Sunday, November 29, 2015

Second Shepherds' Play: Director's Notes

Character transformation makes for good drama, and while you might expect a medieval Christmas play to present characters as two-dimensional cartoons, the characters we meet in The Second Shepherds' Play are remarkably human. We all have a unique perspective of the universe that shapes our distinct points of view, and the characters in this play are no different: each clearly defines their point of view on their first entrance. These perspectives shift and evolve in only a few short pages as we see these characters transform and respond to the world around them.

These transformations anchor the action of the play and set the stage for the biggest transformation of all: The birth of Christ and the salvation of humanity. A transformation of this magnitude was made possible only by the goodwill the Shepherds show Mak after the theft of their sheep. The shepherds' act of grace and forgiveness was proof for God that the world could change for the better, and that such a change would start at the lowest rungs of society. This was why the Shepherds were chosen to witness the birth of Jesus.

I, too, transformed while directing this play. I began my process believing this production worked best as a farce, full of simple characters and base jokes. But while a clownish interpretation of the text is possible, working with the cast individually revealed support in the text for the deeper, more significant character transformations mentioned above. By the time I started working with the cast, many of their ideas and choices were already firmly rooted in the text and I took on the role of gardener, cultivating and curating these ideas into a cohesive production: they helped me see that what I had taken for a simple comedy was a far cry from simple, and the intrinsic humanity of the people of mid-15th century Wakefield speak to us across barriers of time and language.

Christmas is not only a season of joy and miracles, it's also a time of transformation. As you take part in tonight's performance, consider your own unique perspective of the universe and how three shepherds and a couple of thieves might reshape that distinct point of view.

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