Season: 2011

The Pen and the Powder Keg--2nd Post

Posted on Oct 1st, 2012 in Artists & Company

December 8, 2011 | Author: John Tufts

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Tom: You say this is a mad world? Tell me you have never been caught in the madness.
Shag: Not till now.
Tom (amazed): Who protected you?
Shag: I’m part of a cooperative venture.

Quick history lesson: In Elizabethan Theater, and specifically in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, many of the actors were shareholders in the enterprise. It’s really exactly what it sounds like. A company member purchases a share in the theater; he shares in its expenses and also shares in its income. Expenses weren’t just relating to the particular production, but to the building itself--actually having a stake in the value of the particular property, so when that building was sold, the shareholder could stand to earn some money. If you look in the opening pages of Shakespeare’s First Folio published in 1623 by two of Shakespeare’s fellow company members, John Heminges and Henry Condell, you’ll see a list of names of people who, at one point or another, were actors in Shakespeare’s plays, and some of them were also shareholders in The Globe Theater.

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I gloss over what I think is a fascinating and important part of theatrical history, not to sound smart; I assure you I’m not. I don’t think I even used that semicolon properly. I bring it up because it illustrates a fundamental part of our play, Equivocation. And if audience response is taken as having any value, it gets across. Several times throughout the show, various characters repeat the idea of a cooperative venture, and each time, the audience responds, reflecting back to us how they see that idea evolve.

I find it so wonderful that they respond this way, because, well, it gives me hope. It’s easy to get cynical and lose hope nowadays. We might be a country who’s entire founding ideal begins with a very strong cooperative declaration, but let’s face it, singular glory is just so sexy. We are forever entranced by the celebrity appeal of individual achievement. From Galileo discovering that big people fall just as quickly as little people, to Edmund Hilary taking a bite out of the world’s largest snow cone, to Kim Kardashian finding someone to have and to hold till 72-days-later-do-us-part, stories of singular achievement are second only to winning the lottery in terms of glory-lust.

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I often strut down Fantasy Lane myself, imagining that I’m a great something or other on any given day. Every actor rehearses their Oscar speech with a Head and Shoulders bottle in the shower, but I’ll rehearse my Nobel Prize speech, or my Inaugural Address, or my Charlie Rose Interview, or my 10 Commandments. It’s easy, good, fun delusion. But while we are a society that lusts after individual glory, ultimately, time and time again, it’s the cooperative that actually sustains us. It’s the group that actually achieves that glory. Somebody had to put rivets in Chuck Yeager’s plane. Somebody had to help make all that movable type before Gutenberg put it in his press. And a whole heck of a lot of people had to have their Nielsen Box on when Kim Kardashian said “I do.” It’s the cooperative ventures that protect us from, or in the case of that last example, call attention to the madness.

In our play the protagonist isn’t Shag, it’s the company. Shag may write all our plays, and his name might be the one that lasts for posterity, but it’s the company and his part in it that is struggling against the madness. It’s the company the audience roots for. And that’s a remarkable achievement. After all, who, generally speaking, remembers Richard Burbage? Or Robert Armin? Or Richard Sharpe? Hell, even Judith Shakespeare? Yes we remember Shag, or Shakespeare, because he was the soul of the age, but I would like to propose that we might remember a whole lot less if it weren’t for his colleagues, friends and business partners getting together seven years after he died, and putting those plays in a big book.

John Tufts is an occasionally cooperative actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He plays Sharpe, Tom and King James in Equivocation.

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