When is Measure for Measure not Measure for Measure and yet is Measure for Measure?
Austin Shakespeare has the answer, and it's sharing it publicly on Saturday at the Ransom Center.
The Measure that our hometown classics company is reading in the HRC's Prothro Theatre that night is a new translation of Shakespeare's text into contemporary language by Aditi Brennan Kapil, author of Imogen Says Nothing; Agnes Under the Big Top, a tall tale; and the Displaced Hindu Gods trilogy, among others. She's one of 41 playwrights commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to go through a play by the Bard and look for opportunities to make the text clearer for contemporary audiences.
The goal of this initiative, titled Play on!, isn't to improve upon Shakespeare (as if!) or to haul the plays into our time – the settings will stay the same, and the authors are free to let the language stand as it was written when they choose. The translations are intended to help some passages land on our ears in a slightly friendlier way and, beyond that, to bring us closer to the experience of the play that the original audiences had. In other words, if there's a joke in the original that was rooted in the politics of the day and made the crowd howl, the translation aims not merely to explain the joke to us, so we nod appreciatively, but to revise the joke in such a way that we howl, too.
In an interview on the website State of Shakespeare, Kapil talks about the challenge of making inside jokes from the court of James I hilarious in the age of Trump, and with her is her dramaturg on the project, Liz Engelman, who teaches here in Austin in the UT Department of Theatre & Dance.
But Engelman wasn't the only UT faculty member providing dramaturgical support on the Measure for Measure translation. Andrew Carlson, who serves as the managing director of the Oscar G. Brockett Center for Theatre History and Criticism and teaches courses in dramaturgy, Shakespeare, acting, and performance studies, also worked with Kapil, and now he's getting a firsthand opportunity to see how the translation works for a modern actor with a modern audience. For this weekend's reading, he'll take on the role of the Duke, the Viennese ruler who entrusts the city to his aide Angelo and goes undercover to see how things are at street level. Also taking part in the reading will be Clara Hayes, Robert Matney, Colum Morgan, Chuck Winkler, Andrew Matthews, Keith Adam Paxton, Max Green, and Nancy Eyermann. If the reading piques your curiosity about the Play on! project and how other works in the canon are being treated, then you'll want to stick around for the talkback after the reading, which will include OSF's Taylor Bailey, who serves as associate producer for Play on!
Measure for Measure starts at 7:30pm on Sat., Dec. 8, in the Ransom Center's Prothro Theatre, 21st & Guadalupe. Admission is free, but seating is first come, first served. For more information, visit the Austin Shakespeare website or Facebook page.
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