Since this is my first blog for SBTS (and truth be told, my first blog ever), let me introduce myself. My name is Stephanie Coltrin, and I am thrilled to be back for my fourth season with Shakespeare by the Sea, having previously directed Julius Caesar, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. I also work at Little Fish Theatre as the Managing Director.Shakespeare by the Sea has become my favorite thing to look forward to every year as it’s such a special experience for the creative and production teams, actors and audiences alike. I know it sounds trite to say something is a special experience, but it just is. Ask anyone who has been involved and I’ll bet they will sheepishly use the same word.
There were a lot of conversations this year about which plays to pick- and we went back and forth on many titles. King John is a play that I have always hoped to do and never thought I would. Frankly, it’s not performed very much. So when the decision was made to select King John, I was both thrilled and terrified. After all, when you direct the more well-known Shakespeare plays, you feel like you have a basis of familiarity with the play that sort of exists at a cellular level, and you can work from there. This play is not one I ever had to read in any of the Shakespeare classes in college, never have seen performed, never have had any exposure to outside of the life the play has in my own head.
So, I was excited. And between you and me, I have always been fascinated by the history of the Plantagenet family (my friends would say obsessively so), being directly descended from King Edward I. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Frankly, I would be more excited about it if I were living in a castle somewhere in the northern parts of England- not sure what happened there.
So, I began to delve into the play- you know, to think about the play in terms of theme, character, story, historical context. While reading the play, the first thing that I remembered is one of my favorite quotes from my dear friend (and director of our other play All’s Well that Ends Well)- Patrick Vest: “We don’t learn history from Shakespeare.” Now, we all know that Shakespeare always adapted history to suit his own needs, but in this play, he really went all the way. For example, there are events in Act IV (that in the play seem to happen almost simultaneously) that took place in real time in a span of about twenty years.
So being thusly confused, I went back to my research books to figure out the real history so that I could decipher Shakespeare’s meaning in the shuffling of historical events. Then I went through the play to determine what part of the story I wanted to focus on, began envisioning the characters and the action in my head, and then started the huge task of (drumroll please followed by a huge gulp) cutting the script.
Most Shakespeare plays are- well, let’s say lengthy. This one is no different. If we were to stage the entire text of the play, it would run about three and a half hours. But one of the things that we do at Shakespeare by the Sea for all kinds of reasons, is to cut the plays down to a running time of an hour and 45 minutes maximum. This means that with intermission, the audience will have a two hour experience. Editing the play, for me, is both daunting and exhilarating. You have to look at every detail with an eagle eye to be sure that the story is clear, and the beauty of the play still comes through. I have to tell you, the language in this play is so striking that it might be possible that I winced just a bit as I was hitting the delete key. And I admit it, I would also send a silent “I’m sorry” up to Shakespeare in the sky- just in case he’s up there wincing somewhere himself. I mean, I am editing the words of someone whom many consider to be the greatest playwright in history. (For the record, I am one of those people). But after about 150 hours of agonizing over it, the script is edited.
In this process, I discovered the reason that the play isn’t done very much-the play can be very confusing to a modern audience who doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the history of the English monarchy. But do you know what else I discovered? That this play SHOULD be done more often than it is. This is truly Shakespeare’s own game of thrones. It is a THRILLING play. The language, the plot, the twists, the turns, the fighting, the questions raised- are not only exciting to watch historically, but also so relevant to us today.
So in the process of writing this blog this summer, I hope to introduce you to two different but intertwined worlds- the world of King John himself, and the way that it plays out in the exciting world of Shakespeare by the Sea. So I hope that you will accompany us on this journey of crowns and swords, church and country, patriotism and betrayal. It’s going to be an exciting summer. The show is cast with amazing actors, sets designed, costume sketches done, and rehearsal starts on Sunday. And I, for one, can’t wait to spend the summer with great talent, great friends, great audiences and the greatest words in the English language.