Shakespeare in the American theatre
Immortal lovers: Romeo and Juliet
THEATRE: Long before Shakespeare drama was seriously adapted
by the American Theatre, the countryâ€™s leading actors and actresses were
playing Shakespeare characters on the screen as well as in small measure
across America on unknown stages.
One of the earliest Shakespeare films in black and white to be
released was Romeo and Juliet in the 1940s with Jean Simmons and Leslie
Howard playing the tragic young lovers. Though the film was a great
success, there was a pause until Thespians like Orson Wells, Richard
Burton, Michael Redgrave etc., gave the impetus.
A glorious Shakespeare epic was the stunning Cleopatra with Elizabeth
Taylor in the title role. The film ran non-stop wherever and whenever it
was screened in America as well as outside the USA.
It was August Bowmer who came up with the idea of having Shakespeare
plays initiated in the USA after he established the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival in 1933. Today all the regions maintain at least one summer
Shakespeare Festival and they are highly patronised.
To mention a few, there is Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, the Theatre
of Monmouth, Shakespeare and Company of Lenox, Rivers Shakespeare
Festival of Pittsburgh, The Colarado Shakespeare Festival, The Utah
Shakespeare Festival of Cedar City, etc. Outdoor theatres are very
popular during the summer to mount Shakespeare plays that are highly
Joseph Papp of the New York Shakespeare Festival, conceived and
nurtured the idea and derived from his small but intensive workshop of
1953 and commissioned Stuart Vaughan to direct Julius Caesar and Taming
of the Shrew with the assistance of Colleen Dewhurst at The East River
Amphitheatre in 1957. Papp presented a mobile Romeo and Juliet, Two
Gentlemen of Verona and Macbeth in Central Park as well as Richard III
and As You Like It under Vaughanâ€™s direction at Hecksher.
In downtown New York at the Public Theatre there have been more
indoor productions. However, the festival is most noted and popular in
the summer outdoor in the recently constructed Dellacotte in Central
Park. There are several Dellacotte productions each summer.
The major breakthrough came when Papp decided to present all 36
Shakespeare plays at a cost of 33 million dollars in a series to extend
through six years without a stop and began with A Midsummer Nightâ€™s
Dream at the Public Theatre in downtown New York. It was a dream that
Papp never lived to see the end because he died in 1989.
The festival which had among its players included that of Colleen
Dewhurst, James Earl Jones, Sam Warreston, Barbar Baxley and Stacy Keach.
The major directors included Stuart Vaughan, Gerald Freedman, Steven
Berkhoff, and Papp himself. Presently, Kevin Kline is handling the
Stratford - Connecticut
It was on a vast indoor stage that the American Shakespeare Festival
debutted in 1955 with Julius Caesar directed by an English director,
Denise Carey followed by The Tempest in 1956-7. Later Michael Kehn took
over and between the 1960s and 1976 staged such plays as Henry V
Othello, Allâ€™s Well that Ends Well, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius
Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard II, Lovesâ€™s Labour Lost, Macbeth,
Romeo and Juliet, Winterâ€™s Tale, As You Like It etc.
The Thespians livened up the plays were such greats like Raymond
Massey, Morris Carnovsky, Donald Madden, Jesica Tendy, Eva Lee Gallenne,
Fritz Waver, Roddy MacDowell, Alfred Drake, Katherine Hepburne, Tovah
Feldshuh, Moses Gunn, Christopher Plummer etc.
They have worked with much success under the directions of Denise
Carey, John Houseman, Jack Landau, William Ball, Michael Kahn, Allan
Fletcher, Steven Potter, Edward Payson Call, Edwin Shein, Ward Baker and
Douglas Seale. Some of the directors were also involved in directing
Shakespeare films with great success.
Ashland - Oregon
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1933 by Professor
Angus L. Bowmer. It ran as a two-month summer season festival but today,
blossomed into a highly productive virtual year-round operation. In
continuity, it is probably the oldest American Shakespeare Festival,
presently housed in two spectacular theatres.
The indoor Angus Bowmer was built in 1970 and the Elizabethan outdoor
in 1959 modelled in the lines of the Globe. This recommendation was from
John Cranford and replaced the earlier theatre.
There is also a small studio theatre named The Black Swan. In
constructing the Elizabethan Theatre, Angus Bowmer and designer, Richard
Hay sustained a long association with Ashland and along with top
directors, the methods of William Poel was brought to America.
San Diego - California
Here again the influence of B. Iden Payne played a major role in
Shakespeare presence. The festival rose from its mere fifty-minute
summerized Shakespeare productions in par with the California Pacific
International Expositions of 1955. San Diego was busy with its programme
until it had closed down in the Second World war but was fortunate to
later, reconstruct itself as the Old Globe in Balboa Park.