For those of you who are just starting their college career at UCI, let me introduce you to the annual summer event: The New Swan Shakespeare Festival — a collection of seminars, lectures, plays and various fun-filled events all about, of course, the revered poet and playwright William Shakespeare. The two big plays that were performed this year were the scheming and scandalous Macbeth and the historical romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. The various seminars throughout the two months that the festival took place revolved around the history and analyses of these two texts.
Although I couldn’t manage to go to all the events of the festival, the ones I could go to were very eye-opening in terms of how the themes and adaptations of Shakespeare’s texts. But first, let’s begin with the performances themselves.
Both plays took place at the New Swan Theatre, a circular stage with a colorful exterior, the audience was placed directly around the stage, allowing the audience and cast members to interact from different angles, both literally and figuratively.
The New Swan’s adaption of Macbeth was interesting to say the least; as it made very compelling connections with the text. The famous witches in this play also happened to take on the roles of various extras such as soldiers or servants, which ended up adding an additional depth to the play. The use of the dim lighting as well as the sounds of metal clanging helped to provide that theme of dwelling in the characters’ minds, such as Macbeth’s corruption in virtue.
The date I came to watch this performance, there was a pre-lecture by organizer and esteemed professor at UCI, Julia Lupton, who spoke of taking the sound design of the play into consideration, which actually added even more to the direction the New Swan decided on in the adaptation of this play.
The second play of the summer, Much Ado About Nothing, seemed to be the much more popular performance of the two, as it was sold out much more often than Macbeth. According to the Artistic Director and Founder of the New Swan Theater, Eli Simon, there has been a pattern of the comedies being more popular than the tragedies over the four years that the theater has been present.
While there was no pre-lecture on the day I attended, I must say this play was much more entertaining, as the humor, bright lighting, homey stage design and vibrant acting all blended together into a grand time.
The seminars that expanded on both plays included “First Folio Fridays” and “Shakespeare Weekend”. First Folio Fridays were hosted by Julia Lupton, who went over the history of how both Macbeth and Much Ado came to be, while also providing a short history of Shakespeare’s life as well as other famous playwrights during his time.
Shakespeare Weekend was a two-day event, in which there two seminars — the first being a guest speaker who would form a discussion with audience over analysis of either Macbeth or Much Ado; this was a colorful experience, as many people had intriguing things to say about both plays. The second seminar was hosted by actors of the New Swan Theater, and was much more hands-on. The actors taught the audience how lines could be performed in terms of emotion, gesture, action, etc. People even volunteered to perform a few lines of Shakespeare, and they were all very powerful and varied. If I had the courage, I would have stood up to show off my acting skills (or lack thereof)!
If you’re interested in the New Swan, this coming summer will be its fifth year, and I’m sure they will have some exciting things in store. The productions this time will be the famed revenge tragedy Hamlet and the less popular but still just as enjoyable comedy, As You Like It. While it will take another school year for the New Swan Theater to make their glorious return, this allows a charitable amount of time to read the plays before watching them!