In the words of ASC Literary Manager, Anne G. Morgan, in the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Project (SNC) “we seek to create a canon of new plays that is as diverse, robust, and imaginative as Shakespeare’s canon. We look forward to seeing the wide variety of ways in which writers’ interpret the call for plays inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s work”. This project is an opportunity for playwrights, actors and, most importantly, audiences to engage and re-engage with Shakespeare’s works in new ways. The most exciting feature of this project, however, is not only the conversations that the new plays can spark with Shakespeare’s work, but it is the opportunity to see the two plays in tandem. In the current Spring: Tour Homecoming season audiences can see Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Mary Elizabeth Hamilton’s 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale on the same stage and, what’s more, with the same cast of actors. Below are four major reasons why audiences should make sure they see both Shakespeare’s work as well as the new SNC plays at the Blackfriars:
- Room for imagination:
In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the story skips over 16 years in the middle of the play. What happens to Hermione and Paulina in those 16 years? What is life really like in Bohemia for Perdita? What’s up with that bear? Playwright Mary Elizabeth Hamilton explores the mystery of this gap of time and, in doing so, invites audiences to ponder the many possibilities that exist in the unanswered questions within Shakespeare’s text.
- Increased access to Shakespeare’s characters:
Students at James Madison University acted in an early workshop of the play. Professor Zachary Dorsey says about the experience: “16 Winters provided characters that were eclectic and zany and young and real, all directly related to characters from The Winter’s Tale….[These characters] will positively affect how these performers see Shakespeare’s characters in general and seek to perform them in the future – not as larger than life, mythic, archetypal, unapproachable characters, but as real people, as humans with everyday needs and failings and desires.” Hamilton’s play illuminates the passions, questions, fears and dreams of real people, and, consequently, makes Shakespeare’s characters accessible in a modern way.
- New ways of considering writing:
Shakespeare wrote largely in iambic pentameter. Mary Elizabeth Hamilton writes in a spare, fast paced, contemporary vernacular. Regardless of the different styles of writing, both plays explore similar thematic material and tell a story of love and loss and life. Audiences can consider the ways in which dramatic writing has changed over the centuries and explore the effectiveness of different linguistic styles for storytelling.
- A contemporary perspective on a classic play:
Written in 2019, 16 Winters, or the Bear’s Tale boldly interrogates the way gender, class, society, and relationships function in the story Shakespeare tells.
Both The Winter’s Tale and 16 Winters will perform in repertory until the Spring Season closing weekend of June 7th-9th. Audiences can, of course, enjoy the plays individually, but would greatly benefit seeing the plays paired together. Besides, you don’t really get to experience a conversation if you only hear one side of it.