- Notes from the Director

Comedy Tonight

EPIC – adjective ep·ic 'e-pik 
  • extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope  
  • telling a story about a hero or about exciting events or adventures 

With its first known performance in 1608, Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s last tragedies and his first movie. Ok, it may have predated the first motion picture by a few centuries, but the cinematic scope of the play is undeniable and epic: more scenes than any of his other works (40-ish scenes, depending on how you define the breaks); jumping back and forth to/from the Mediterranean locations of Rome, Egypt, Greece, and sea battles in between; along with starring one of history’s most famous pair of powerful lovers. 

IMAGINATION – noun imag·i·na·tion i-' ma-j -'nā-sh n •
  • the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present 
  • the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced 

The production history of A&C has been challenged by the shifting theatrical norms of the day. When big sets and some sort “realism” or “naturalism” dominated the production choices of an era, theatre companies have battled to stage the breadth and reach Shakespeare gives us. If we build a set for Rome, another set for Cleopatra’s court in Egypt, a set for Pompey’s boat, another set for Ceasar’s camp outside of Cleopatra’s court, then we’re going to have great difficulty switching back and forth as the story demands. The outdoor and indoor Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres for which Shakespeare wrote were far more open and easy to navigate. Shakespeare’s company didn’t need a special lighting cue and set change to switch locations. When he wanted the action to shift locale, all he had to do was start a scene with the line “Welcome to Rome,” and then the audience knew to make the jump without an electronic revolve revealing a new set. Shakespeare used language to create the settings for his audience to imagine. Modern set designers either struggle to create multiple locations in a play or they build something that doesn’t match Shakespeare’s words. 

Here at the Blackfriars Playhouse, the theatre itself is the set. We sometimes embellish the stage with tables or thrones or cushions or curtains or whatever’s called for in the text. But we believe wholeheartedly that Shakespeare’s writing creates Theatre of the Imagination, which allows us to go globetrotting at the blink of an eye. A&C is filled with infinite variety. We hope you will build the sets with your imagination, that you will allow our inhabiting of Shakespeare’s language to empower your senses, touch your heart, and tickle your funny bone. So welcome to Rome. And Egypt. And Pompey’s Boat. They will look like whatever we imagine; and together we’ll take this epic journey where Shakespeare leads us. 

JIM WARREN 
Artistic Director and Co-founder

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