Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shakespeare's Staging Conditions in The SantaLand Diaries

We here at Bad Quarto like to think of our mission as two-fold:
  1. Performing the rarely done play scripts of the English Renaissance, including the earliest printed quartos of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
  2. Performing modern works using the staging conditions and rehearsal practices of Shakespeare's time. 
The SantaLand Diaries falls into the latter category, but as we've gathered new friends since debuting Sedaris' Christmas comedy in Burlington, VT this past weekend, I thought I would take a moment to explain exactly which of those staging conditions we've deployed, and how we've deployed them. 

  1. Universal lighting: The playhouses of Shakespeare's London were generally lit at a constant level, and with the actors and audience sharing the same pool of light. For the outdoor, public playhouses, and public performances on tour, this generally meant the sun. For the indoor, private playhouses, and private performances at the homes of the wealthy, this meant some combination of sunlight from windows and candle light. While there was probably some variation in this, a shared pool of light for actors and audience was most likely the norm for stage performances. 
  2. Audience contact: The close cousin of universal lighting is audience contact. Since the actors and the audience shared the same pool of light, and since some of the audience would sit on the stage level, the audience was as much a part of the show as the actors. Evidence from several plays acknowledges, and sometimes utilizes this convention as part of the writing. Since the actors can see the audience, and the audience can see the audience, the actors can engage with the audience as they would another partner in the scene. 
For a one-man show like The SantaLand Diaries, audience contact is essential for making a great performance. Sedaris' original performance of The SantaLand Diaries was broadcast on NPR in 1992, and it has been re-broadcast frequently since then, but despite what you will hear from your local NPR affiliate during pledge season, the intimacy and personal connection of the radio pales in comparison to what we can achieve in live performance. You can hear a story on the radio, but when you come to the theatre, you can be part of that story. 

That ability to be part of the story as Joe performs it is where the real value of live performance and Shakespeare's staging conditions comes in to play for us. We can do more than tell Sedaris' story, we can make it happen in front of you, and by deploying some of Shakespeare's staging conditions, we make you a part of that story as it comes to life. We do better than re-create David Sedaris' experiences in SantaLand, we help you live them. 

There are some other staging conditions we also like to use that we didn't get a chance to this time around, but Burlington has been very good to us so far, so you can expect to see us again some time, and maybe then we can explore Shakespeare's use of cross-gender casting and live acoustic music. 

If you haven't seen The SantaLand Diaries yet, you've got three more chances this coming weekend:

We hope to see you there!

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