Our September newsletter featured an article highlighting all the ways Shakespeare has touched and continues to touch our lives. And it started me thinking about all of the different versions of Shakespeare’s works that exist - from more traditional adaptations to TV shows, films and books that took their inspiration from him. In the spirit of our current production of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, I was inspired to spend a little time with the Bard myself and I invite you to join me in enjoying Twelve Nights with Shakespeare.
Day 1: We will start off with a classic film.
West Side Story (NR), an updated version of Romeo & Juliet, moves the action to New York City in the 1950’s. The Montagues and The Capulets become The Jets and The Sharks - two rival street gangs, and Romeo and Juliet become Tony and Maria, star crossed lovers who meet at a school dance. With a script by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story has been called a “cinematic masterpiece” by The New York Times in its 1961 review.
Day 2: Films to share with your family
Now, I’m not saying you should watch all three of these in the same night – but choose one and invite your kids to join you on the couch with some popcorn, and show them how current and fresh the works of William Shakespeare can be.
10 Things I Hate About You (PG-13). This modern re-make of The Taming of the Shrew takes place in a modern high school where beautiful Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) isn’t allowed to date until her “shrew” older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. So Biancia’s admirer, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hires bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to woo Kat.
She’s The Man (PG-13). Amanda Bynes stars in this updated telling of Twelfth Night. When her brother heads out of town, Viola decides to disguise herself as him and take his place at his boarding school in order to continue playing soccer after her school cuts the girls team. Things begin to get complicated when she develops feeling for her roommate Duke, who likes Olivia. But Olivia likes Sebastian, or at least she likes Viola dressed as Sebastian. A high school love triangle written by Shakespeare!
Gnomeo & Juliet (G). If you’ve got younger kids at home, they’ll enjoy this animated version of Romeo & Juliet about two gnomes who have fallen in love. But they live in the feuding gardens of the Capulets and the Montagues. Will they overcome the obstacles keeping them apart?
Day 3: Modern literature based on a classic
No, I don’t mean for you to read this book all in one night – I know you’ve got a ton of other things to do! But author Christoper Moore is a great storyteller and his books are generally pretty quick reads. So, while it may take a few nights, it will be worth it! In his novel Fool, Christopher Moore tells the story of King Lear (slightly altered) from the point of view of the king’s jester, Pocket. "Moore is a very clever boy when it comes to words. There are good chuckles to be had in this tale. …Whether you need to read the original King Lear before you read Moore’s Fool is debatable. Seems a fool’s errand to us. Just enjoy." – USA Today
Day 4: Cooking with the Bard
I assume you’re still reading Fool, so tonight we’ll make a dessert you can enjoy while continuing the book. Warden Pear Pie with Saffron was inspired by a line in The Winter’s Tale in which the character Clown mentions that “I must have saffron to colour the warden pies”.
Day 5: Re-watch a classic TV sit com’s nod to an Elizabethan comedy
In the mid-1980s, Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis teamed up for ABC’s show “Moonlighting,” about an ex-model and a private eye running a detective agency. In one episode, which I admit to watching a number of times, a boy has to miss the week’s “Moonlighting” episode due to Shakespeare homework. As he studies, he begins to daydream and recasts The Taming of the Shrew with the cast members of his favorite show.
Day 6: A modern take on a Shakespeare classic
The Royal Shakespeare Company recently filmed their stage version of Hamlet, starring David Tennent and Patrick Stewart. The Guardian wrote “Gregory Doran's production is one of the most richly textured, best-acted versions of the play we have seen in years.” While the costumes and time period have been modernized, the timeless words of William Shakespeare remain the same.
Day 7: Time for a music break
Lovers of classical music, I invite you to download, purchase or dust off (if you happen to already own it) Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mendelssohn began composing for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1826 when he wrote a concert overture (at the age of 17!). It wasn’t until 1842, shortly before his death, that he composed the remaining music and added the Overture in. Fun fact: Listen for “The Wedding March,” now a staple at many weddings and possibly the most famous song ever written by Mendelssohn.
Day 8: Back to the Elizabethan kitchen
Lecturer and food write Francine Segan has compiled a book of Renaissance Recipes, including today’s Shakespeare-inspired activity – Salmon with Violets. In Francine’s words “Allow me to introduce you to these wonderful Elizabethan cooks, their recipes, and the foods and dining customs of 16th and 17th Century Europe as we journey back to Shakespeare's England and back to our own culinary roots.”
Day 9: An actor’s take on why Shakespeare is important.
Still not convinced about the timelessness of Shakespeare? Why not let Al Pacino tell you in his own words in Looking for Richard. The documentary features scenes from Richard III, rehearsal footage and interviews with Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Estelle Parsons and others in which they discuss the play itself as well as what was happening in the world at the time the play is set.
Day 10: A Shakespeare-inspired Playlist
I set out to create a list of songs inspired by Shakespeare and his work, only to realize the work had already been done for me! The kind folks at the Folger Institute have created a list of 20 songs drawing their inspiration from Shakespeare. Sync up the iPod and enjoy!
Day 11: Academy Award-Winning Shakespeare
Shakespeare in Love (R) The films I’ve listed thus far have been re-telling of Shakespeare’s works. Today’s film goes a step further and re-imagines the life of Shakespeare himself! Winner of seven Academy Awards, Shakespeare in Love, written by playwright Tom Stoppard, is full of heroes, villains, backstage intrigue, and, like Twelfth Night, even a loveable heroine disguised in male garb. Westport Arts Center will be showing Shakespeare in Love on Friday, October 28th at 7:00pm for $10. Click here for more information.
Day 12: Shakespeare on Stage
I really feel like I would be remiss in not adding a live performance of a Shakespeare production to our list. And it just so happens we have one on stage now through November 5th – Twelfth Night, or What You Will! Join us for an exciting evening of illusion, deception, disguise, madness and the crazy things one will do for love.
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