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Friday, April 22, 2005
Actors savor Shakespeare
According to Tony Pisculli, there are two kinds of actors -- those who love Shakespeare and those, even if they might not love him, who respect him. "If you can play Shakespeare, you can play anything," said the director of the upcoming Hawaii Shakespeare Festival. "If you can articulate the words and make them resonate, you can do anything."
But to Pisculli, the fuss about the playwright's actual theatrical contributions is much ado about nothing. He believes the tragedies and broad comedies about Shakespeare's contemporaries have some correlation to his everyday life.
"During high school, my parents urged me to take classes on Shakespeare, but I thought 'He's been dead 400 years. It's garbage. It's history. It's almost like its another language. I'm going to go read contemporary work.' "
It wasn't until later as a student at the University of Hawaii that he began to reexamine his views on Shakespeare and the playwright's contributions to the English language. He has professor Terence Knapp, whom Pisculli worked with during his years at UH, to thank for the reintroduction to Shakespeare. Like Pisculli, Knapp has introduced hundreds of students to the man through the "Bard's Birthday Bash."
"It's really due to Terry, or I should say Terence," said Pisculli, who will direct "Romeo and Juliet" this year at the festival.
As William Shakespeare turns 441 this weekend, Knapp will celebrate the Bard's accomplishments by directing one of the Elizabethan playwright's last comedies "Twelfth Night."
"It's an occasion to revel in the work of the greatest writer who ever lived," said Knapp. "With 'Twelfth Night,' you're bringing to life essential Shakespeare. With the young actresses and actors not being very experienced, we want them to walk on the stage with confidence. We work hard to get them up to scratch. My expectations are high."
However, there is a twist, and perhaps an added pressure for the actors -- the dialogue has been peppered with pidgin. Although the play's characters and setting are the same, the comedy was rewritten line by line by the late James Grant Benton, one of Knapp's former students.
Two of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival directors, Pisculli and R. Kevin Doyle, are also working on "twelf nite o' WATEVA" with Knapp and Benton.
"If someone twists your arm and makes you pick up and read 'Hamlet' you'd think there wasn't a lot of contemporary slang 400 years ago," said Pisculli. "But this was the contemporary slang 400 years ago."
As for purists or English teachers who might disapprove of altering Shakespeare's words, whether it be through pidgin, rap or other device, Knapp thumbs his nose: "Oh, bugger the teachers." After all, the playwright's the thing.
"If children come and see 'twelf nite o'WATEVA,' and they are engaged in it and they laugh, it makes them more ready to go and see 'Twelfth Night,'" Knapp said. "(And) actors love a challenge."
KNAPP WILL celebrate his own milestone at the end of the semester -- retirement. He may travel more, write more and perhaps direct more at the local theaters, but for now, he's concentrating on the next few weeks as "twelf nite o'WATEVA" gets ready for its debut and the 35th edition of the "Bard's Birthday Bash" gets underway.
The "Bard's Birthday Bash" has become an annual tradition for Knapp and the UH community, which includes graduates such as Benton, Pisculli, Harry Wong III (the third Hawaii Shakespeare Festival director), and Doyle. Knapp has spent many years with the bard on his birthday, celebrating his life through selected readings and songs, while providing introductions to the individual works.
This year will be the last time Knapp will play host of the bash.
"I cannot think of a more fitting way to go out," said Knapp.
It was Shakespeare's influence that brought Knapp to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. More than three decades ago that he accepted a one-year post at the university.
Part of what attracted him to the Manoa community was Kennedy Theatre and its resemblance to the Globe Theatre, designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei -- a beautiful fitting for the greatest writer that ever lived, according to Knapp.
Knapp will sign off with the great speech by Prospero from "The Tempest." "(It will serve as a) bye-bye," said Knapp. "It will be a very fond, somewhat reflective evening. It's been an extremely joyful enterprise. Happy birthday, dear William."
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