespeare are for all people, and by extension that theatre is a place for all people. That sentiment, combined with the previous discussion of why this play now, gives this production the power to be not only an entertaining escape for the audience, but also a thought-provoking nod to the strengths and opportunity of theatre in our culture.

Abigail Roberts on April 23rd, 2019 at 11:21 am

I really enjoyed this production of Shakespeare in Love and I think one of the reasons for this was because I am very familiar with it. What Gabby said was very accurate when she pointed out how if someone hadn’t seen this production before they would probably be a little confused. This hit home to me because I completely forgot that this had happened to me the first time I watched the performance and that it was probably happening to a lot of the audience members. Another thing that was pointed out that I thought was important was the beginning and ending and how they were tied together. Having Shakespeare sitting at his desk writing at the beginning and the end was really neat because it kind of shows how you need to go out into the world and find action and love and then writing will be much easier. Another thing that I enjoyed was the Queen being casted as a person of color. I appreciate that Gabby and Gabrielle touched on this because I think it’s important. I’ve never seen a production of this with any minority characters, and to have the Queen as a woman of color really was an important casting decision which I thoroughly enjoyed.

John Lesko on April 23rd, 2019 at 12:17 pm

Shakespeare In Love was a very interesting and fun production to watch and understand. I really like the analysis that both Gabby and Gabrielle provided about how the set really drew them in, even more so than the content itself in a way. I personally find this to be a very interesting part of theatre in that it can change the complexion and feel of an entire performance. Last semester I attended a live performance of A Doll’s House and A Doll’s House part II at the Tennesse Performing Art’s Center downtown. Those live performances gave me the ability to see how the little details that are involved in staging a production can change everything about a performance. The little things that your brain does not consciously think about also play a huge part in the understanding and underlying message in production. Another thing that I found interesting was how Gabby and Gabrielle talked about how the beginning and end of the production was purposely tied together. For the beginning and end of the production, they depicted Shakespeare sitting down and writing this story. This gives the play a lot more of a sincere and meaningful feel in my opinion and ultimately adds some character and real-life feel to the entire show.

Jacob Eder on April 23rd, 2019 at 8:12 pm

I remember watching the movie version of Shakespeare in Love back in high school and not really liking it. Because of my reaction to the movie I really did not expect myself to enjoy watching the play version. However, I really enjoyed watching Shakespeare in Love at TPAC. I definitely agree with Gabby that Shakespeare has become a “brand,” and is timeless. While we still perform traditional Shakespeare plays such as Twelfth Night and Othello, Shakespeare’s plays are also used as the base of so many other musicals and movies. For example, Lion King is based loosely on Hamlet and 12 Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew. As Gabby points out it is still relevant enough and loved enough for them to make this play with its’ many Shakespearan references. Additionally I, like Gabrielle, really loved the set. I was impressed by the fact that the design allowed for it to be so versatile. As someone who has had to design a set for a show I know how hard it can be to make a singular set be a variety of places. They really succeeded in doing this with this show while still being very clean and organized throughout the production. The fact that they were able to go to all the places that went was increidible.

Shreya Karak on April 24th, 2019 at 3:34 pm

Similar to Gabby, I went into this play with no background information on what to expect. Aside from the few associations with Shakespeare that is required of a high-schooler, I had no other knowledge to help shape my expectations. After seeing the play, I am very glad that I gained a refresher to the world of Shakespeare, which like Gabby mentioned at the end, really has become a ubiquitous brand. I found the show to be captivating for a number of reasons. First, having a storyline that is created fictionally to complement the life of a world-renowned playwright is very fascinating. Getting to experience some of the elements that took place in the world of Shakespeare and how those experiences translated into the plays we know and love today was very interesting. I have visited the Shakespeare Globe reconstruction in London and I found this play experience similar in the sense that I was getting to step into the shoes of Shakespeare to see what his life was like. Combining this fun and engaging plot with the unique casting that was mentioned by Gabrielle made for an audience experience that was thoroughly enjoyable.

Christopher Lei on April 24th, 2019 at 9:07 pm

When watching this play I was in the same boat as Gabby. I am not very familiar with Shakespere aside from some Romeo and Juliet references. Luckily, this play had some similarities to Romeo and Juliet. The set of the play was also very cool to see as Gabrielle said. It was pretty to look at for the most part and also allowed for the story line to go different ways as the play continued going different directions. I agree when she talks about Shakespeare being a brand. Everyone knows what Shakespeare is or at least has heard about. The name carries such a weight, that when you go to see one of his plays, you are expecting a certain story line or type of play. But in this specific play, there were so many things going on at once that it was kind of difficult to follow at times. In conclusion, although I am unfamiliar with a lot of the Shakespearian plays, I enjoyed watching the way in which this one was performed. The lighting, acting and music was enjoyable and fitting for the moments in the play. I am glad that I went to watch it.

John Augenstein on April 24th, 2019 at 9:16 pm

Similar to Gabby, I had no knowledge of this play going into it, but I did not expect it to be some traditional Shakespeare play and was not shocked when it was not a traditional play. Similar to both Gabby and Gabrielle, my favorite character was also Viola. I think she was an incredibly strong lead female character. One of my favorite parts of the play was when Viola and Will both disguise themselves as the opposite gender. This attempt at deception both increased the plot and allowed the play to be easily enjoyed. I also enjoyed the scene where Will and Viola are acting like Romeo and Juliet, much like Gabby. This play did a great job making Shakespeare relatable to a younger audience, and I think that both Gabby and Gabrielle did a good job recognizing this and commenting on every aspect of the play.

William Caldwell on April 25th, 2019 at 11:51 am

This essay is particularly interesting to read with Gabrielle’s theatre knowledge. I never thought particularly deeply about the lighting in the play and as she described the mood that heavy front lighting evoked it made me think about just how important the set and lighting is in creating the mood of a play. If the lighting hadn’t been “jewel lighting” making it more a performative choice, the feeling evoked could’ve been very different. It was also nice to have a play that was simply a good time as the world is ever so turbulent. Gabby noting this at the end was a good nod to why this play now? Their conversation reminds me of what it means for something to be classic and have longevity. The fact that Shakespeare’s plays and life are still revered point to a certain level of excellence. Regardless of one’s opinion of Shakepeare’s work, there is something to be said of the timelessness they possess.

Natalie Martinez-White on April 26th, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Overall, I thought the play was full of the imagination, wit, and romance that Shakespeare has traditionally expelled, but the play takes more of a contemporary fashion. The idea of Shakespeare falling in love and being inspired by Viola De Lesseps who is relentless in her quest to become an actress falls along the lines of your traditional romantic comedy. Given Shakespeare is a timeless playwright, I think this production and its casting is crucial in becoming more progressive as you can cast anyone for any role. Despite the racial backgrounds behind those typically tied to the Victorian Era, it is great to see actors being cast on their abilities and not on their physicality. The costumes and stage design were very unique in that the audience felt transported in time from all the intricacies and details placed into the backgrounds. Given the iconic nature behind Shakespeare’s works, these unconventional changes to the modern play leave the audience having an attachment and knowledge on historical playwrighting while also giving them food for thought in becoming more progressive in their understanding of diversity which is a major theme in our globalized society today. This play breaks the ice to have these discussions about performance and the nature of performance going foward.

Reghan Hovell-Wilkins on April 26th, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Overall, I thought the play was full of the imagination, wit, and romance that Shakespeare has traditionally expelled, but the play takes more of a contemporary fashion. The idea of Shakespeare falling in love and being inspired by Viola De Lesseps who is relentless in her quest to become an actress falls within the lines of your traditional romantic comedy. Given Shakespeare is a timeless playwright, I think this production and its casting is crucial in becoming more progressive as you can cast anyone for any role. Despite the racial backgrounds behind those typically tied to the Victorian Era, it is great to see actors being cast on their abilities and not on their physicality. The costumes and stage design were very unique in that the audience felt transported in time from all the intricacies and details placed into the backgrounds. Given the iconic nature behind Shakespeare’s works, these unconventional changes to the modern play leave the audience having an attachment and knowledge on historical playwrighting while also giving them food for thought in becoming more progressive in their understanding of diversity, which is a major theme in our globalized society today. This play breaks the ice to have conversations regarding the nature and impact of performance going forward.

Reghan Hovell-Wilkins on April 26th, 2019 at 1:31 pm

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