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The Endless Remixability of Shakespeare

What is it about Shakespeare that has everyone itching to try him on in as many different decades and locations as humanly possible? Does every production of Two Gents have to take place in a Verona eerily similar to Las Vegas? How many post-apocalyptic Scottish witches can there be before we tire of them? Directors seem so eager to test the limits of the universal humanity expressed in his iambic pentameter. Adaptation after reimagining after concept after take – his words hold true, even under the flappiest of flapper dresses. From stage to screen to song, a good story is still a darn good story.

Even Hollywood dips into these prose and poetry heavy texts, making them even more modern than the left-side of a No Fear Shakespeare. Twelfth Night has taken on many different forms over the years, from more traditional straight-to-the-point movie adaptations, to hipper ones that blew my mind when I made the connection. Read for more – you’re about to understand how 8th grade me felt when I realized Lion King was just disney-fied, lion-ified Hamlet.

She’s the Man

She's_the_man_posterYes, you heard me right. She’s the Man, the classic mid-2000s teen rom-com starring every tween’s favorite funny girl, Amanda Bynes, and a baby-faced, oft-shirtless Channing Tatum? It’s just SHAKESPEARE IN DISGUISE. And a pretty thin disguise. Check out the movie poster – it essentially includes (give or take a few minor details) a sparknotes synopsis of Twelfth Night.

Viola (Amanda Bynes) disguises herself as her brother (Sebastian) to cover for him when he decides to ditch his prep boarding school (named Illyria!) for a couple weeks. She tries out for the soccer team, falls in love with jock Duke (yes, that is his first name) played by Tatum, who’s trying to woo Olivia, who falls in love with strangely feminine, always funny Sebastian/Viola… sound familiar? Throw in a pet tarantula named Malvolio, an Italian restaurant named Cesario, a tampon-shoved-up-the-nose, and Amanda Bynes taking down the patriarchy while still winning  the boy, and you got yourself a screenplay a 21st century Willy Shakes would have been proud of.

Amanda Bynes: A contemporary Shakespearian at her finest.

Just One of the Guys
Whether it’s high schoolers putting on a Shakespeare production, or an adaptation taking place in a high school – for some reason, Shakespeare just meshes particularly well with those going through puberty. Ten Things I Hate About You, Were The World Mine, She’s the Man, how Midsummer affected the characters in Dead Poet’s Society – as us young humans discover the depths and widths of emotion, B.Shakes’ words act as lights in a territory otherwise dark and new.

So of course, a mid-80s highschool comedy is no exception. Just one of the Guys features a young aspiring journalist Terri (yup, 1980s Viola!) enrolling in rival high school as a boy to prove to her old teachers that they were grading her based on her body, and not on her brain. Foolproof plan, right? Per usual, those darned matters of the heart get in the way when she falls for her nerdy friend, Rick (a less cool Orsino). Long story short, senior prom gets messy when Terri flashes everyone to prove she’s a lady and everything eventually falls into place after she writes a heartfelt article about the whole affair. This once again proves that cross-dressing is a timeless solution to most problems.

All Shook Up
What happens when you combine the tight-pants-rock-n-roll of Elvis Presley and the cross-dressing-1600s-comedy of William Shakespeare?

Easy. The head-bopping, finger-snapping, appropriately ridiculous American jukebox Broadway musical, ALL SHOOK UP.

With a book by Joe DiPietro (remember him? He also wrote the book for our season opener, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me) this musical took Shakespeare’s love of love and put it on steroids. There are a whopping TEN love triangles, and by the end of the show there are five new couples.

This loose adaptation took us out to the Midwest, and has its equivalent of Viola, a young mechanic’s daughter named Natalie, crooning classic Presley and falling for the mysterious biker, Chad (AKA Duke Orsino in leather). A lot of antics ensue, mostly in an abandoned fairgrounds, and almost everyone ends up happily ever after – with Natalie crushing expectations by rejecting Chad as a lover, and instead making him her sidekick. You go, midwestern mechanic Viola!

Although our good friend Will is not credited on the poster (ah, the woes of being public domain!), the themes of mixed up hearts and crossdressing stay true. The show played on Broadway for only a few months, but is now taking the UK and Germany by storm – just going to show, if music be the food of love, play on!

And these are just a few examples of how Shakespeare continues to be tailored to fit our ever-changing times. He’s inspired films, musicals, music (like our friends at Shakespearean Jazz Show), and plays of all genres – including The Pirate Princess, a TYA play currently at the A.R.T! He’s remixable, re-imaginable, re-used, and revered. Just because the actors aren’t in corsets and cutlets doesn’t mean his work isn’t being honored – the opposite is true. The humanity that lives in the core of his words is what lights the fire of the human imagination when it comes to re-sharing him, generation after generation after generation. We simply bring to light different facets of his work by turning it just-so.

And I am so excited to see the facets Filter Theatre’s Twelfth Night brings to light. They are rock-n-rolling, energizing, laughing, and partying to Shakespeare’s words – having the same fun with it that has made me love the different film adaptations. They’ve stripped away the formality in order to keep the form alive, just as movies and musicals have done. But unlike the aforementioned classics, this Twelfth Night is not streamable. It is current, and now, and ephemeral. And it will only be remixed on our Boston stages for ten days, before Filter brings the party somewhere else.

ArtsEmerson presents Filter Theatre’s Twelfth Night JAN 20 – 30.

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