It’s always interesting to me to see how productions handle the music of William Shakespeare. It’s how I got started with Bare Theatre, back in 2005 when we did Titus Andronicus. The text of those 37 plays is so universal/versatile that it can be played in any genre, and that versatility translates directly into the songs within the text.
Lyrics have always been difficult to me. I pick out melodies and harmonies, and I’m no poet. So it’s always a relief to have the words to a song done for me. I always find it easier to write music to words that are already laid out, because the lyrics usually have at least some rhythm built into them. The surrounding dialogue usually gives good indication of the mood and direction for the music.
For As You Like It, I’ve been able to sit back and let someone else write the music. It’s been a great experience watching The Zinc Kings and seeing what they’ve come up with. I love their arrangements, and I think they do a wonderful job of picking up the rhythm and spirit of each song.
I thought it would be fun to compare some different takes on the most famous song from As You Like It, “Under the Greenwood Tree.” The following versions couldn’t be more different from each other, and I think it only speaks to the power of the text that so much can be done with it.
Here’s The Zinc Kings’ version in our production. This is the music video / web trailer shot by Altercation Pictures:
Catchy, right? I love how upbeat it is, and also that it really does sound like a traditional American tune (maybe except for the “Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame…” line). I think it’s a fantastic version, and even after hearing it and singing it for weeks, I’m not getting sick of it – the opposite, really! I love it more and more.
A lot of versions are more traditional in the Renaissance sense. This one is an interesting comparison by Ray Leslee, performed by New York’s Antara Ensemble with Nathan Lee Graham and Harold Jones, conducted by Ariel Rudiakov:
The musicianship here is pretty amazing, and obviously this is a very classical, operatic rendering of the song. The quality is obviously there, but this isn’t the kind of “everybody join in” song The Zinc Kings created. That wasn’t the point of this version nor is it typical of this type of music. It’s meant to be listened to, respectfully. I think this is what a lot of people would imagine a song from Shakespeare should sound like.
Here is perhaps the most well-known version today, popularized by Donovan in 1967. Call it the hippie version:
It’s got a generous helping of “Mellow Yellow” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” overtones to it. Personally, I love a lot of Donovan’s music, he’s one of the seminal sounds of the sixties. In my opinion, he had a little trouble fitting the words to the meter – it just feels slightly forced. What I think is really interesting though, is how much this version sounds like it’s about sex (is that just me?). Maybe it’s all the “Will you, won’t you…” at the end – which Donovan added, it’s not in the script.
There’s many more versions out there, but I thought this was an interesting cross section. If you have any notable versions of this or any other Shakespeare songs – post in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.
There is already a certain electricity I can feel out at the Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. The place has atmosphere, and as more than one cast member has already remarked, it feels like a place in which someone should do Shakespeare. The stonework walls and benches, the raked wooden stage floor that feels like an old ship run aground…it feels like a set even with no actual set pieces in it.
The open air is inviting. Now that North Carolina Spring is (finally!) in effect, the warm air and cool breeze makes for perfect weather. There is a serenity to the place, and a strong sense of time. The amphitheatre has, after all, been there for over seven decades.
Raleigh Little Theatre is the granddaddy of this collaborative effort. As one of the oldest community theatres in the nation, they have a ton of history. Formed during the Great Depression, they’ve seen ups and downs – but they have lasted through good and bad and continued to entertain and educate the Raleigh community for a long time.
A long lifespan by no means indicates that RLT has grown tired. I have to say that this organization, especially with the new leadership of Executive Director Charles Phaneuf, is doing a great job of producing theatre that attracts and engages its audiences.
By contrast, with only eight full seasons under our belt, Bare Theatre is relatively new. We don’t have anywhere near the resources of RLT. We don’t even usually use scenery, much less have a scene shop. Heck, we don’t even have a theater. RLT has three!
However, the fact that we don’t have much if any overhead allows us some flexibility and agility. We can sometimes take some risks. As much as that can sometimes drive me bonkers, it also provides some freedom for us to dream.
Cirque de Vol is the newest entity in our little trifecta, and they’ve generated a lot of interest in their first year of operation. The high ceilings of the colorful and welcoming studios downtown have become a sort of home base to a community of circus performers in the Triangle. Not only does the physical space in the Hue building provide these talented artists with a space to congregate and practice, but they are now instructing a new generation of children and adults in trapeze, aerial silks, acrobatics, lyra, hooping, and yoga (just to name a few).
Sara Phoenix and her sister, Sheryl Howell, have created a strong atmosphere of positivity – it washes over you when you walk through the door. Sara’s sunny can-do attitude is so reassuring when we talk about things that make me somewhat nervous – aerial silk rigs, trapeze hanging from towers, and flamethrowers shooting fireballs off of said towers.
I’d also like to mention Greg Whitt of Drum for Change, who has agreed to head up our percussion ensemble that will accompany the madness. Sound has always been important to me in theatre (that’s how I got started with Bare), and drums provide energy and pulse to help keep driving the action.
So here we are. And we now have a complete cast! After auditioning via Skype from London, Brian Fisher will now be playing the part of Antipholus of Syracuse, and we are glad to have him.
The pace quickens. The show gets louder.