Feast on The Dinner Project

This summer at the Bruns, we’ve created a new space called the Story Hub where we’re inviting audience members to share their stories. Shakespeare’s stories may be on stage, but your stories are invited to live alongside them through the interactive exhibits you’ll find in the Story Hub. Here you have the chance to share your answers to the prompts and learn more about your fellow audience members by reading theirs.

At every performance, you’re invited to take part in the Dinner Project, a season-long exploration of the ways our family conversations relate to the larger world. Inspired by Raisin in the Sun’s juxtaposition of one family’s struggles against the challenges of the world around them, this project imagines family dinners as the place where our private and public worlds intersect.  Not to mention that many of our audience members enjoy dinners together at the Bruns!

During Raisin In The Sun patrons responded to the question “What does your family talk about at the dinner table?” Check out some of our favorites below!

“Now that I’m home from school for a hot minute, I spend my free after-noons prepping gourmet dinners for my parents. At the table I’ll often brag about my methods. My parents love it.”

 “”Life, Books, Psychology, Politics, Food, Police Brutality, Education, Relationships, School to Prison Pipeline, Income -> lack of it, Money, Racism/Social Justice, Violence, Poverty, Values, War, Implicit Bias, People of Color”

“No cats on the table! Poor turnout for primary election. Is it time to hire a life planner? How does King Lear speak to us? Is there more wine?”

“New movies”

 Though the theme of The Dinner Project will be consistent throughout the season, the question and way of sharing will change. Visit The Story Hub during Comedy of Errors and contribute to our newest prompt: “Share a secret or surprise that someone revealed to you over dinner.” Maybe your story will be featured on our blog!

About the author: Regina Fields is a Triangle Lab intern and a local actress.

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Ask Philippa: “Pygmalion” Edition

Listen to Philippa Kelly’s Grove Talk about Pygmalion by clicking here.

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about Pygmalion, which runs July 30–August 24. Tickets on sale now.

Pygmalion, perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s most renowned play, concerns the playful plight of phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and penniless flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he takes under his tutelage. Poor Eliza is reduced to a bet between aristocrats who believe they can pass her off as one of their own. This scheme leaves plenty of room for Shaw’s signature social commentary on the British class system and the relationship between language, class, and power.

Many of us might know the characters of Pygmalion from its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady; however, it is worth noting that artists and directors have struggled against Pygmalion’s lack of predictable romance for a century (since it debuted in 1914). Some writers think this may be why Pygmalionis still “underperformed”:

From the PYGMALION stage at the Bruns: You'll notice this population chart sitting on Higgins' bookshelf.

A hundred years on from that first production, the ending of Pygmalion continues to be a sticking point. It stands as an unspoken matter of contention between audiences, confidently expecting a romantic resolution of the plot, and most directors who wish to remain true to Shaw’s intentions. And it may help to explain the conundrum of why the play, for all its enduring fame and popularity, remains relatively underperformed today.

Are you going to see Cal Shakes’ Pygmalion?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.



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Behind the Seams: An Interview with “The Comedy of Errors” Costume Designer Beaver Bauer

By Aliya Charney

As Antipholus of Syracuse remarks in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the town of Ephesus “is full of cozenage / As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working  sorcerers that change the mind [and] Disguised cheaters.” For costume designer Beaver Bauer, Cal Shakes’ production of The Comedy of Errors is a welcomed challenge. The magic present in Errors differs greatly from other examples of Shakespearean sorcery because the illusions seen on stage are rooted in farce, not enchantment. Thus, the costume design plays a pivotal role in the audience’s involvement and comprehension of the baffling events that transpire on stage.

Ephesus, an ancient port city in Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, serves as the setting for The Comedy of Errors. On the edge of Asia Minor, Ephesus, at the turn of the last century, was equally influenced by Eastern and Western styles. Therefore, costuming the play, Bauer combines various inspirations to create a unique “East-Meets-West” look. “Ephesus is a place of wonder. The Ephesian world is fun, surprising and different,” she says. Director Aaron Posner described one aspect of the look and feel of Comedy as a “Croatian circus.” To Bauer, this does not mean bright colors and extravagance, but rather, a subtle exotic and quirkiness. According to Bauer, Ephesus is a “nucleus where people pass through”; therefore, the challenge was to create a style that creates a sense of “the familiar within the unfamiliar.” For example, for the twin Antipholi, Bauer dresses them with vests over their robes, what she describes as a “more western, quirky way of styling.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display during The Comedy of Errors rehearsal. Pictured: Nemuna Ceesay (Adriana) and Tristan Cunningham (Luciana). Photo by Jay Yamada.

For the women of The Comedy of Errors, especially the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Bauer cites the upper and royal classes of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Bauer notes that, during this time period, the men were wearing traditional vestments, but the women were more likely to wear western-styled gowns (i.e. “flapper dresses.”) Bauer incorporates this aspect into her design because, although The Comedy of Errors is “not rooted to a specific time period” it is, very clearly, “rooted in a specific place.” This mix of Eastern and Western fashion perfectly encapsulates Posner’s vision of not interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Another major factor that went into Bauer’s costume design was the notion of currency and economic status, which proves a major theme in The Comedy of Errors. The frequent transfer of money and goods throughout the play allowed Bauer and her team to think creatively about how each character would carry valuable goods and funds, such as in an Eastern money pouch or in a Westernized cummerbund. These small yet significant costume pieces also grant Bauer the opportunity to add dynamic colors and patterns to the existing pallet.

Bauer has worked with all of The Comedy of Errors cast members previously, so she felt like she could predict what the actors would want, and need, from their costumes before rehearsals began. “I held a preconception of what the actors might do with their characters [and] I created looks to accommodate that,” she says. And accommodate she did: “The trick is, you must make sure that the costume does not dictate the actors, but supports them.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Bauer reveals that the greatest challenge in the costume design was adjusting the styles to support “quick changes.” With many actors playing multiple roles on stage, costume changes have to be fast and efficient, especially when an actor switches characters within a single scene. But Bauer embraces these challenges. “We take it as a puzzle—embrace it and nail it. That’s the most fun we have. There are practical considerations that affect our designs, but challenges like these ultimately spark the greatest ideas and most creativity.”

You can see Beaver Bauer’s costumes in The Comedy of Errors, which is playing at the Bruns till July 20th. Get your tickets here!

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Our Story Part One: The John Hinkel Park Years

For our 40th Anniversary, Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly has penned a four-part series on the history of California Shakespeare Theater. Each piece appears in our playbill before arriving on the blog–four articles for each of our four summer shows. Part one of the series originally appeared in the program for A Raisin in the Sun.

By Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly

By the 1970s, Berkeley had established itself at the heart of the counterculture, a multifaceted outgrowth of the Beat movement (“cool jazz,” “beatitude,” anti-materialism, anti-institutionalism) in which the children of post-war Americans sought to express their independence. These young people rejected their parents’ drive for security and prosperity, forming collectives and movements of their own that pushed for environmental reform, sexual freedom, and a stop to the Vietnam War. There were profound engagements with non-Judeo-Christian beliefs, including Buddhism, the EST self-realization movement, and the Hare Krishnas; the hedonism led by Timothy O’Leary, a direct outgrowth of drug-taking; and the music of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Janice Joplin and the Woodstock Festival, iconic political embodiments of youthful idealism.

Howard Swain and Annette Bening in "All’s Well That Ends Well," 1983

The California Shakespeare Theater had its origins in this culture. It began as a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts who wanted to stage performances. Led by Peter Fisher, graduate student and musician, the group originally met as the ”Emeryville Shakespeare Company,” gathering in a shed in Emeryville, with an aim to stage only Shakespeare, leaving other playwrights to other newly-established theater companies like the Berkeley Repertory Theater and the American Conservatory Theater. Every decision was to be arrived at, where possible, through a non-hierarchical governing structure—what plays to perform, in what order, who to direct, and what budgets could be allocated. Each director, once selected and given a budget, had the freedom to cast and staff the show at will.

James Carpenter as Hal and Michael McShane as Falstaff in "Henry IV, Part 1," 1987.

In 1974 the company pooled funds to establish a season budget of $3000, moving to the ready-made amphitheater provided by Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park. They re-named themselves the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. The park was shaded by a glorious oak tree, and at an early performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck swung onto the stage from one of its branches. Bay trees scented the amphitheater, and old, broken-down redwood benches, probably dating back to the 1930s, were built into its tiers. Once the City of Berkeley had replaced the benches with gravel, audiences camped along the tiers, making themselves comfortable on cushions and lawn chairs, often arriving very early—through either the bottom or the top of the park—to secure their favorite spots. Many brought sleeping bags so that when the fog rolled in and the temperature dropped, they were able to stretch out, warm and snug, with a picnic and a bottle of wine. (In the first few seasons the company members also made a big pot of stew for each performance, which was offered to the audience at intermission.) Two dank, dark old toilets were available for use at the perimeter of the audience area, later to be upgraded via the rental of porta-potties. Over time the electricity was upgraded and, under the supervision of production manager Michael Cook, lighting towers were constructed to allow full stage lighting. Elaborate sets were designed for the space in front of what is now left of the old stone fireplace. From 1974 to 1976 the company didn’t sell tickets or charge admission, suggesting instead a donation of $2.00 per show. Effective publicity consisted of parking old cars topped with large painted signs at strategic locations in Berkeley and near Hinkel Park. The cars had to be moved from time to time, but the advertising system was effective. By the end of the first season, the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival had become very successful, filling to capacity and scoring reviews in local papers and even one in the highly prized international journal, Shakespeare Quarterly. Company members were able to reimburse themselves for their investment, also setting aside a small sum to bankroll a winter production of All’s Well That Ends Well and to start up the next season. The collective awarded every participant—from directors to the children who were fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest—exactly $1.00 for each performance. Those who were there for every performance would receive a total compensation of $41.00 for the season.

Kandis Chappell as Witch, Julian Lopez-Morillas as Macbeth, and Howard Swain as Witch in "Macbeth," 1983.

This system of collective governance worked well, but after its third season the board began contemplating ways to expand, and members discussed the possibility of appointing an Artistic Director. In 1979, against some objections, the collective appointed its first Artistic Director, George Kovach. It also elected its first Board of Directors, which included Bernard Taper, journalism professor at UC Berkeley and one of the original “Monuments Men” who tracked down works of art pillaged by the Nazis and restored them to their rightful owners.

Louis Lotorto and Dakin Matthews in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," 1985.

From the appointment of Kovach, the Festival went through four artistic directors, two of whom—in the grand tradition of Shakespeare’s Lear, Coriolanus, Prospero, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, the Thane of Cawdor, and Macbeth— were banished by collective command. The company’s second Artistic Director, a brilliantly resourceful actor/manager named Dakin Matthews, instituted season concepts, as well as company “sharers,” an early version of today’s Associate Artist structure. Under Matthews’ five-year tenure (1983–1987) the Festival produced four plays in repertory every summer, and actress Lura Dolas was recruited to run a Summer Conservatory. During this period, however, the company outgrew its premises, prospective audience members were being turned away, and the neighbors were complaining about noise and parking. Audience members often came out after a performance to find their tires slashed, and one irate man was caught taking an axe to the stage. Even after an 11pm curfew was instituted to mollify the neighbors, the unrest continued, and a new location was clearly on the menu. But more about this in next program’s article, where we look at Artistic Director Michael Addison who led the company through its search for new premises, culminating in Professor Hugh Richmond’s near-arrest and an eventual move to the Bruns.

Lura Dolas as Rebecca and Annette Bening as Rowena in "Ivanhoe," 1983

Many remarkable artists joined the Festival in the early days, including Annette Bening, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Howard Swain, Nancy Carlin (who continues as an Associate Artist with the company today), Lura Dolas, Richard E.T. White, and Julian López-Morillas. The collective spirit required everyone to pitch in to make ends meet, and Dolas, for example, recalls her multiple roles on and off-stage—administrative work, publicity, directing, script cutting, driving the van from venue to venue, and, in the off-season, running a teaching conservatory. Jim Carpenter, lacking a beard, was obliged to carefully cut the hair of the company mascot dog for a performance of The Comedy of Errors (opening on June 28, 2014, hopefully, though, with no need to coif Jonathan’s Chihuahua, Lucy). The company members’ resourcefulness in these early days puts me very much in mind of how Shakespeare and his actors must have worked. They, too, made and hauled their own props, and they, too, had neighbors who didn’t want them (forcibly shut down at one point, Shakespeare and his troupe had to break down their theater and carry its parts across the Thames in the middle of the night.) “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves…” Four hundred years apart, the members of regional theater companies are living proof of this.

Learn more about California Shakespeare Theater, and support our work, by clicking here.

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Actor Spotlight: Ron Campbell on The Comedy of Errors, Masks, and Clowning

By Aliya Charney

Ron Campbell in "Kooza."

After a seven-year sabbatical, Ron Campbell is back at Cal Shakes. Five years ago, Campbell “ran away with the circus,” performing as The King in over 2,000 shows of Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza (directed by David Shiner) across the globe, collaborating with over 50 artists of 22 different nationalities. His final production took place this past New Year’s Eve in Paris.

Previously, through Cal Shakes, Campbell was the recipient of the Fox International Fellowship, in which he was awarded a grant to tour the world studying masks. Campbell is a prolific mask maker, with over 50 handmade masks in his repertoire. He teaches workshops at his studio, Soar Feat Unlimited, as well as in theaters across the Bay Area, training actors in the delicate art of mask acting. “Mask work gets the short shrift. We see it as a form of conjuring, supernatural. It’s got a spooky edge to it.” Through his teaching and workshops, Campbell is changing the way audiences and actors respond to masks. “Masks are evilly delicious tools used in teaching more often than performance.” Campbell hopes to incorporate more mask work into his future stage roles.

Although in Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of The Comedy of Errors he wears no literal mask, Campbell still makes use of his mask training through props, costumes, and language. Campbell views mask work as a mandate to be truthful, that is, externals allow him to obtain a sense of what the physical body of his character should be. “When I hold [Egeon’s] twisted staff and put on his long coat, I transform. As a receptive actor, try having [those costume pieces] not have an effect on you.” On mask acting in Shakespeare, Campbell suggests that the true masks lie in Shakespeare’s poetic language. “Speech is the beginning of the character. Language allows the actor to become physically aware.”

Mask acting is not the only experience Campbell is bringing back to the Cal Shakes stage. On applying the pitfalls and pratfalls of circus life to his new work, Campbell feels that he has become more aware of the audience when he performs. His years in Kooza have taught him to banish “the fourth wall,” a theater convention that separates the audience from the actors. Recalling a particularly memorable performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Ron interacted with Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton, demanding his “crown” and attempting to climb up into the royal box where the two were seated. “You’ll never take the full clown out of me,” Ron remarks. “There are lessons of the clown that can be applied to, say, Hamlet.”

A sample of Ron's mask work.

Campbell views clowning as a continuum in which, in its most extreme case, nothing ever gets accomplished. But according to Campbell, director Aaron Posner is finding the balance of incorporating clowning with driving the action of the play forward in The Comedy of Errors. “Clowning is definitely present but nothing is stalled by it for the sake of a few laughs. The play is driven and balanced. A difficult feat with clowning.”

Campbell, who played in The Comedy of Errors at Cal Shakes in the 2004 production (directed by Sean Daniels) as the twin Dromios (alongside a life-sized puppet of himself), compares his experience ten years ago to today. “Not only have the people changed,” Campbell relates, “but the world has changed since then, and Shakespeare has changed with it.

When asked what his dream role would be, Ron responded: “anything out at the beautiful Bruns Theater. I have a deep fondness of the human voice and [performing at the Bruns] is like being a jazz musician. You have to adapt your voice to a sudden gust of wind or a helicopter overhead. You don’t get that indoors.”

You can see Ron Campbell clowning his way through The Comedy of Errors, which begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th.


For more information about Ron Campbell’s workshops, visit www.soarfeat.org.

Interested in learning more about Ron’s experiences in Kooza, mask acting and martial arts? Visit www.RonCampbelltempest.blogspot.com. And visit www.soarfeat.wordpress.com to read Ron’s poetry and travel journal.

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Ask Philippa: “Comedy of Errors” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about The Comedy of Errors, which runs June 25–July 20. Tickets on sale now.

The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is a beautiful, festive comic treat about losing yourself and then finding yourself again. The play is Shakespeare’s shortest, first staged at the Inns of Court as part of an evening’s entertainment. Two sets of identical twins, both lost—one pair (twin plus master) settled prosperously in the city of Ephesus, the other pair alighting on Epheus after seven years of wandering. Add to this a wife, a suitor, and a long-lost set of parents—and here, in all its perverse comic confusions, we have a comedy: one that would set a template for Shakespeare’s future capacity to enchant, entertain, and philosophically provoke.

Are you going to see our production of The Comedy of Errors?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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Ask Philippa: “Raisin in the Sun” edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Raisin in the Sun, which runs May 21–June 15. Tickets on sale now.

(L to R) Ryan Nicole Peters as Ruth and Marcus Henderson as Walter in California Shakespeare Theater’s production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN, directed by Patricia McGregor; photo by Kevin Berne.

We’re starting off the season with Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Patricia McGregor, who first joined us at the Bruns last in 2012 with her magnificent Spunk. A Raisin in the Sun offers a stunning portrait of a black family’s experience in racially divided Chicago, injecting domestic and racial tension into 1950s self-portraits of the post-war American Dream. Raisin made Hansberry the youngest playwright, the fifth woman, and the only black writer ever to win the New York Critics’ Circle award. (The play also inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, written 60 years later and directed by our own Jonathan Moscone in an award-winning production at A.C.T. in 2011).

Are you going to see our production of A Raisin in the Sun?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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Shakespeare’s Settings

Elizabethan Europe

By Tess Brumwell-Gaze

With only a modest Stratford upbringing, Shakespeare’s knowledge of foreign cultures is an intriguing aspect of his works. Plays ensue with backdrops of rural Italy and monarchical Denmark, but very rarely Shakespeare’s English home ground. Whether this was to spur Elizabethan imaginings of exotic landmarks, or to avoid political controversy, there is also the question of how Shakespeare managed to accurately portray his oversea settings.

Why overseas?

A first explanation for overseas settings is bound in the political climate of Shakespeare’s time. Directly portraying English politics in the Elizabethan era was a risk. Perhaps to avoid this controversy, Shakespeare could reflect his own monarchy without controversy by relocating and renaming them as foreign rulers. Macbeth exemplifies Shakespeare’s careful political balance—representing the Scottish monarch as a tyrant and the English as the righteous power.

Though a factor, this does not entirely explain why Shakespeare chose the settings that he did; stereotypes of foreign countries can to some extent explain this. For English Elizabethans, Italy was a country excelling in “the fields of art, music and literature, as well as banking, fencing and political science” explains Professoressa Laura Tosi, of Ca’Foscari University in Venice. In the same light, Italy’s culture was imagined as “the cradle of political, religious and sexual corruption.” On hearing that a play was set in Italy, audiences would expect certain characteristics. Most notable of these, Warren King discusses, are “heat, extreme emotion and violence.” What better setting for a desperate romance or bitter rivalry?

A similar account stands for Shakespeare’s Greek settings. Ancient Greece spurred associations of darkness, magic, and myth. This spiritual dimension was taken advantage of in The Comedy of Errors, as themes of witchery and immorality surface in the ancient city.

Less romantically, Shakespeare’s settings were often poached. Hamlet, for example, could hardly be taken from its original Denmark setting without being wildly reworked. This point is also especially poignant in Shakespeare’s classic plays.

A villa in Verona's countryside, close to the Capulets' imagined mansion.


How could Shakespeare articulate these settings?

Being from a modest background, the diverse history and language used in Shakespeare’s works suggests a much more fulfilled education. How did he educate himself on such specific times and places, especially if he would have been unable to visit?

Professoressa Tosi supposes that Shakespeare could have “read political treatises, novellas, tourist books, published traveler’s reports or unpublished ones in manuscript” as a way of informing his Italian works. Equally, oral sources could have aided the writer, with “Italian merchants living in London, scholars, musicians, and cultural mediators like John Florio.” Professore Valerio di Scarpis (Ca’Foscari University, Venice) added: “there were so many travel guides on Venice scattered around Northern Europe at that time, Shakespeare could have easily gathered all the necessary information from London.”  There is still a tiny possibility that he reached Italy—both aristocrats and companies of English players on tour moved across the continent at the time. His precise descriptions of Italian villas, locations and even plants are often cited as evidence that he must have toured the country.

Shakespeare’s grasp of language

Only fairly recently have historians supposed that Shakespeare had a fairly good grasp of Latin. This is most likely as a result of grammar school in Stratford. At this time, grammar institutions would demand pupils learn prominent texts by heart. Most prominently, Ovid’s Metamorphoses would have been mandatory, which Shakespeare references in his poem “Venus and Adonis.”

It is largely assumed that Shakespeare did not have an equivalent knowledge of Greek. Instead, works such as Plutarch’s Lives, translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579, would have informed Shakespeare’s own work. An exception may be The Comedy of Errors, which it is thought Shakespeare would have directly based on the original Menaechmi by Plautus.

The Comedy of Errors also notably opens with Virgil’s words;

“A heavier task could not have been imposed
Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable” (1,1.32-33)

Translations were a key source for a number of plays. Julius CaesarAnthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus were written with the aid of Sir Thomas North’s translations, though there are a number of further sources expanded his classical knowledge and use of language, as Professor Panos Karagiorgos discusses.

Shakespeare’s settings can be explained by a mix of political controversy, Elizabethan romanticism and education. The Bard’s reading shaped both his choices in setting and linguistic experimentation, formed by revised translations and a disciplined schooling.

Tess Brumwell-Gaze is based in the UK and writes for Italian Villa company, Tuscany Now. She is interested in all areas of Italian culture, though is especially fond of arts and literature.

Interested in seeing how director Aaron Posner depicts Ephesus, Greece? Buy your ticket for Cal Shakes’ The Comedy of Errors, opening June 25.


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Inside the Rehearsal Hall for “The Comedy of Errors”

“The play’s the thing.”

—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II


This is dramaturgy intern Aliya Charney blogging from inside the rehearsal room for Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner. We started off running (and tumbling!) this past Wednesday at the Meet and Greet, where cast members, artistic staff, production crew, the entire Cal Shakes team, and donors had the opportunity to listen to Posner discuss his vision for the play, which centers around the idea of “play.”

The cast of The Comedy of Errors in rehearsal.

The various puns on the word “play” (a stage performance, an exercise of amusement, fun and jest, a game, to act the part of a character, and even another word for “pun” itself ) perfectly complement Shakespeare’s earliest comedy. The Comedy of Errors, which is filled with wordplay and jest, is a play about mistaken identity, mystery, doubling, farce, magic, confusion, and love.

The notion of play, which Posner will use to drive The Comedy of Errors forward, will manifest on stage not just through juggling, clowning, and acrobatic tricks performed by the actors, but through the sense of what Posner himself calls “invented Shakespeare”—a term he uses to describe the contemporizing of Shakespeare’s texts through the fluidity of the Bard’s own language. Meaning, Posner, the cast, and artistic staff will create a world that profits from Shakespeare’s enduring language, rather than interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer draws inspiration for her looks from Buster Keaton, 1920s fashion, eastern European clowns, Steampunk, and much more. Her looks coincide with Posner’s vision of play and “invented Shakespeare” because they do not come from one specific place or time period, but rather, are drawn from themes and images that the text itself evokes. Nina Ball, scenic designer for the production, has created a multi-level, colorful, trapdoor-filled, “shutter-cluttered” open stage that provides a canvas for abundant physical humor, allowing the actors to fully embody the sense of play, while simultaneously harmonizing with the beautiful, natural backdrop of the Bruns.

Posner adds to the play’s themes of doubling and confusion with a cast of seven. Both sets of twins (four characters total): Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus/Dromio of Syracuse (played by Adrian Danzig and Danny Scheie, respectively) are performed by two actors, while other cast members play multiple personalities on stage as well. The actors, therefore, rely on quick changes (some of which take place on stage before the audience), accent shifts, and physical humor to tell the story of mistaken identity between two sets of brothers.

Less than one week into rehearsal, The Comedy of Errors is already promising to be a a fun-filled, hilarious, and loving production. Posner began the first rehearsal by requesting the cast to “find the love” in this dark comedy. Indeed, love of all forms flourishes on stage: from romantic love to love between brothers, sisters, and friends, and even unapologetic self-love, The Comedy of Errors balances Shakespeare’s oft-dark text with fruitful moments of tenderness guaranteed to make the audience fall in love with the production, and actors.

The Comedy of Errors begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th. With rehearsals now fully underway, I will be updating this blog periodically with production developments and insight into the rehearsal process.

Join in the madness! Buy your tickets for The Comedy of Errors here.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern for Cal Shakes. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Aliya is a Shakespeare and cat enthusiast from Chicago. Her favorite line in The Comedy of Errors is: “I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.”


Posted in By Aliya Charney (dramaturgy intern), Main Stage, The Comedy of Errors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment