Daniel J. Rowe and Eric Jean
Yesterday, (er, April 23rd) apparently was both the day William Shakespeare – the bard, the most famous playwright of all time, the English major’s hero or devil, the inspirer of great films, theatre productions and books, and agent zero for a few awful ones – was born and died.
Happy 400th deathaversary and birthday.
Funny how the world works.
With that in mind, we co-captains of the Bard Brawl thought to take you through a journey that began in a living room over a few beers with a couple of dudes, and grew to become a living room over a few beers with a couple of more beers. Steve Jobs would be proud.
…so without further ado, “from Montreal, Quebec, this is the
The Bard Brawl, a history
The Bard Brawl is one of the (most important?) legacies of the man born in Stratford upon Avon in 1564, and began in 2009. The co-creators (as well as the long lost Dan Pinese. What happened to that guy? Oh yeah. Toronto happened) decided to meet up and read one act per week. Eric came up with the name, Daniel picked the first play (Coriolanus), and off we went. Stephanie E.M. Coleman soon joined to round out the foursome that became the triumvirate, and the rest is history.
Not sure who is Caesar, who is Pompey and who grabbed the short straw and had to be Marcus Crassus, but there you have it.
As of Thursday night, we finished the second act of Two Noble Kinsman, and will have two plays to go for the folio to be complete. We three, along with a collection of fine brawlers, will have read 36 plays, one act at a time, pound-for-pound like a lion and a tiger in a pit with a bunch of drunk peasants betting their paycheques from above. That is if the lion and tiger intersperse their fight with talk of hockey, batman, beer, PEI and whatever weird topic Mr. Nick is on about.
By the way MIT Shakespeare, could you please put Two Noble Kinsman online? It’s really annoying to try to search for it on our phones. Thanks.
(That last rant was brought to you by this YouTube video)
The last play, naturally, will be the Tempest.
Meg Roe’s Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach in 2014.
Photo credit – David Blue
Reading the plays one act at a time, every whatever day of the week, was just the beginning.
Podcasts ensued, as did book, movie and theatre reviews that are all on this site.
Click around. You’ll have fun.
We also produced three volumes of ‘Zounds! A Bard Brawl Journal that you can still buy if you like. There’s tons of clever stuff.
One time we shot a video of a speech from Pericles, but Jay Reid said it wasn’t done right, and then we left it there even though this guy named Jason, who posts a lot on the Facebook page, but rarely comes out to the brawl, keeps telling us we need more video. By the way, Jason and Jay met once and I’m pretty sure Dream Weaver started playing, and a true and noble bromance began.
People often ask about Shakespeare, so we pre-empted those questions and interviewed ourselves. Clever no?
Why the bleeping heck do we spend so much time on Shakespeare?
Short answer: because we want to, and leave me alone jock. I can do whatever I want.
Longer answer: because he’s really fun to read, the stories are interesting and entertaining, and it’s all so dang universal in the end.
Sidebar: No, we will not be branching off and doing Marlowe or Arthur Miller plays next.
Did he REALLY write all the plays?
What’s your favourite play?
Othello (Daniel); (Eric); Timon of Athens (Stephanie). But you know, that could all change with the mood.
Read it or watch it?
Whatever you want. Both are fun.
Accent or not?
Whatever you want except when it comes to servant voices. Those must be done Monty Python or football star being forced to be in a theatre play style.
Bear that kills Antigonus.
Alright enough questions.
How the H did we get this far?
Keep it simple. Kick no one out. Don’t discourage those who don’t know the language. Allow mistakes. Drink beer or wine regularly, and always talk about it. Allow all questions, and make sure some jerk has bought the pro version of the playShakespeare app on his or her iPhone, so they can bring it up every single week.
Some have left, some have come, some have stuck around. It really doesn’t matter. Let it go if someone gets all worked up and think they are too good to brawl. Be humble and have fun.
A smattering of some of the funnest lines to read for your pleasure.
“Reason not the need!”
“Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. Good signior, you shall more command with years. Than with your weapons.”
“You common cry of curs whose breath I hate as reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize as the dead carcasses of unburried men that do corrupt my air, I banish you! And here remain with your uncertainty!”
Sheesh guys. Tell us what you really think.
Eric here. Daniel did such a great job with this post that I don’t have a lot to add.
But I’m happy to try and upstage anyone, anywhere, any time so here goes.
Why do we brawl? Because it’s damn fun.
Yes, I hear you saying politely, “Oh, that sounds nice.” But then you scrunch up your face like you’re picking up your Great Dane’s business in a flimsy Dollarama bag at the park near my house, the one that says “No Dogs Allowed” and is supposed to be for children under 5 years old. How could you?
We invite you, you decline.
And you really have no idea what you’re missing out on.
I get it. You read Twelfth Night or Romeo and Juliet in Mr./Mrs. Lameville’s class in grade 9 because they made you do it. You brought it home. You read it quietly to yourself. It made no sense. You wrote a paper filled with quotes you thought sounded important but which you didn’t understand and handed the thing in.
You collected your ‘B’ and vowed you would never read another word because who the hell cares about all of this serious, stuffy, old-timey stuff anyhow? You’re going to be a social media icon one day! You’ll have a beard and an ironic moustache!
You have no time for this!
Be honest. You hate this stuff because it scares the crap out of you.
You’ve had a lifetime of knowing that Shakespeare is serious business, that it’s meant to be revered, unquestioned, and that only special people with years of training can ever hope to understand even a small part of it.
Don’t let ‘THE MAN’ win! This shit’s for everyone! (Like, literally. It’s all free on the internet.)
Honestly, though. Shakespeare’s plays weren’t meant for academics and undergrads trying to sound smart.
Sure, there’s a lot of meaning jammed in there, the language sounds foreign, the characters have funny names and the places described as ‘Athens’ or ‘Bohemia’ seem populated with people who dress and act like Shakespeare’s English contemporaries.
That’s just because it’s gathered a little dust through the centuries. Or tannins. Or oak flakes. Or whatever weird magic makes old booze taste better than new booze.
The murders, betrayals, adulteries and sex jokes are still there. (In fact, a good rule when reading: if it sounds dirty, it probably is.)
So maybe you need to try to live with the fact that it’s old. It’s been around for a while, much longer than anything you write will likely be (unless you’re Daniel, whose honeyed words are clearly immortal). It just needs a little help getting out of bed or crossing the street. It’s wiser and stuff.
But it was never meant to be hard. It’s wicked smart, sure, but also damned entertaining.
Shakespeare’s plays are a lot less like a first-year film student’s art film and a lot more like blockbuster movies.
Poor-ass peasants would scrounge up whatever cash they could just to have a chance to go to one of these things. Nobles went, too. Maybe they got different jokes but there was something in there for everyone.
That’s what’s fun about the Bard Brawl.
Everyone’s different – different backgrounds, educations, states of intoxication – and the best part about it for me is seeing what different people take away, what clicks and what flops. That, and just spending time with people who like to relax and not take themselves (and Shakespeare) too seriously.
I’m always surprised by how incredibly insightful everyone can be about this stuff. Even (especially) those people who insist that they don’t understand.
Yeah, you do understand. It’s cool to admit it. We are all Shakespeare scholars and lovers. We all know more than we think. Yo
And yes, there’s still plenty that we don’t get, or that’s bad or makes no sense. But that’s part of the fun. We make mistakes. We all laugh about them. We make ’em again. We laugh some more.
Kind of sort of like this:
Trust us. Or better yet, call our bluff and come join us.
Here’s to you Bill, and to Bard Brawlers everywhere!
Thanks for an excellent adventure!
Still interested, check out this Studio 360 podcast. It’s very good. Take a listen.
Artwork – Stephanie E.M. Coleman
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