By Jeff Salter
I love (many of) Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet … and there are numerous lines from his plays which have entered our vocabulary. I take this opportunity to set people straight on the contextual meaning of this particular one.
The play’s the thing
Hamlet: I’ll have grounds
More relative than this—the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
When exclaiming “The play’s the thing!” we’re seldom asked the embarrassing question of what “thing” we mean, exactly. Prince Hamlet, however, has something specific in mind. To elicit visible proof of what a rather visible ghost has told him — that his uncle, King Claudius, murdered his father, the former king — the prince turns playwright. His task: to sneak a few telling lines into a play about regicide his uncle will be watching at court, and to wait for Claudius to flinch. If Hamlet’s plan works, he’ll be convinced of both the ghost’s veracity and the king’s guilt and will (theoretically) feel better about paying his uncle back in kind.
Explanation from E-notes — http://www.enotes.com/
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Our topic this week is about live theater performances.
Turns out I was in four plays during high school. Three of these were during my senior year. I played the father in a one-act play, “Mimsy Were The Borogroves”. I played the dual role of Beast and Prince in “Beauty and the Beast” — which we not only performed at our own H.S. but took on the road to one or more schools in our parish (county). I had the role of Tony in the musical “The Boyfriend” and got to sing two duets with the leading lady, Polly.
But what I really want to talk about today … is the performances when I’ve been in the audience.
I was watching plays at a young age because my father was very active in the theater group called “Playmakers” in Covington LA. He acted in several and also directed several. On many occasions I saw dress rehearsals and later had the opportunity to visit with some of the people backstage (whom I knew).
I saw several plays during high school, featuring fellow students, including “Bye Bye Birdie”. I also saw a college version of “The Boyfriend” in New Orleans, a touring group who presented “Waiting for Godot”, and others I can’t recall now. The summer after I graduated the Playmakers group presented yet another production of “The Boyfriend”, which I also saw.
In college (in Macon GA), I was house manager (& assisted with props) for “Luv”. I saw the Mercer University productions of “Three Penny Opera” which starred several of my friends there, and “Uncle Vanya”. The drama professor took several of us to Atlanta to see a production (though I’ve forgotten its name).
I also saw several productions at Southeast Louisiana University (where I later graduated), including, “Oklahoma”. On assignment to “cover” the performance (while working as a newspaper reporter), I attended another play at Playmakers … but can’t recall which one it was. I also covered a play my future wife was in — “Up the Down Staircase” but I think it was a dress rehearsal that I saw.
While living in Jonesville LA, I attended a few plays in Alexandria and I think the troupe was composed of college students. No longer remember the names of those plays. During this time period, I saw a production somewhere in the New Orleans area which happened to feature a friend of my father’s from Covington [though I can’t recall which play now].
During our years in the Shreveport LA area, I saw at least two productions: “Side By Side By Sondheim” and “Showboat”.
I saw my daughter in a high school play, but I cannot remember the name of the production.
Plays versus Movies
Though many movies were adapted from Broadway plays, it’s very important to remember: a stage play is NOT a feature film. Even if the movie stayed close to the original script – which it almost NEVER did – being in the audience for a live production is a completely different experience.
But I’ve always found something kind of quaint and rather charming about the intermissions, the set changes, the occasional dropped lines, and whatever other unique details which set apart any single performance from every other one. Having been on both sides of the footlights, I can state live theater is never predictable!
As an actor, you’re always right on the edge (of a hit or a flop)… and there’s a lot of adrenaline. As a spectator, you absorb the players’ energy and the audience / theater atmosphere as part of the experience.
Great movie adaptations of wonderful plays
Couldn’t leave this topic (Shakespeare’s plays) without mentioning that there ARE several wonderful film versions of his scripts. Kenneth Branaugh has done an excellent job directing (and starring in) several, including Henry V. His adaptations really bring the plays to life for those who can’t or won’t read the scripts.
Do you enjoy watching plays? Ever been IN one?