ROUNDABOUT BLOG

2018-2019 Season

 

Kristin Miller is a character of monumental will. The central figure of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, Kristin has spent years protesting war, championing women, combatting oppression, and, most consequentially, pioneering her own way into the male-dominated field of art history. While many of those who once stood by her side as fellow demonstrators in the 1960s abandoned their progressivist roots as they grew older, Kristin never lapsed in her work as an activist and a radical, committing herself for decades to upending the status quo. Uncompromising in her beliefs and unflinching in her willingness to fight for them, Kristin has won the admiration of her peers and the respect of her generation.

But with every victory comes a price. On Kristin’s birthday in 2009, her two sons are boiling over at the recent publication of her memoir, which chronicles her many achievements as an activist and art historian. To her sons, Kristin’s preoccupation with her work throughout their childhood left them neglected as they came of age. In her constant battle for social good, has Kristin failed the two people she loves the most? Or has she merely rejected a conventional family lifestyle in exchange for something much bigger? With searing honesty and unrelenting humor, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s magnificent play paints a rich and complicated portrait of one maverick trailblazer, exploring the many folds of responsibility that underlie her dual roles as activist and parent. In the process, Apologia pits society against family, idealism against compromise, and generation against generation. What is the greater motherhood – preparing one’s children for an unjust world, or fighting to leave them a better one to inherit?

I am so excited to present the New York premiere of Apologia with the legendary Stockard Channing, whose long relationship with Roundabout extends all the way back to our 1984 revival of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. That production, in addition to earning both Stockard and Roundabout our first-ever Tony Awards®, also featured Stockard’s Apologia costar John Tillinger, who himself has worked with Roundabout time and time again. I am thrilled to be collaborating for the first time with the great Hugh Dancy, and I warmly welcome back to Roundabout director Daniel Aukin, returning for his fourth production with us after having most recently directed Joshua Harmon’s Skintight in the Laura Pels Theatre this very summer. Alexi Kaye Campbell is himself making his Roundabout debut with Apologia, which responds so powerfully to our present American moment. As historic numbers of Americans today dedicate time and energy to their own social and political causes, Apologia’s investigation of the triumphs and sacrifices of social progress asks just how far we are willing to go – and just what we are willing to lose – to defend what we believe in most.

As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

 

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes

Artistic Director/CEO


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2018-2019 Season, Apologia, From Todd Haimes


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William Shakespeare. Credit: Library of Congress

The Problem, and the Impact
During Shakespeare’s lifetime (1564-1616) women were not allowed to appear onstage. Female characters were played by boys, usually young teenagers. Eighty-four percent of Shakespeare’s characters are male, likely because of his own cultural biases and the practical difficulty of finding young boys skilled enough to take on the roles of adult women.

Shakespeare is so widely produced today that the lack of female characters skews data on the availability of roles for women in American and British theatre. It also continues to normalize the lack of representation of women on stage and in film and television today: men received twice the screen time and twice the lines of women in the top-grossing films of 2014 and 2015.

“Unsex Me Here:” A Lack Of Good Roles
Women have appeared in Shakespeare’s plays since 1660, when an unnamed actress played Desdemona in a production of Othello in London. While Shakespeare’s heroines are sought-after roles, even the best female characters don’t offer the depth or challenge of his male protagonists. Rosalind in As You Like It speaks the most lines of any woman in Shakespeare, around 700. Hamlet varies slightly depending on the version of the text being used, but he generally has close to 1500 lines.

It’s easy to see the appeal of Hamlet for an actress of Sarah Bernhardt’s age and temperament. Bernhardt’s reasoning for taking on the role turned Elizabethan logic, which demanded that boys play women, inside out. As Rebeck’s Sarah argues, “a boy of twenty cannot understand the philosophy of Hamlet.” He “does not look the boy, nor has he the ready adaptability of the woman, who can combine the light carriage of youth with…mature thought.” Bernhardt’s critics disagreed, arguing that women were incapable of understanding a man’s thoughts and actions. On June 17, 1899, the Athenaeum declared: “A woman is positively no more capable of beating out the music of Hamlet than is a man of expressing the plaintive and half-accomplished surrender of Ophelia.”

Janet McTeer as Petruchio. Photo by Joan Marcus

Twenty-First Century Interpretations
Shakespeare’s characters, like all Elizabethan men and women, are bound to fulfill the roles assigned to them by gender and class. But gender is an ongoing discussion in his plays: what does it mean to be masculine? To be feminine? To challenge stereotypes? To disguise yourself as a boy? Many scholars believe that, even during Shakespeare’s time, seeing male actors play women heightened these questions for Elizabethan audiences. Contemporary directors are now pointedly using cross-gender casting to provoke questions of power within and around the plays.

British director Phyllida Lloyd recently helmed four all-female productions of Shakespeare plays: The Taming of the Shrew (with Janet McTeer as Petruchio), Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and The Tempest. Lloyd described her initial impulse in an interview, “It really began as jobs for the girls, unashamedly.” She continued, “I did not want my niece going to see any more classical plays thinking, ‘Oh, I'm the one in the corner, sort of mooning over the leading man.’ I wanted to feel that she could go to the theater and think, ‘My god, I could be in charge.’"


Bernhardt/Hamlet is playing at the American Airlines Theatre through November 11, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


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2018-2019 Season, Bernhardt/Hamlet


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World of the Play: Paris in 1899

Posted on: September 11th, 2018 by Nick Mecikalski

 

Paris from a Balloon. Credit: Library of Congress

The real-life production of Hamlet that starred Sarah Bernhardt took place in 1899 in a theatre in Paris that Bernhardt owned, operated, and even named after herself: Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. While Bernhardt/Hamlet is mostly set in and around this theatre, an examination of the political and cultural climate outside its walls in the final decades of the 19th century can help us better understand the events of this play.

The Franco-Prussian War and the French Third Republic
Nearly thirty years before the events of Bernhardt/Hamlet, Emperor Napoleon III’s Second French Empire declared war against the Kingdom of Prussia, aiming to halt Prussia’s efforts to unify the independent German states of Europe into one German nation. This attempt to protect France’s political and military hegemony in Europe backfired, however, as Prussia responded with unexpected military prowess, invading France and driving Napoleon to a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Sedan in 1870. Soon thereafter, the Second French Empire was overthrown and replaced with the French Third Republic, which became France’s official system of government. In 1875, this Republican government enacted a set of constitutional laws, establishing a President of the Republic and a two-chamber legislative body, which would become France’s most democratic system of government to date. Under the Third Republic, the government instituted free public education, deepened the separation between church and state, established a railway system, and provided for inexpensive access to newspapers. The Third Republic remained through the end of World War II.

La Belle Époque
From the last decade of the 19th century until the outset of World War I, France experienced a golden age that came to be known as La Belle Époque (“Beautiful Era”). A time of relative peace in Europe overall, La Belle Époque coincided with the mass availability of electricity and saw an explosion of technological advancements, modern conveniences, and urban developments in France. With the rise of electric street lights, the Paris Métro (subway system), department stores, automobiles, and movies, Paris was transformed into a city of modernity and progress, and it was chosen as the host city for the 1878, 1889, and 1900 World’s Fairs, or Expositions Universelles. Though La Belle Époque was by no means enjoyed equally among all social classes, it would be remembered during the dark years of World War I as a time of optimism, glamor, and excitement.

The Pantheon and the rue Soufflot in Paris. Credit: Detroit Publishing Company

Theatre in the Third Republic
The expanded democracy and heightened cultural fervor of the late 1800s brought an increased demand for popular theatres. In 1864, the French government lifted a Napoleon-era restriction on the number of theatres allowed in Paris, and by 1882 the number of Parisian theatres had increased from 11 to 23. These theatres ranged in size from the massive Comédie-Française, a state theatre established in 1680 by King Louis XIV, to the People’s Theatre of the Cooperation of Ideas, a small establishment geared toward providing leisure and intellectual debate for working-class citizens. Theatre was a popular pastime for Paris residents; an 1888 report estimated that 500,000 Parisians visited the theatre at least once a week that year, and between 1 and 1.2 million visited at least once a month. (By comparison, in the 2016-17 season, only about 300,000 people attended a Broadway show once or more per month on average.) While the massive expansion of the theatre industry in Paris had levelled off by the end of the century, theatre remained a lucrative business. In addition to its French audience, Parisian theatres drew in citizens from neighboring countries, who travelled great distances to attend the latest show.

Romanticism
Romanticism, the reigning artistic movement of the day, established itself in French theatre in 1830 with Victor Hugo’s spectacularly successful Romantic drama Hernani. French Romanticism can generally be characterized as a reaction against Classicism, the major artistic philosophy of the previous centuries, which emphasized a tight balance between reason and emotion in art and strictly adhered to the standards of ancient Greek tragedy. Romanticism, on the other hand, leaned towards naturalistic narration and explored more deeply the complexities of the individual spirit. Romantic artists, though still interested in a well-structured composition of story, departed from the Greek unities, which set strict limits on the time, location, and action of a “proper” drama. With the Romantic movement came an increase in artistic freedom; as Victor Hugo wrote, “Romanticism is Liberalism in literature.”


Bernhardt/Hamlet is playing at the American Airlines Theatre through November 11, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Bernhardt/Hamlet


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