The top five commonly asked questions around the Cal Shakes offices about our current production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale—answered at last.
1. Is there going to be a bear onstage?
From Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone: Yes, but you’ll have to see it to find out how it appears.
2. Why is this play less performed/less well known/adapted into film?
From Production Dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan: The play certainly presents some truly daunting challenges in terms of story and staging. There is the dramatic shift in location and tone between Sicilia and Bohemia, the 16-year leap forward, a shipwreck off the coast of Bohemia (which, depending on which scholar you ask about where the borders were, historically had no coastline), a statue which appears to come back to life, and the tricky business of Antigonus who must “exit pursued by a bear.”
In spite of these challenges and its shifting popularity, A Winter’s Tale has been staged fairly consistently since its inception. In the centuries following its first performances, directors handled these challenges in various ways—sometimes cutting huge portions of the play or allowing one tone to dominate—playing up the Classical themes, for example. In 1756, David Garrick presented Florizel and Perdita at Drury Lane, cutting the first three acts entirely. While 19th–century and early 20th–century productions reinstated Leontes and Hermione as the compelling emotional center of the play, the popular desire for elaborate spectacle meant that the more theatrical elements tended to overshadow the language, characters, and story—and cost a pretty penny as well.
More recently, directors have embraced a more balanced approach to the complexity of the play and accepted the story on its own terms—as a tale including divine, natural, and unusual elements, but one that is essentially human in its struggles and triumphs…with the occasional entrance of a bear.
3. Where in time and space does the play take place?
From Director Patricia McGregor: In this production, in the near future through a Narniaesque door to fantastical fertile lands and the labyrinthine interiors of the self.
4. How will music and dance be featured in the production?
From Director Patricia McGregor: A Winter’s Tale is performed by a group of traveling storytellers with many tricks up their sleeves. The actors playing Paulina and Autolycus are the ringleaders of this wild theatricalist journey and often use music and dance to transport and transform both the players and the audience. At times, the audience is invited to participate in celebrations and ceremonies through song and dance.
5. What about the play lends itself to a participatory experience?
From Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick: I think any play has the potential to be a participatory experience, if the director and the producing theater share that vision. We like to say that any play could be enriched by “starting with a potluck and ending with everyone dancing on stage.” That said, those are specific participatory activities, and we like to work with directors to design the levels and types of participation that will work best for their production. In this case, Patricia is particularly interested in how to use a play to build community with an audience, to help people see themselves inside stories that might feel strange or foreign to them, and to encourage people to find their own creative selves. Seen through that lens, Winter’s Tale is particularly appropriate because it’s a play that asks us to believe that magic can unfreeze our stuck hearts and in Patricia’s production that magic is created collectively by the audience.
A Winter’s Tale runs now through October 20, 2013.