All the World is a Stage

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.

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 603–605

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 —

— — —

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.

Started young

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?





About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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21 Responses to All the World is a Stage

  1. My short theater ‘career'(!) will be in tomorrow’s post.Jeff. We both bring up differences in plays and movies. It was seeing Laurence Olivier’s movie version of Hamlet as a teenager that made me realize that ,”Oh, it IS in English and it DOES make sense!:, because just hearing Maurine Evens and others doing Hamlet’s soliloquy very dramatically and out of context on Ed Sullivan had me totally lost as a kid. When I found there was Shakespeare in the Park in Louisville,I bought a books of Shakespeare’s works, full and simplified, for my kids.We’d read the synopses before we’d see the play and often, they’d want to find parts of the plays later in the full texts.
    Once, I even got Joe to do a portion of a play in a pre-performance(I have pictures to prove it!)
    I agree with you about Kenneth Branaugh’s “Henry V”, as did many of the people I knew when it was out. Among our friends and acquaintances was a group of ladies, a middle-aged mother, her just-grown daughters and a female cousin in her 30’s who had lived with them for years growning up.This gals, usually in groups of 3-to5, kept going back to the movies to see the film.”OH”, they’d say,”wasn’t King Henry so good, so strong, such a defender of the faith?!” or “What a sweeping production!”. Never would any of them admit they wanted to go get another gander at Branaugh,on who was obviously their object of hero-worship!


    • jeff7salter says:

      Branaugh produced several others, including (I think) “As You Like It” … with Denzel Washington and Emma Thompson. It was quite good.


  2. I’m sure I was in a play in elementary school – but I grew up loving and still love, musicals!


  3. My experience in theater has all been from below the stage. I was in the pit orchestra from high school, through college, and several times since then. Sometimes we’re able to see what’s happening on the stage, and sometimes not. Since I’m concentrating on the notes I’m playing, I don’t always get to hear the words being sung. So if I want to know what the songs and stories are about I have to watch a movie! Still, it’s a fun experience. Nowadays my experiences tend to lean toward watching my kids and grandkids perform on stage while I applaud their talents.


    • BTW, I’m really impressed with your stage credentials!


    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, I can imagine that you’d be just as focused as the actors … and therefore not able to absorb the experience of the show.
      My Mom-in-law was an accomplished musician and played piano for several musicals — produced by the Playmakers group I mentioned. She never had much sense of the plays themselves because she was focused on cues and on following the pace of the soloists.


      • jeff7salter says:

        In fact, my wife — then a mere child — was a “page-turner” for her mother in some of those productions. She didn’t have much sense of the plays either because she had to follow the cues and music to know when to turn pages.


  4. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve never been in a play. In high school, I was in theater Tech. It was a class I was thoroughly interested in – learning the behind the scenes ropes. Only the semester I was in Theater Tech, the teacher was also the drama teacher. We learned and tested tech vocabulary, but never got hands on experience. Nope, instead she made us ACT! I’m not good at lines, so every time I had to act in front of the class, I improvised. Seems I’m much better at stand-up comedy and making sh*t up. HAHA!


  5. pjharjo says:

    You’ve had quite a lot of theater experience, Jeff! Besides the 2 I mentioned at my high school, there’s also another one I went to in L.A., but I forget the name. (my memory, you know) 😉 It seems we’ve both had an experience with Up the Down Staircase. Interesting blog!


  6. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    I was in a community theatre group when I lived in Texas. I was a Who is Seussical, in the chorus for Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and was supposed to be in Mame, but I got laryngitis, and completely lost my voice for several weeks! Also did a couple of musicals here that my church produced: Fiddler on the Roof, and Oliver!


    • jeff7salter says:

      wow, you are a seasoned Thespian.
      I had thought I might remain active in productions — whether backstage or front — but after I exited grad. school and began my library career, I just had no additional energy.


  7. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    One of the funniest plays I ever saw was at the local university where I lived in Texas. (Half the music department was also involved in the community theatre I was in, including Brad Maule, who used to be on General Hospital.) I can’t remember the name of the play, but it was a Commedia Dell’Arte thing, and the funniest part in it was a mistake! But since it was a comedy, it came off as natural, and it was hilarious. One of the characters walked with his knees bent, and used a cane. He would plant it in front of him, then take hobbling steps up to it, Plant it front of him again, and repeat the process until he got where he wanted to go. On this particular evening of the performance, though, he accidentally dropped his cane off the stage. He stood there bowlegged for a second, clutching at the air, then jumped down, retrieved his cane, hopped back up, and got right back into character. It was brilliant!


  8. Iris B says:

    I had a feeling as a retired Librarian to find at least a little bit of Shakespeare in today’s post 🙂
    You have indeed seen quite a few plays, some of them ring a bell, others don’t. I’ve never seen the Drei Groschen Oper (Three penny Opera), but I can remember having to read a few chapters of Berthold Brecht’s books as a student. They were words, but didn’t make sense at all!
    Are Oklahoma and Showboat the original play to the musical ?


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