You have to
It's five in the morning. The sun isn't even sneaking through the blinds yet, and here I am, making tea, disturbing the normal morning routine of the dogs and steeling myself to write. I have an article due in just a few hours. I know what it has to be about, and I don't want to do it.
No, this isn't about Prince. That would actually be more interesting and timely and emotional for everyone involved. No, this is the time that I warned you about last year. This past weekend was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, which means that just about every source I normally go to for national and international news was stuffed to the gills with stuff about Stratford's most famous son.
I know that I'll have to talk about it, and yet I really don't want to, because, my god, haven't we said enough about this guy in the past four centuries? How much more can we drag out?
Now it's five twenty in the morning. I'm stalling, dragging my feet like a kid heading reluctantly inside from play. No matter how much I kick and moan, the moment will come. But not yet. For this one shining moment, let us push back against the inevitable. Let us rage against the dying of the light; let us defy the Will; let us follow up on things we've talked about before:
Last week on News and Notes I said a bunch of things about stuff. Then some other things happened to that stuff. Of course, we had to talk about the Guthrie's new Level 9 Initiative (which only sounds like a vaguely sinister supervillian plot). I took some potshots at the G for waiting on a million-dollar grant to start thinking about its community, but Hannah Youngquist, writing at Twin Cities Daily Planet, took the complaints to the next level: "Despite what you may see on Facebook or in the City Pages, the Guthrie is not a beacon of progressive values and radical practice. It’s just a big ol’ money-making machine. Until that becomes a serious part of the conversation, they have not done enough."
Last week, in the continuing flood of stories about Hamilton, I mentioned that the show has helped save the titular founding father from being shoved off of the $10 bill in the Treasury Department's plans to put a woman on one of our bills. Those plans have shifted instead to shoving Andrew Jackson off of the $20 bill, which gives me some hope for this world. Now, we know who will be replacing him: Harriet Tubman. Now that we've had a week or so for the outright racists to throw stupid little fits, get ready for a whole new slew of conversations that start with "I'm not racist, but…" It's just too bad for Andrew Jackson that no one wrote a popular musical about him. (Also, Jackson isn't actually exiting the $20 bill. Now he'll just be lurking on the back, biding his time, waiting…)
Also last week, I shared Part 1 of a series in Forbes about why Broadway is so white. It might have something to do with a long history of things like The Mikado, and our insistence on trying again and again to rescue it from itself. Welcome to Part 2 of that Forbes series, the call to arms: "We can be better. And we need to be. If you have a platform, use it. If you don’t, make one. Or take one. Broadway isn’t the only industry falling down a white rabbit hole."
Finally, in the final followup from last week before I have to get on to talking about William Shakespeare's rotting corpse, I made fun of the Star Tribune for once again deciding the Best of 2016 when 2016 is only 4 months old. Now I have to give City Pages some gentle ribbing for doing the exact same thing. (It must be good for business synergy somehow, since the Star Tribune now owns City Pages.) Many theater people grace the rolls of City Pages' Best of 2016, which, like the Star Tribune's list, should be renamed Best Since Last April. This year's CP list includes entries for both "Best Theater" and "Best Theater Troupe." You might be thinking, "Oh, that first one must mean 'Best Theater Space', since calling two different theater companies 'The Best' betrays a complete lack of understanding of the word 'best'"; but, no, they are two different theater companies. Congratulations to both, and be glad that City Pages went with this decision rather than making you fight to death for the right to be called the champion. Far too many companies before you have died in CP's arena of death questing for such fame.
All kidding aside, City Pages also published an article last week that, while not officially part of "The Best," probably should have been: a look at Twin Cities theater's Best Theater Fan, Scott Pakudaitis.
Seriously, get on with it
It's 6:30 in the morning, the sun is coming up, this article is due in just a few hours, and, oh god, Shakespeare is still looming over me, isn't he? Can't we talk about anything else? Anything?!
Hey, remember last year when that book about the history of Twin Cities theater came out? The Line has published an excerpt for your enjoyment. Look! They published another one!
Does anyone want to talk about that? Anyone? OK, then. The Star Tribune published an interesting article about the ballet companies exiting Lowertown St. Paul as the neighborhood continues inching up the gentrification ladder. How about a rousing discussion of the arts and city development? Hell, I'll even talk about Creative Placemaking, even though neither of us understands what that term means.
HEY, EVERYONE, LOOK AT THIS VIDEO ABOUT THE FRINGE FESTIVAL! Let's just watch it together and look forward to the summer and not think about Shakespeare…
Commence the Shakespeare
The time has come. There can be no more discussion on how rare it really is for a musical like Hamilton to win the Pulitzer. There is no more Hamilton. There is only Shakespeare.
Shakespeare, the Undying. Shakespeare, the Devourer of All Plays. Join him. Become one with him. For you enjoy all of his words. Yes, you do. Even Cymbeline. Especially Cymbeline.
April 23 was the official 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and the world won't shut up about it. The New York Times printed his "obituary." Ha ha, isn't that cute? Hey, you guys, Shakespeare just, like, totally made up the whole English language pretty much by himself. He took the word "gloom" and turned it into "gloomy"! Genius! Here's a flowchart that's been making the rounds, entitled "What Shakespeare Play Should I See?" Isn't that funny? It doesn't even mention the fact that you could not see a Shakespeare play. Ha ha! Just kidding! You have to. Did you ever wonder why many of Shakespeare's rhymes don't exactly, um, rhyme? It's just because English speakers don't speak his actual dialect anymore. I mean, you should. In fact, you have to.
What? You're getting tired of this? But didn't you know that there's stuff we don't know about William Shakespeare, because history is, by nature of being in the past, usually somewhat incomplete? Or, as CBS news puts it, "There's a 400-year-old Shakespeare mystery." Ooooooo… A mystery. Quickly! We have to go dig up his first theater! How else will we ever know which precise chamberpot was anointed with the Bard's urine?
NO! YOU SIT DOWN! YOU'RE GOING TO HEAR ALL OF THIS! You're going to shut up and read American Theatre Magazine's entire roundup of Shakespeare-related articles, because I had to, and I will not have suffered in vain seeing just how much we're scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for anything, anything even remotely new to talk about. Then you will read this NPR article about food in Shakespeare's plays, because there is no such thing as a loving God. And then this article about what people snacked on at Shakespeare's plays, because God, in fact hates you.
Did you know that some Catholics want to pretend that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic? Or that paranoid conservatives love to ape his words as if they have something to say about our specific political climate? Or that white guys everywhere say that not liking Shakespeare means your culture is in "decline"? But, don't worry, liberals, because there were brave, bold ladies who defied gender norms to appear in Shakespeare's plays.
But, what's this? According to a really badly designed survey, Shakespeare is more popular in China, Mexico and Turkey than in Will's homeland?! How can this be?! My god, the crazy conservative guy from Toronto was right! Our precious culture is in decline! Hurry, BBC and throw together a pandering, extravagant celebration of Shakespeare featuring David Tennant, Judie Dench, Ian McKellen and Prince Charles (in his acting debut, no less!). This should help us stop declining our culture.
What's that? More Brits watched a rerun of a 70s sitcom than watched the BBC's grand celebration of Shakespeare! Oh god, I feel our culture slipping away! Shakespeare is dying. Quickly, everyone! We've got to save him! Clap your hands!
No, wait, that's Tinkerbell.
Um, how about "Come on Shakespeare, you never backed away from anything in your life! Now fight![slap] Fight![slap] Fight! Right now! Do it! Fight goddammit! Fight! Fight! Fiiiiight!"
No, that's Ed Harris from The Abyss.
How about this, Shakespeare, "I believe in the power of love…" No, that's Luther Vandross. What's going on here?
Geez, it's almost like we've had four centuries to think of other things to be part of our culture. Did you know that more young people know Justin Bieber than know William Shakespeare?, because of course they do. "Pop" is short of "popular", you know. And it's perfectly OK, because culture doesn't "decline." It just changes. It's additive and iterative, and the past can mix freely with the present if you just let it happen. The silly insistence that Shakespeare is VERY IMPORTANT and MUST BE UPHELD is actually what pushes people away from him and pushes him further from modern relevance.
Besides, no matter what happens, four centuries from now, you'll still be able to look back in awe at the genius who changed the English language and Western culture forever. His works aren't going anywhere. They will always be with us, and people will always remember his name: Justin Bieber.
Other dead horses to flog
Since it's now 8am, and I have a few minutes left before this is due… Several years ago, before I started writing News and Notes, I wrote my first article for Minnesota Playlist, about how you should probably give up on Aristotle and his ill-defined idea of "catharsis." This week, I came across someone else who is breaking up with Aristotle, but for very different reasons.