The Dock Street Theatre is proud to present Shakespeare’s Globe in ... well, that might be up to you.
The London theater company, which specializes in period-authentic productions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, is bringing three works to Spoleto Festival USA: “The Comedy of Errors,” “Pericles” and “Twelfth Night.” On many nights, however, the cast and crew have no idea which one they’ll be performing. The audience gets to pick on the spot.
“We know that Elizabethan touring players traveled for months at a time with a whole program of plays at their fingertips, just as this ensemble is doing now,” said Brendan O’Hea, the director of all three plays. “The choice of play was left to the most powerful person in the household, who would decide the evening’s entertainment. For us, that’s the audience.”
This audience-choice approach is a recent addition to the Globe.
“It certainly encourages active audience participation, which was a huge part of playgoing in Shakespeare’s day,” company member Eric Sirakian said.
(For those with their heart set on seeing a specific play, a few preordained performances of each are on the calendar.)
Sirakian, a Massachusetts native in his first year out of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, has literally dreamed of performing at the Globe.
“I used to sleep with a poster of the Globe on the ceiling above my bed,” he said.
He was first exposed to the Bard in middle school, when he read “Romeo and Juliet.” While the language was at first “impenetrable,” teachers helped him decode the text — and even start to memorize it, he said.
“The only way is repetition.”
How is Sirakian prepared for action just minutes after finding out which character — or characters — he’ll be getting into that night? (He is responsible for a total of eight different roles during the Spoleto run, including five in “Pericles.”) He uses an app called LineLearner, and reviews his lines and cues every day.
Both “The Comedy of Errors” and “Twelfth Night” are easy-to-digest comedies. The comedy-tragedy-curiosity “Pericles,” however, is more obscure for today’s actors and audiences alike, which makes committing all those characters’ lines to memory something of a feat.
Fellow player Natasha Magigi, though a Shakespeare’s Globe veteran, is performing according to the audience choice format for the first time.
“When the lines are in iambic pentameter” — 10 syllabic beats per line — “I can learn them rhythmically,” she said. “With the prose, I learn via the punctuation in order to get the rhythm of the line. Brendan is very good at pointing out caesuras, or line break indicators ... which really helps verse learning.”
Before directing at the Globe, O’Hea acted with the company for six years. He had always wanted to teach, and his prior experience helps him guide and encourage current Globe actors as they navigate their lines, he said.
“I always encourage the actors to think in pictures, as I find it by far the best way to memorize thought and words,” O’Hea said.
Still, no method is perfect, as Magigi learned the night of her first Globe “Twelfth Night.” She had said “lellow” in place of “yellow” in a line about Malvolio’s yellow stockings.
“I died inside and nearly corpsed my fellow cast members!” Magigi said, using the British theater slang term for breaking character. “So, to try and make up for it later in Act 3, I came on to say ‘Malvolio is in yellow stockings,’ and this time I over-pronounced and shouted, ‘YELLOW stockings.’ Which was a little naughty, but it got a laugh.”
After all, the nature of Shakespeare’s plays is to be relatable to everyone.
“Shakespeare wrote ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Pericles’ for the Globe, so he understood what it was like to tell a story at the mercy of your audience,” O’Hea said, alluding to the original Globe, which burned down in 1613. “There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere when the yard is full and the audience surrounds you: It’s energizing, live — rock ’n’ roll. … You need to be robust, talented, resourceful, playful, passionate about Shakespeare, open and kind.”
Sirakian said he’s ready for whatever challenge each night’s audience hurls at him.
“Actors back then had lots of plays stored in their memories, and they often performed a different play everyday, so Shakespeare probably would have found the idea of doing just one play for an extended period of time slightly strange,” he said. “Why not mix it up?”
Geena Matuson is a Goldring arts journalism student at Syracuse University.