The Old Globe Theatre and San Diego have a long love affair with Shakespeare and his works. During the pandemic, THE THINKING SHAKESPEARE series was an opportunity for the theatre and Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein to continue to connect the Bard to the community. Now, Edelstein hosts THINKING SHAKESPEARE LOVE! and he talks about working with the graduating class of The Old Globe and USD Shiley Graduate Theatre Program, the pandemic, and the enduring love of Shakespeare.
The talented graduating actors have attended virtual classes for 15 months out of the 2-year graduate program, which is a difficult twist when you’re studying live theatre. Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein says that their dedication and flexibility were truly admirable during these special circumstances.
They are remarkable. Indomitable. The pandemic made everyone adapt and pivot, and Jesse Perez, who directs our Old Globe / USD Shiley Graduate Theatre Program, led an amazing effort of transformation which brought the program’s training to digital platforms. But it wouldn’t have worked without the openness and passion of these students. In the rehearsal room with them, I can feel a kind of depth of artistry and humanity that feels very much like it was forged in the crucible of this difficult year. Their hearts are on their sleeves, and they are seizing our return to live work with a hunger and gratitude that moves me deeply. I really admire them.
The pandemic didn’t only impact the graduate students, but also the institution, the community, and the people who work in the theatre itself.
It has made me appreciate what we have. As truly agonizing as these sixteen months have been, as much as they have revealed some real fragilities in our arts sector, they’ve also made some real heroes. Our artists have been endlessly inventive. Our staff has been devoted and nimble. Our philanthropists have been exceedingly generous. Our government has made an unprecedented investment in our artform’s recovery. Moving forward, we need to embrace this surge of creativity, and we must remember it as we rebuild. So many people are stakeholders in The Old Globe. In the name of all of them, we need to make the place as open, available, inclusive, and generous to all of San Diego as our many loyal constituents have been to us.
Edelstein, who has literally written the book on practical advice on approaching Shakespeare in “Thinking Shakespeare” says that one thing the pandemic did prove is that Shakespeare is always the answer. It still resonates for people all over the world, even in what proves to be very trying times.
One thing about Shakespeare, maybe about all true classics, is that he seems to have anticipated things that wouldn’t happen till centuries after his death. All the time I hear things in his plays that seem ripped right out of this moment, today. But in the case of the pandemic, his anticipation of the moment isn’t notional. It’s real. His own theatre closed many times four, maybe five due to plague. So he knows exactly what we’re going through. That’s why we turn to him: we sense that he has something to offer us, based not only on his talent and wisdom but based on his actual personal experience. It has helped me to know that he survived, and thrived, in circumstances just like the ones we’re in right now.
Even with all of that Edelstein says that it wasn’t until after the first cabaret performance at The Old Globe, the first official live performance since the pandemic started, that he was able to truly believe that theatre was back.
In the lowest moments of this period, I told myself that once we were back in live production, that special magic of theatre would cast its spell and begin to heal us. But in one secret corner of my mind, I must admit, I harbored doubts. What if nobody came back? But a few weeks ago we first reopened our outdoor theatre and invited three great Broadway singers to give concerts. The first was Solea Pfeiffer, who starred in ALMOST FAMOUS. When she walked onstage and began to sing, that magic was there. In abundance. I felt this sense of relief, release, even joy in the crowd. That magic was back. And I knew we’d be okay.
You can’t interview a Shakespeare expert without asking about his favorite Shakespeare quote and Edelstein said that one kept coming back and inspiring him throughout the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, I kept quoting from AS YOU LIKE IT: “Much virtue in ‘if.'” It says that the word “if” is good, virtuous. The line is about the power of our imaginations. We can remake things, refashion the world, but we have to be brave enough to ask, “what if?” “If” is how change starts. “I wonder if we could walk on the moon.” “What if our society were truly just, gracious, and equitable?” “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see and celebrate what we all share in common?” The way things are isn’t the way they always have to be. If is where the work starts, if augurs great transformation. First, we imagine it, and then we build it. Right now, we need to remember to imagine, to pose that virtuous “if.”
Join Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein and the graduating actors to celebrate and revel in the return live theatre at THINKING SHAKESPEARE LOVE! Performances will play for two nights only on July 16 and 17 at The Old Globe‘s outdoor venue, the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Ticket information is available at www.TheOldGlobe.org and prices start at $20.00.
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