Shakespeare on the Green Returns

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June 21st, 2017

“King Lear is about brothers and sisters and fathers and daughters and sons, and we all have versions of those relationships in our life, and we may not be giving away kingdoms, but we’re certainly dealing with each other on a daily basis,” said Vincent Carlson-Brown, artistic director for Nebraska Shakespeare and director of this performance of King Lear.

“How do we travel towards our darkest most deprived moments? How do we come out of that tragedy and reconnect with our humanity in a way that is positive or meaningful? What is it about tragedy that teaches us something about our daily lives? I think that’s important.”

And why he chose to direct it?

“Working on it, it’s a whale of a good time,” he said. “Lots of fights, lots of beautiful language. These characters are extreme, and they’re fascinating. They’re interesting to peel off all the layers and really uncover and discover who these characters are. It’s fascinating process.”

This Thursday, June 22, Nebraska Shakespeare will begin their annual Shakespeare on the Green series, free performances by top Shakespeare players in Upper Elmwood Park, south of the bell tower on UNO’s campus.

First, a tragedy, King Lear, the story of an old English king gripped by madness as he must divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Playwright George Bernard Shaw has written “No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” A stage has already been erected the field where the players are rehearsing the lines and fights of one of Shakespeare’s brutal plays.

Carlson-Brown explained some of the aesthetic choices made for this production.

“The tradition for Nebraska Shakespeare is to do one play sort of traditionally or historically, and that doesn’t necessarily mean Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Era,” Carlson-Brown said. “Although it could, it usually means around the time period for which the play was originally written, so this year’s King Lear I’m setting it in a tenth century Norse empire. It’s not exactly the period that Shakespeare set it in, but for us it’s historical in a way where they still look like a classic or a culture of antiquity. They’re using weapons that we don’t really use anymore—spears, axes, broadswords and the like as opposed to cellphones and guns.”

Nebraska Shakespeare works with local actors, national performers, and some students from Nebraska and Iowa colleges. Though Shakespeare’s plays have been performed in many styles, at many venues for hundreds of years, each performance presents unique challenges.

“The challenge I think for King Lear is that it is a poetic piece of literature, and on the page it reads pretty epic and pretty bold,” Carlson-Brown said. “The challenge is it’s hard. It’s hard to perform. These characters have to make very hard jumps, and for an actor, you have to justify getting from point A to point B to point Z in your emotional arc, your mental arc, and also to be able to sustain that physicality. King Lear is I think one of the most challenging tragedies, especially for the character of King Lear to pace—the actor has to pace himself through the beginning to the end of the play, and what we found early on is that we were actually expelling too much energy and anger and rage and emotion early on in the play, and we needed to sort of save some of that for the second act.”

King Lear will show on the green by UNO’s parking lot M from June 22 to June 25, and also July 6 and 7. Performances start at 8:00pm, but arrive as early as 6:00pm to enjoy the evening and catch a scholar’s forum at 6:30 discussing the production. If enough money is raised, a special performance, Late Night Lear will be on July 5 featuring food vendors and a beer garden, improv and stand-up comedy from Big Canvas, additional musical acts, and a later performance of King Lear. For more information about performances and donating, visit Nebraska Shakespeare.com.

 

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