Monday, April 9, 2012

Reorienting Global Shakespeare

Reorienting Global Shakespeare: Touring Productions to England, 1955-2011

Presentation by Alexa Huang (George Washington University)

Short-term Fellow, Folger Shakespeare Library

12:00-1:00 pm, Wednesday April 25 2012

Board Room, Folger Shakespeare Library (basement)

Can Shakespeare's plays give a “local habitation” to the “airy nothing” of globalization? Shakespeare is proclaimed, once again, the bearer of universal currency and Britain’s national poet as the 2012 London Olympics draw nearer. Much more ambitious than the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006 “Complete Works” Festival, the World Shakespeare Festival in summer 2012, an integral part of the Cultural Olympiad to celebrate the Olympics, will bring theatre companies from different parts of the world to perform Shakespeare in their own languages. This is arguably one of the most important festivals since David Garrick’s “Shakespeare Jubilee” in 1769 that jumpstarted the Shakespeare industry and tourism in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare seems to be a prodigal son who has traveled the world and finally returned to England, but the meaning of this "return" is ambiguous. Shakespeare has been transformed from Britain’s export to import industry, which reinforces the idea of Shakespeare as a world heritage connecting disparate local cultures and, at the same time, complicates the notion of globalization as necessarily just “global Westernization.

Drawing on Folger's rich collections, this presentation traces the trajectories of touring Shakespeare. British directors began employing hybrid performance styles as early as the 1950s. Peter Brook's Titus Andronicus (1955), starring Laurence Olivier, is one of the landmark productions that rehabilitated the play. Abstract, elegant, Asian-inspired stylization and minimalism transformed Titus from an undervalued melodrama to a study of primitive forces. In the following decade, the RSC organized the World Theatre Seasons from 1964 to 1973 that witnessed the U.K. premiere of the South African playwright Welcome Msomi's adaptation of Macbeth (then a little known work) which would be revived in 1997 at the newly opened Globe. Both homegrown and touring companies have staged Shakespearean performances in England, and the twenty-first century has ushered in what might be called a "post-national" age of intercultural theatre--an age populated by works that are defined by theatrical, cultural locations (e.g., a French-Japanese Richard II in Paris and on tour, a “culturally neutral” Richard III made in Beijing but presented in Berlin) rather than geo-political boundaries (e.g., Shakespeare in Germany).

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