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On Shakespeare and being a Theater Geek

By Heather Oman

My family are theater geeks.

We’re not actors, really—only my brother has spent any real time on a professional stage–but we love plays. We grew up with season tickets to Pioneer Memorial Theater in Salt Lake (as it was called back then. Now it’s Pioneer Theater Company, I think). As kids, we watched musicals at home, we did plays at church, we went to theater camps. And now, as adults, we take trips to New York to see shows on Broadway and shows in DC, and always, always, there is the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. At least some member of my family goes there every summer. I’m here now, writing this blog post from my hotel room after seeing 6 plays in 3 days.

If you live in Utah, and haven’t been to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, you should repent immediately and go. It’s great fun, the scenery is beautiful, and the plays are excellent. Usually. Occasionally, very occasionally, there is a stinker. And not everybody in my family agrees about whether or not the play is very good. I mean, just tonight we saw Henry IV part 1 (a play I have never seen, a play that is probably not performed by anybody other than hard core theaters with hard core theater geek fans in the audience, because seriously, who gives flip about Henry IV. For that matter, the only reason anybody gives a flip about the next guy, Henry V, is because Kenneth Branagh did an awesome movie of it). At the end, my sister and I jumped to our feet and I yelled, “Bravo!” Seriously, I don’t think I have ever yelled “Bravo” in my life. But I was blown away by the acting, the staging, everything. My sister and I sighed that it was the BEST. PLAY. EVER! I looked around to share our exuberant feelings with my other sister and her husband.

They weren’t there.

They had left at intermission.

They were totally and completely BORED OUT OF THEIR MINDS, and figured if the rest of the play was going to be this awful, they just wouldn’t be able to stand it, and so they left.

Seriously? They missed the BEST PLAY of the whole season!

Clearly, they didn’t think so.

Yesterday, we saw Twelfth Night. I love Twelfth Night. I ADORE Twelfth Night. I can quote big chunks of Twelfth Night by heart.

I slept through most of the first half. Soooooooo boring. I hated the set, the costumes, the acting, the whole thing. Blech.

At intermission, my sister bounded up and said, “Are you LOVING it?”

Nope. Not so much.

Whence cometh such big differences in taste?

Sometimes I wonder if such snobbery comes from seeing the same plays over and over again. I spent some time with the history of the Festival tonight, and concluded that they’ve produced Twelfth Night 9 times in their 50 years of operation. It rivals only A Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Taming of the Shrew for frequency of staging. It’s a popular play. I’ve seen it a lot. Not just at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but at other venues too (toldja, we’re theater geeks. Or, to put a more erudite spin on it, “patrons of the arts”). They’ve staged Henry IV part 1 only twice (because, like I said, nobody really gives a flying flip), so I came into the play with no expectations or preconceived notions. I don’t know the jokes (of which there are many, courtesy of Sir John Falstaff), I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the underlying tensions. It was all unfolded to me brand new, which was maybe why I liked it so much. New theater experiences are always fun, especially when it’s good theater.

And yet, half my family thought it sucked.

Book people are like this too. I have lots of friends who are literary snobs, and yet their tastes vary widely. It’s hard to figure out why out of a group of 100 women who have read the same book, you are likely to find a wide range of loving it to hating it.

(That particular range is what makes my own book group so incredibly awesome, by the way. Nothing better for a discussion to have a person gushing about a book and then to have another person answer–“Yeah, I hated it.” Good times, my friends, good times.)

Ah, Shakespeare, you rascal. Giving people such joy and also such boredom, sometimes at the very same time.

Are you a theater geek? Do you enjoy Shakespeare, or think he’s boring? Don’t be shy to confess you hate Shakespeare. I confess I hate Dickens, and that’s like heresy in some literary circles. If you do enjoy Shakespeare, what is your favorite Shakespeare play and why?

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About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

12 thoughts on “On Shakespeare and being a Theater Geek”

  1. Our family is a bunch of theater geeks as well. My 15 year old son has been in over 10 plays for our local Civic theater and participates most years in Notre Dame's "Shakescenes". It's two days of scenes from Shakespeare's plays done by the locals– many children– in a variety of ways, time periods, etc. This year his group is stepping out of the norm and doing a condensed version of "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope" by Ian Doescher. (If Jacob loves Star Wars and Shakespeare, this is just up his alley.) Needless to say, their group will bring the laughs at Shakescenes this year…

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  2. We love the Shakespeare Festival, though often the non Shakespeare plays are the best. Last year's Peter and the Starcatchers was fantastic.

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  3. I'm a wanna-be theater geek who often isn't organized enough to get tickets and make plans. We see 2-3 plays a year, have a Shakespeare actor son, and need to repent and get myself down to Ceder City.

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  4. Twelfth Night! Definitely! And I too need to repent. I haven't been to a Shakespeare play (or any other play) in quite a while. But pre-marriage, pre-kids I went a lot. I loved it so much that I saw All's Well that Ends Well at the Globe in London, standing room, totally jet-lagged, the day I flew in

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  5. I love Shakespeare. I've been to the Cedar City Shakespeare Festival numerous times. Michael and I went on our honeymoon there. I took 5 grad classes in Shakespeare even though my emphasis was composition and rhetoric. (I did this to make myself more marketable: there are more classes taught in writing than in Shakespeare on almost every college campus.) Now that I live in Wichita, I go to the outdoor Shakespeare festival every year. Two plays a year. I just saw Love Labors Lost, which I last saw at the Folger in DC in the 1980s. I have to confess that it can be hard to connect to some Shakespeare plays or at least some scenes. I do better if I review them before I attend–even plays I've seen before. And I do like other plays, too. When I lived in Milwaukee, a neighbor of mine was in the theatre program at UW-Milwaukee. I got to see all the plays on dress rehearsal for free because his wife invited me along. I clicked with some plays more than others. But even if I don't connect to them emotionally, I enjoy trying to figure out the intention of the playwright and the technique of the actors and the choices made by the set director. But I do enjoy things more when all that melts away and I stop analyzing too much and instead feel transported to another place and time. I haven't been to Cedar City since 1996. I am hoping that after my kids get launched, we can go for a second honeymoon. Huzzah!

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  6. I love theater too, and like others have mentioned, I don't go as often as I could and should. I live in a town with a lot of theater options and I even work for a university with plenty of options–maybe when my kids get a little bigger and can enjoy it more. I love Shakespeare and also took a number of classes on his work while pursuing my various degrees–one of these days I need to get down to the Shakespeare festival in Cedar City.

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  7. I took a bunch of Shakespeare in college too. One of my biggest and best college challenges was a course co-taught by two professors–one English and one theater. I'm much more comfortable in the audience than on the stage. But attempting to take on his roles gave me a whole new perspective on Shakespeare. Later, my master's thesis was on his friars — they are real meddlers, which brings up lots of messy life questions. And, Karen, my husband and I went to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon for our honeymoon. 🙂 Thanks, Heather and everyone, for helping me remember and re-appreciate the Bard in my life.

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  8. I have three things on my bucket list and one of them is to go to the Utah Shakespearean festival. (When I was in middle school I was so taken by the picture on the brochure that I spent a long time repainting it–it was of a sunset with a bard sitting with his back to the viewer, playing his instrument.) During the summer after my sophomore year I had a lot of time on my hands so I would go to the BYU library and watch Shakespeare plays. When I first saw a Midsummer Night's Dream I hated it. So I made myself watch it three or five more times until I liked it. Now it is probably my favorite. Where I live we have Shakespeare in the park once a year for two nights. We go every year. I love it.

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  9. I come from the Utah center of the Arts. Cedar City.. I spent my childhood sleeping through plays cause I got brought from a young age. In summer school at Southern Utah University, some philanthropist paid for any student to attend up to 3 plays for $2 each. I went all I could and I had a great time. I have been lucky to attend many world class music and theatre performances, but I'm not much of a theatre fan. I even went to NYC and had no desire to go to Broadway, but I went cause my mom needed to make it once to Broadway. I had a great time, but I've seen so much theatre sometimes I'd rather poke my eyes out. While I always enjoy the ambiance of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, I don't usually get Shakespeare. I think Dickens is a genius though.

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  10. What?! You hate Dickens?! Unbelievable!

    But I agree on Shakespeare. I go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland when I can. I love the comedies and tend to snooze through the historical dramas. We took our sons, about 7 and 9, to a Portland production of King Lear once. They thought it was horrible and it's now a family joke. Timing is everything in parenting and I think I blew that one. But one of those sons turned into an English major, so it wasn't all in vain.

    My favorite Shakespeare memory is seeing Romeo and Juliet performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's hometown. Magical!

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