Sunday, February 24, 2013

Taking it on the road

I just got back from an excellent student production of Othello at Scarlet Letter U*, about an hour and a quarter away from here. They really stripped it down to the bone, and cut some of my favorite bits like Emilia's speech about men, but what was left was fast-moving and powerful and generally awesome. I took one student. I was supposed to take two, but one of them bailed without letting me know she was going to bail, and seemed surprised when I told her I'd already bought her ticket.

On Friday, I went to see a touring production of Twelfth Night at BigBox Mega U, half an hour away in the other direction. That was great, too. Fun, inventive staging, and one of the best Sir Tobys I've ever seen. Three students came. There were originally supposed to be six. The production was supposedly sold out two weeks in advance, because most of the tickets went in large blocks to schools; I spent the first fifteen minutes of Friday's Shakespeare class on hold with the box office, and felt lucky to score seven same-day rush tickets. Then, when we got there, there were dozens of empty seats. Apparently the other schools have the bailing-students problem, too.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to see a different touring company perform The Taming of the Shrew at Don'tCallUsWe'llCall U,** fully two and a half hours off in the boondocks. That was pretty awesome too, done with a cast of seven, and with a female Lucentia and a lesbian wedding at the end. I took two of the students from the Shakespeare class, one who's writing her honors thesis about the play, and a friend of the honors thesis student who agreed to come at the last minute when, you guessed it, someone bailed. We got home sometime after midnight, a long dark sleepy drive. I felt bad for the three students squished into the back seat of my tiny little Hyundai. They all said it was worth it. Honors Student also said it was the first time she'd really gotten the subplot; it's hard to keep all those Italian names straight, and so much easier when you see the characters embodied.

Here is the thing. We don't get a whole lot of opportunities to see live Shakespeare around here (this month was something of a fluke), so I take them when I can and drive long distances when I need to, and I love doing stuff like this. I love watching students discover that Shakespeare in performance is funny and scary and moving and not at ALL hard to understand. But I am getting frustrated as hell with the 50% last-minute attrition rate. And it's mostly not the students' fault. They have complicated lives: work schedules that change at the last minute, and babysitters who cancel, and other classes to juggle, and they are genuinely disappointed when things don't work out. I did not have a particularly complicated life when I was a student. I also grew up half an hour away from a major East Coast city, where you could see lots of different plays any week in the year, and with parents who believed in taking their kids to the theater. These things are luxuries. I didn't realize that at the time. I want more of my students to have them. I also want to change the culture at Misnomer U so that it's less conducive to apathy and flakery, and so that more students want to go road-tripping with Shakespeare.

And, as Bill Watterson says, as long as I'm dreaming I'd like a pony.***

* Technically speaking, I believe the letter in question is actually crimson, but I can't resist the appellation.

** Because I had a phone interview with them way back in my first year on the job market, and because apparently when I'm tired I spend all my mental energy making up cute nicknames for the local universities.

*** Not really. I don't think I ever got the appeal of ponies, even when I was a kid.