This week marks the yearly visit from the Texas Shakespeare Festival from Kilgore.
Odessa Arts is hosting the troupe at the Globe Theater on the Odessa College campus for performances throughout the week of Nov. 13 with public performances at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 and 18.
Tickets are available at odessashakespeare.org.
“This year they’re doing Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. They load in on Sunday the 12th and their first performance is Monday morning at 9 a.m. and they do 10 shows during the week and then we do two public performances on Friday and Saturday. In the course of their visit, they will see over 2,000 students from across West Texas,” Executive Director of Odessa Arts Randy Ham said.
The group will be performing for students from grades three through high school. Among them will be every fourth and fifth grader from Andrews. They come every year.
“I think that’s a big testament not only to the quality of their productions, but also to Andrews ISD that they make it a priority to get their students here,” Ham said.
He added that people don’t realize how much of our vocabulary comes from Shakespeare and that we use his words and phrases every single day.
“Whether you have experienced Shakespeare or not, a root of our modern language is in Shakespearean English,” Ham said.
And all the themes are timeless.
“If you wanted to learn something about the human condition, Shakespeare is a great teacher because the things that they talk about are relevant today. That’s why his work has survived and even thrived this long. Most people will say Shakespeare is not for me because it’s too fancy, or I don’t understand it, or it’s highbrow and the fact is Shakespeare was the working man’s playwright,” Ham said.
“If your only experience was reading it in high school, then you didn’t really understand it because it was meant to be heard more than read. It was meant to be presented with costumes and sets and choreography and blocking. If a fourth-grader can come into our Globe, and sit there and watch a show and walk out understanding it than anybody can. That’s the thing that I always tell people when they ask why they should come because they don’t think that they’re going to understand it,” he added.
He advises people to give it a chance.
“We have professionals performing so they know the material. It’s expertly directed. These actors tour all over East Texas before they come here. They’ve got the show tight, rehearsed and well oiled. By the time we get them here, they’re ready to do this,” Ham said.
“I just challenge everyone to come … and experience it for yourself.”
Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits include the more important scenes from different shows they haven’t produced in a while and thread together with narration.
“There will be a narrator that will come out and they’ll do a scene from Hamlet and then they’ll do a scene from Love’s Labour’s Lost and Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they’ll thread them together so it gives you a taste of some of his best known work. The great thing about it is, I don’t know what shows they’re going to do in Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits until they get here and I see the show, so it’s always a little bit of a surprise for me, too,” Ham said.
The Shakespeare Festival Roadshow is typically seven actors and they’re double and triple-cast.
“They travel very lean. They do cafetoriums and auditoriums all through East Texas. They bring this little set that mimics the Globe Theater. When they’re here, they don’t need that because they have the Globe Theater, so it’s always a treat for them, No. 1, to be performing on stage; No. 2, for it to be a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe. But No. 3, they don’t have to bring as much with them as they do when they’re in East Texas,” Ham said.
This year’s cast is all brand new. Usually, he said, they will have one or two actors that are returning from the previous year’s cast.
“But these are all new. … By the time they leave at the end of the week, I’m just so sad to see them go,” Ham said.
Up until Friday and Saturday, the actors will perform twice a day for school kids in two different shows a day.
Every morning, they will do Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, and in the afternoon, Romeo and Juliet.
“They have just enough time to break for lunch, and then they come back and they reset the stage for the next show. … By the end it’s the end of the day, and on Friday, they have two school shows and a public performance, so it’s three shows. Friday is a really rough day for them. But you wouldn’t know it. I mean, it’s at the end of the week. I can’t imagine that they’re not tired and punchy. But you would never know it because of the level of professionalism of the cast that they come in and they give as much energy at 7 o’clock on Friday that they did at 9 a.m. on Monday,” Ham said.
He noted that people talk about the arts in general as being the frosting on the cake.
“It’s nice to have, but you don’t need it. Students who have a robust arts education are more likely to go to college. They’re more likely to graduate. They have higher test scores. If you can understand iambic pentameter and Shakespeare’s English, then you’re going to do very well in composition and your language understanding is going to be much, much greater. Your communication skills are going to be greater,” Ham said.
“So to me, the arts aren’t the frosting. They’re the eggs and the flour and the milk and the sugar. It’s one of the essential ingredients to making a well-rounded person. If there’s anything that the last few years have taught us is that we need more empathy in the world and understanding and finding a connection with a story that was written hundreds of years ago, and is set in a different place, may give you a different perspective on the world. That’s going to mean that maybe you are not so quick to draw conclusions about something, or have a knee-jerk reaction, which is so easy to do these days. It’s the arts that give you that empathy. That’s something that’s not quantifiable. It’s not something that you can check off on a … standardized test. But it’s so important when you go out into the world to be able to communicate and relate with one another,” Ham said.