Monday, October 13, 2014

Hope for Time Travel

This is going to be a post about Time Travel.  No, not Doctor Who.  Alas, but rather about real time travel.  Which is infinitely better.

Timehop reminded me this morning that I wrote this poem for a friend exactly a year ago today. My response to T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
Come, slip a Summer's scene away with me
For life, I find, is O, so very long
And we can fill it up with gin and song
And silver Sirens singing by the sea.
Odysseus was once as young as we -
(Through, truth to tell, we're not so very old)
Ten years it took HIS story to be told!
While we can count each minute: one, two, three.
And there, the sun is rising where it set;
And here, the Sirens sink into the sea;
And O, our sand is slipping - but not yet -
For I have turned the glass for you and me
And filled it up with jokes we'll soon forget
And silver Sirens singing by the sea.
Since I've been reading a lot about Time over at BadCatholic (start here), which is echoed in the opening strains of my dearest Oscar Wilde's letter De Profundis, which he wrote while imprisoned, I found last year's little sonnet a touch sweeter than before.

This is what I love about reading great people's private journals - or even stumbling across encouraging letters that my household brothers and sisters wrote to me my senior year of college and which I had apparently stuffed into a drawer...only to find them again this past Saturday, as I grabbed some odd trinkets from my old room:

We can, and do, and are perpetually time traveling.  It's called Living, and Memory, and Anticipation.  There is, in fact, no such thing as Time-Standing-Still.  Time-Standing-Still is to Sleep.  Or rather - whether you're an atheist or whether you have hope in things eternal - Time-Standing-Still only comes through Death.

The Lament for Icarus by H. J. Draper
This is not a morbid thought in the least.  Time, I think, is one of God's greatest Mercies.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For a million decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
We want time to stand still.  We want, like Peter at the Transfiguration - at the best moment of our lives: at the ecstatic height of a concert, or at the sleepy moment when an infant droops onto your shoulder, or just when you've hit that warmest hour among a circle of friends where no more needs to be said - we want Time-Standing-Still.  (Unless we are in pain.  Then time repeats, and we wish that it would not.)

But, if we are to believe the greatest thinkers from Socrates to Saint Paul to C. S. Lewis, it's better that time does not stand still with us.  Because these joys are temporary, imperfected, hints of Joy itself, but not Joy Himself.  Were we to stay there, we would be no better than Peter Pan, refusing to grow up and demanding to eat the air.

THERE IS MORE.  There is so much more.  There is so much more than even the most mind-blowing moment of human ecstasy: there is MORE, and we are too timid - not to grasp it, as Time will not let us grasp anything and keep it here - but we are too timid to HOPE.

To hope that we are made for something better, something infinite, something stable.  To hope that there's a purpose in this repeating pain and fleeting joy: that somehow this spiritual gymnasium has been created for the sole (soul?) purpose of preparing us to endure such a weight of glory, that we, in our timidity would otherwise abandon.

We can grasp joys here on earth; we have free will to clench our fists and plant our feet and say: "This thing is mine."  But in this clenching, this planting - our souls go into rictus; we bury ourselves alive.

Compare Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

to The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Rather, I think I'd go with the latter.  With letting go, with braving the storms, with placing my feet wrong, ("'Do I dare,' and 'Do I dare?'  Time to turn back and descend the stair"), without Time-Standing-Still and saying, "This is as much beauty and truth and goodness and love as my little soul shall settle for."

Rather, I think I'll go with good old Mr. King, here:
“Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  ― Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption

"Hope Visits in a Prison of Despair" by Evelyn De Morgan

Friday, October 3, 2014

Math for Smoochers

Being a Brief Explanation
Of the Writing of "Math for Actors"
(Followed by a Little Bit of Practical Math for Those About to Kiss)

My senior year of high school, I was cast - for one brief, glorious moment - as the drunken slut in an otherwise unremarkable murder mystery play called Par for the Corpse.

For the record, there was 100% of no golfing involved in the show.

There was, however, 100% of me first-time-kissing.

And this is how:

Our school was hardly known for its dedication to the arts.  Dedication to the football team, sure.  Dedication to threatening to cut chorus every year, you betcha.  But one concession they made to those of us who liked a little bit of plot in our high school drama was to host the All-School Spring Musical, as well as the Autumnal Senior Play.  
  • My Freshman year, the musical was Grease and I was prohibited by my mother to audition.  (After seeing the show, I was grateful to her - not in the least of which, the leads couldn't sing.)
  • My Sophomore year, I was cast as the humorous old sexaphobe mother, Mrs. Harcourt in Anything Goes.  (Really, fun musical.  Even if, to this day, I can't remember the plot because half my time was in the wings and popping the occasional high Bb.)
  • My Junior year, I was cast as the humorous old (male) blowhard, Senator Jack S. Phogbound in L'il Abner.  (Which made me wish we were doing Grease again.  Because it's positively criminal that anyone should ever be forced to perform L'il Abner.)
But my Senior year I was finally eligible to audition for whatever Glorious, Wonderful, Profound and Marvellous Play the theatre gods would bestow upon us.  In previous seasons, they'd put on the best Arsenic and Old Lace I've seen live to date (I mean, no one's Cary Grant impersonating a chicken, but our kids did pretty well).  And I'm sure there was something vaguely classy the year before - and therefore dreams of Hamlet or Our Town swam in my head that whole summer.

When we came to auditions, however, our directrice - blond, young, perpetually tired and defeated, a former actress who never let us forget that she had failed - looked at the few of us who'd forsaken the football game to huddle in the theatre and sighed.  "We'll have to cancel the play.  There are too few of you for the show we were going to do."

I nearly died.  Or at least looked like this:

Fortunately, the theatre gods looked kindly upon we sorrowing mortals, and a few days later we were told that the show would go on - just a different show.  Once more, we gathered on that hallowed stage, sitting cross-legged in a circle as our directrice slumped her shoulders and worked through her casting decisions out loud.  

Everyone fell neatly into place: the handsome rogue who dies first, the tall Equity actor, the nervous old mother, the ditzy ingenue, the put-upon author...and then it came to cast the Drunk Slut vs. the Prudish Housekeeper.

I braced myself for Housekeeper.

After all, much of high school and community theatre casting tends to base age on a complex calculation between the size of a woman's bust to a size of a woman's stomach, and if the ratio isn't exactly the dimensions of an hourglass, the busty gal becomes everyone's frowning aunt - even if she can act up a storm - while the Greek Goddess plays the sex symbol - even if her talents are as pole-like as her shape.

So, I was sure, Dour Housekeeper it was for me.

But our actor-director narrowed her eyes and took in her remaining two victims: myself, and my classmate who later that year would win Prom Queen.  (No joke.)  And she said, with a ferocity I had only ever heard from her that once:

"You know, ladies.  I should cast you to type.  You know who you should be."  

And then she looked at me, really pierced me through and said:

"So, Emily.  You're going to play Hazel.  And you should know that you shouldn't play Hazel.  You don't look like Hazel.  [Prom Queen] over there should play Hazel.  But I'm going to give it to you.  Because I think you can do it.  Don't prove me wrong."

I'm pretty sure, once again, I looked like this:

Bring me my brown pants!
Rehearsals began - and within minutes, it became apparent that I not only was playing the drunken slut (joy of joys!), but that within three lines of my entrance, I had to kiss the fellow playing a big time actor.

Who was a half-foot taller than me.

And I did not know well.

And I did not have a crush on.

In front of the guy I actually had a crush on.

Who was playing my husband.

Who was dead by the end of Act I.

For the first few weeks, my entrance went something like this:

EMILY.  (Swooping in dramatically from upstage right with her crush in tow.)  Hello!  Something clever, witty and dramatic!  

(Insert additional unimportant dialogue here.)

EMILY. (With a bit less chutzpah.)  This is now the line before my kiss - something wonderfully bitchy to the fellow that I like.

(Insert awkward pause here.  While EMILY and ACTOR ACTOR stare at each other, before saying aloud:)


(The remainder of the scene continues in typically stilted high school theatre fashion.)

Then one day, our directrice sitting wearily, slumpily, with her perfectly straight blond hair spilling over her left hand as she watched the play in agony, called out from the caverns of the audience:


EMILY.  (Mid-plebian dialogue.)  Yes?  What?

DIRECTRICE.  Emily.  You have got to do it.

EMILY.  Um.  Haha.  Do...what?  Exactly?

DIRECTRICE.  The kiss.  Do the kiss.  You've got to do the kiss.  You haven't done the kiss.  Do the kiss.

EMILY.  Um.  Oh - ah. 

(The world goes into tunnel vision - you know that horrible tracking shot where the camera pulls away while zooming in on the subject so the result is something like this:)

While you're like this.
I look at my scene partner.  He looks at me.

I immediately start thinking trigonometry.

Which is to say, my first thought is: "Oh, God. I'm going to miss."

But everyone's looking at me: my impatient directrice, my possibly-just-as-terrified scene partner, the dreamy poetic fellow who's about to die in twelve pages - and so I pluck up my courage, swoop up on tip-toe, pray I don't end up snogging his ear by accident, and peck his lips.

They're slightly damp.

Satisfied, I try to go on to my following unimpressive line.

EMILY.  Speaking something rapidly so that we can just get past this awkward moment because...

(From the very Mouth of Hell.  From the Caverns of the Damned.  From the Pit of Despair.)


EMILY.  Hm?  Yes?  What?  What's wrong?

DIRECTRICE.  Emily.  What.  Was.  That.

EMILY.  You said -

DIRECTRICE.  (With an almighty sigh that bellowed forth from the Abyss of Disappointment.)  Emily.  You know your character.  You know what you need to do.  That was not a Hazel kiss.  You need to do a Hazel kiss.  You -

EMILY.  (Thinking loudly while the DIRECTRICE drones on.)  You bitch.  You absolute f*cking bitch.  You just stole my first kiss from me, you failure of a woman.  You just stole my first kiss from me, in front of everyone, you made me do it in front of everyone, in front of the Boy I Like - and with no help from the Boy I'm Kissing - you made me do it, you made me do it, you made me do it like this.  And now you're berating me?  Do you know how much of my guts that took?  I mean, I know - I know - I know you entrusted me with the drunk slut.  But, honey, I'm the school librarian.  And I've never, never ever ever and...

DIRECTRICE.  (Having continued on this entire time.)  So.  Ugh.  Kiss him again, Emily.  No.  Not a peck.  Not a peck.  Ten seconds, Emily.  No, wait.  Hear me: I mean ten seconds.  TEN WHOLE SECONDS, Emily.  As in "One Miss-iss-ippi.  TWO Miss-iss-ippi.  THREE."  You understand me, Emily?

EMILY.  (Bitterly and through her teeth.)  I understand you.

DIRECTRICE.  "THREE Miss-iss-ippi."  I'll be counting, Emily.  "FOUR Miss-iss-ippi."  Got it?

EMILY.  (Brightly, but baring her fangs.)  Yes.  Yupp.  Got it.  Good.

DIRECTRICE.  And wiggle, Emily.  For God's sake, wiggle.  "FIVE Miss-iss-ippi."  All the way to ten.  Got it?

EMILY.  (Really strangling furious now.)  YES!  Got it!  Ten seconds.  Wiggle.  Got it.  A Hazel Corlian kiss.  I understand you.

DIRECTRICE.  Good.  Now do it.

I face my scene partner again.  Once again, I do some quick trig.


DIRECTRICE.  (From Beyond the Veil of Caring:)  And climb him, Emily!  You should grab his neck and climb.

(EMILY closes her eyes and swallows.  Dear God.  He's got at least six inches on her.  And she's never been a pole vaulter.  She opens her eyes and goes for it.)

EMILY.  (Thinking.)  One Miss-iss-SIPPING-freaky...wiggle, wiggle...TWO Miss-iss-I'm-gonna-find-her-and-murder-her-ippi...wiggle, grab and press...THREE...I-sincerely-hope-I-don't-look-like-a-moron-ippi...hold, drag, move...FOUR -

Ten seconds is a super long time, kiddos.

Moving on, we got to that delightful point in the rehearsal process that found a happy rhythm.

EMILY.  (Swooping in for her entrance.)  Lines lines lines!  Dialogue.  Super-long kiss that I Am No Longer Afraid Of Because I Know Where His Lips Are In Space and Ugh Seven Mississipi, EIGHT - REMAINDER OF PLAY!  Wherein (***spoilers!***) it turns out the whole thing revolves around me and being adopted and the Prudish Housekeeper is my mother, if I recall correctly, and no one could remember their lines in Act II and I was trying too hard to help and ended up messing everything up and it didn't matter because...

EMILY.  (Swooping in for her entrance the following day.)  Here I am again, and lines lines lines.  Dialogue.  Super-long kiss, please and thank you, sir.  Nine Mississippi, good grief my arms are tired, TEN.  And done and...

EMILY.  (Swooping into the lunchroom to sit with her nerdy friends.)  My lips are itchy.  Why are my lips itchy?  I need to kiss someone.  That's an odd sensation.

EMILY.  (Swooping into rehearsal.)  Hullllllloo!  Lines lines lines.  Kiss.  Ooooof - what's this costume?  It's off the shoulders.  Um, I think my arms are going to fall off or I may rip my dress and I don't need to rip my dress I am not being naked on the stage by accident - Mississippi, TEN.  

And we came to performance.

Now, all through high school, I had a fellow who was following me around as I followed around my fellow who mostly followed around the fellows selling drugs in the parking lot.  High school's full of the world's bestest choices, kids!  

My fellow Let It Be Known To Me in chemistry class that he fully intended to attend every single night out of jealousy.  Which was one of the more comforting things he'd ever told me.  However, this only made it considerably more imperative that the dress I wore Did. Not. Accidentally. Rip. On. Stage. And. Leave. Me. Naked.  Because...

I pondered this dilemma whilst attempting to change modestly in the communal dressing room, just a few minutes before performance.  When suddenly, I saw the answer to all my problems:

My Actor Actor was wearing a tie.

I caught his attention.

EMILY.  Hey!

ACTOR ACTOR.  (Tying his shoe.)  Hey.

EMILY.  So, you know I'm worried about ripping my dress.


EMILY.  Would you be OK if I just grab you by your tie and bring you down to my level?

ACTOR ACTOR.  (Looking up at me.)  Um.  That should be fine.

EMILY.  Great.  Do we need to practice or are we good?

ACTOR ACTOR.  (Tying his other shoe.)  We're good.  We'll just do it then.

EMILY.  Great.

EMILY OF THE PRESENT.  Safety!  Safety!  You should have rehearsed!  It has now become a fight move!

EMILY OF THEN.  I feel like I'm hearing something, like a ripple from the future - but I'm just going to ignore it.  Because now I am amazing.

The moment arrives.

EMILY.  (In the stage left wings, awaiting her entrance.)  I feel like we should have practiced.  What if I miss?  What if he misses?

EMILY FROM THE FUTURE.  What if you strangle him?

EMILY OF THEN.  That's my cue!  Hope it works!

(Sweeping on stage.)

EMILY.  Hullo!  Hullo!  Lines lines lines.  Dialogue.  Oh, shit.  We really should have - what if...well, here we go!

(EMILY grabs her scene partner by his tie and...)

Nailed It.
Sadly, by this time though, my thought wasn't one of - oh, Disney Princess songbirds or popping out my leg or sudden outbursts of opera - I wasn't even paying too much attention to my now mechanical thought of: "Twelve-Thousand-Mississippi-Wiggle-Wiggle"...

Instead, most of my brain was doing trigonometry.

No.  Seriously.  With cartoon diagrams over our heads and everything.

Something like this:

EMILY.  (Thinking while smooching.)  OK, if I'm 5'6 and he's - say, 6'1 - then the angle of inclination for this to have landed perfectly - wiggle wiggle - must be...

For the record, it's 45°.  Which is pretty steep slope.  Just sayin'.

At intermission, my Directrice came back stage and ranked me out.  But I, being passive-aggressive, kept the tie-pull for the whole run.  

After the show, I heard that the fellow who followed me was incredibly upset at the seeming-passion of the kiss, and had already bought his tickets to the following performances - which suited me well and you're welcome bank account of Pompton Lakes High School.

Once the show closed, the Itchy Kissy Lips Syndrome (TM) continued for a few weeks with no particular outlet, since after my heady foray into drunk slutdum, I returned to my cozy tea-drinking BBC-watching ways for the rest of Senior Year.  And anyway, the musical was You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  With no kissing.  And I wasn't cast.

Many, many moons later - after I became a teacher and director myself - the phrase "Math for Actors" became a thing among my students and I.  

"Miss Snyder!  I can't find page 60!"  

"Have you found page 61?"  


"Try turning the page."  


And so on like that.

Then, one summer when I wasn't directing Shakespeare, an opportunity arose to finally write out our little in-joke as a short play.  

Kate explains the angle of inclination to Keith.
Naturally, my own math-based-acting-incident presented itself as a possible factor (pun fully intended!) in the freewheeling plot.  Other incidents - such as one parent who asked how long a green sash is, or the vagaries of how long a scene runs, what the hell a proscenium arch is - really anything I could stuff in there, went in there.  

And what came out was a pretty spiffy little two-person play, I think!

With just one minor dilemma:

To perform this play - you actually do have to do some math.

Therefore, for anyone who's about to perform this show, I hereby present you with an easy way to sort out the angle between your actors' mouths.  I also highly encourage you not to make them count to any Mississippis.  They'll sort it out themselves.

Start by using this brilliant website.  (Or get your math teacher.  But mostly start with the website.)

Then plug in the following, wherein:

X1 = The height in inches of the shorter person, from the floor to the position of their lips in space

Y1 = 1

X2 = The height in inches of the taller person, from the floor to the position of their lips in space

Y2 = The starting distance in inches between the actors

Press "calculate" et voilĂ !  Trigonomic smooching.

Or, of course, you can ditch all that and just pull the guy down by his tie.  Because that is awesome.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brush Up Your Mythology!

There's been a lot of exciting doings in Emily-world, not the least of which is having started our new theatre company, Turn to Flesh Productions, which is aiming to put on my Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse Off-Broadway in time for Valentine's 2014!

Now, if your memory of the original myth is a little fuzzy, never fear: we've got you covered with a primer (embedded below).

And do make sure that you check out our original teaser trailer here!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Challenge Accepted! (Or How to Make Emily Sweat Sonnets)

Hullo, folks!

For those of you who may not have heard, I've started a theatre company in New York, Turn to Flesh Productions which will be kicking off its season with Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse by yours truly.

We'd love for you to like our Facebook page...and to that end, my business partner, executive directrice and dear friend, Michelle Kafel has issued this challenge:

Anyone who likes the Facebook page today will get a personalized sonnet from myself.  Just make sure you leave your requirements on the page (e.g., Elizabethan, Petrarchan, use only trochees, use the word "cow" etc.).

Go ahead.  Make me sweat.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Honour of St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence was a jolly sort,
A joyful deacon, a blessed man,
Who though was given a Martyr's crown
'Twas over the motley of Comedian

Upon the burning coals he laid -
Where lesser men have cursed and cried -
Said he, "Now turn me over, boys!
I'm finished on this side!"

O gentle saint, O stalwart friend,
Who would not kneel to Caesar's throne
Give us this day your strength of heart,
That life's last laugh may be His own.
~ 10 August, 2013 (c) ECAS

Monday, April 8, 2013

Captain Jack Sparrow

A brief meditation on Captain Jack Sparrow (mostly from the first movie):

So, this picture is being posted apropos of nothing other than it's bloody striking and it's bloody Jack Sparrow and it makes one want to jump through computer screens and onto the bounding maine...but it also makes me think a few other (slightly deeper) thoughts. Things that make me go "Hmmm."

When I first saw the "Pirates" movie, it was fine - it was better than some other recent fare (
Geena Davis, I'm looking at you) - the costumes were good, the actors were decent, the bit with dropping the sconce was an acceptable meet-cute...and then:


The most remarkable thing about his appearance to me (besides the genius of his entrance which showed us pretty much *everything* we needed to know about his character, and which to me is still probably the Best Entrance/Introduction of a Character Evah) was that as soon as I saw him, Captain Jack Sparrow HAD ALWAYS EXISTED.

Cole Porter and Mozart have this quality. One can hear their songs for the first time, and be sure that they've always been singing in your bones. Shakespeare's characters are so indelible that while there are a plurality of people who have played Hamlet, there can never be another Hamlet - not really. It's also fun to be able to say, "Oh, I was playing Ophelia," or "Lady Bracknell" last week and not to have to explain who she is or from what play...the way one must do if one is playing, say, "Betty." And then explain, "From 'Sure Thing.' By David Ives. 'All in the Timing?' It's a really great play. It's about two people meeting at a cafe? And they keep starting over. There's a bell? Nevermind. But you should totally read it."

The opposite of this effect, however, is that the Archetype of Jack Sparrow is so strong that the writers (and to some extent Johnny Depp himself) forgot the most HUMAN part of Captain Jack - which aren't his catchphrases or his quirks - but his real LONGING, LOVING of the freedom of a ship and the open sea. Which this early picture captures.

So it is when we're writing/acting/directing new work: there's the thrill of finding the unexpected human contradictions that make great characters great. And there's the danger of falling into "either/or," archetypical or caricature when we return to that work again and again and again.

For me, I'd love to see Captain Jack Sparrow return with a bit of his secret soulfulness intact. For now, I'm content to watch him here, dreaming forever after of that horizon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When Purple Prosedy Attacks! (And How to Tame It...)

In 2009, I attended a theatre conference in NYC where, naturally, I was drawn to any workshop that breathed the words "Shakespeare"or "verse drama" or "iambic pentameter" in the title.  The workshops were all individually excellent, but I did notice one hilarious similarity between them:

Every bloody workshop, independent of each other (!), used the following speech from ROMEO AND JULIET in their presentations:
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
In one workshop, we looked at this from a movement standpoint, from other we really delved into the words and expressing the antitheses, and in the last we explored the punctuation.

You'll notice, though, we didn't delve into the entire speech or its surrounding lines, which actually reads like this:
Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!
Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?
                                     No, coz, I rather weep.
Why, you may ask, did each workshop cut off the parts surrounding those six lines?  The answer is simple: every other line is motivated.  And the parts in italics were the result of:

(Cue dramatic music.  In fact, cue this:)

Writing in Verse: Pretty Pitfalls

As a director, I sometimes wondered why Shakespeare would occasionally "just go off" into rhapsodies  of verse that stop the action cold.  I'm not talking about "To be or not to be," I'm talking precisely about what we see above.  But I'll give you a few other examples:


A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
Titania's ready for ALL THE TALKING!

These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
Prospero's got STUFF TO SAY!


Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
Now, as a director, I have to make a choice as to whether to cut out parts (typically, yes) or to leave them in.  The bits that I highlighted, while beautiful poetry, tend also to be repetitive poetry for an audience, that is, for those listening.  It can also be a little wearying for the actor to justify why s/he keeps speaking.  Although there may be better examples, let's keep with the four above.

1) Romeo and Juliet: Granted, the "O this, O that" are good poetry, granted too that Romeo is of a poetical disposition, and granted this part isn't easily cut because it's become so well known, regardless it stops the action cold.  Romeo was in the middle of finding out why Benvolio's got a cut or a weapon or there's a body lying on the ground or something.  The important philosophical idea is: "O brawling love!  O loving hate!"  The rest of it are just variations of a theme.  Variations that the actor has to work hard to convey as varied, interesting, and crucial to be said aloud, but which for the sake of clarity could have been cut.

2) Hamlet: Horatio's lines begin with a cause: he's reminding us that during times of national upheaval, even nature seems to reverse itself.  But then he goes on.  And on.  Poetically.  In this case, a director/actor may justify that Horatio is just spinning time out so that the Ghost's reappearance is a sudden shock...but we really don't need "extra bits" in a play that's already four hours long.  (See below for Blackadder's thoughts on that!)

3) Midsummer: Many scholars have tried to draw correlations between this speech and the natural goings-on in Shakespeare's day.  They may not be wrong.  But again, by continuing on and on and on and on, with variations and repetitions and florid example after florid example, the audience gets tired.  The actress may be brilliant...the audience is tired.  Midsummer doesn't suffer from being overlong, and the speech is fairly well known so that about half the actresses keep the whole intact, but in point of fact, we only need one or two examples of how the world's gone mad, and then cut right to the heart of why she's speaking which is, "This same progeny of evils comes from our debate, from our dissention, we are their parents and original."

4) Tempest: This show is actually chock full of loads of poetry with minimal (seeming) motivation.  This comes at the end of the show, and it's gorgeous poetry...but again, repetitious.  Especially at the end of a show, the action should be faster, quicker - we want to see all the resolutions fall into place.  So while directors may keep some of the list of spirits under Prospero's command, they may not need all of them listed.

Now, there are those folks who are going to bristle that I even criticized Shakespeare's poetry at all, but hear me out.  Or rather, hear out Sir Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie:

The Play (Not Your Poetry's) The Thing

So, what can we learn from five hundred years of folks struggling with Shakespeare?  Quite a lot, actually.  When writing verse drama, we need to keep in mind that while we're going to have a tendency to fly off into dizzying ecstasies of the English language, in fact, the audience just wants to know What Happens Next.

That's not to say that you couldn't or shouldn't go off with the Purple Prosedy Monster every once in a while - after all, what's the point of writing verse drama if you don't get to write verse drama?  But that poet-playwrights need to keep first and foremost in mind whether the poetry assists or impedes the forward momentum of the play.

To think of it another way, consider what the Rowan Atkinson character above would cut from your play...and consider cutting it now.

Some Tips to Keep in Mind

Before you cut, consider asking yourself these questions:

1) Does the poetry reveal something about the character?
2) Does it move the plot along?
3) Does it cover up some action (a length of time, etc.)?
4) Does it set a mood?
5) Can the actor and director easily motivate it?

If the answer is "yes," then keep the poetry as is (at least for the space of a reading!).  If, however, you find that:

1) The poetry doesn't sound like the character;
2) The forward motion is completely and unnecessarily stopped;
3) The poetry is repetitious and can be summed up in one or two examples;
4) The poetry is at odds with the mood you need to sustain;
5) The actor and/or director are asking you what the hell this means;

Then consider cutting or rewriting your verse.  It'll be painful to lose your good lines, but the best lines you can probably fit in somewhere else, or showcase them independent of an entire sonnet.


The audience is listening to your play for the first time!  They're getting the exciting experience of hearing words as if they've never heard language before.

No one's done thesis upon thesis on your poetry - it's raw, it's new - it needs to keep the drama going.

No one in the audience is reading your play, either.  It's one thing to read a line or two of verse, put it down, and consider it before picking up where you left off.  The audience doesn't get that leisure.  They're listening to fast rich language.

So keep it elegant, but simple!  And make friends with the Purple Prosedy Monster...or better yet, tame it.

See also: Writing in Iambic Pentameter and Where Have All The Iambic Pentameter Plays Gone?