Welcome to our Featured Play Spotlight. It’s time to get your students ready to sync up their Shakespeare and turn up their technique! Shakespeare on a Shoestring – Cymbeline! by Michael Calderone has all of Shakespeare’s most famous plot devices? It has… Faked Death! Mistaken Identity! Parental Marital Veto! But wait, there’s more!
A great opportunity for student performers to tackle the play in the Shoestring style, which emphasizes ensemble, the physical space (with all scenery created by living tableaux) and audience interaction.
Why did we publish this play?
Shakespeare on a Shoestring is such a fabulous concept – living tableaux, ensemble driven, and audience participation. This is exactly the type of work students should get involved with.
I also love that we can feature the process with a play we don’t normally see on the high school stage – Cymbeline! Cymbeline has a lot of twists and turns and every time I went “wait, what?” Michael was right there with a recap in the script. This is a great script and a great theatrical opportunity for your students!
Let’s hear from the author!
1. Why did you write this play?
I have been writing Shoestring versions of stories for years; first for a Rutgers University Shoestring Players’ production and for various educational programs. I was teaching a Shoestring workshop in Nassau, Bahamas with the company Shakespeare in Paradise showing them how Midsummer could be staged without any scenery aside from the actors in living tableaux. A few years later I wrote Shakespeare on a Shoestring: Midsummer! and it was a hit at Hopkins School where I now teach. From there, my Ensemble Theater Class began staging Shakespeare on a Shoestring each year.
Cymbeline was our second venture and when the opportunity came for us to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, the cast decided to do Cymbeline. It was a great choice since so many companies do Midsummer each year, but very few do Cymbeline. The main reason why I chose to adapt Cymbeline in the first place was due to the many scenic images that could be created by the cast: a ship to Italy; a four-poster bed; a cave in the wilds; and Jupiter’s Golden Eagle. It lent itself very well to the Shoestring style.
2. Describe the theme in one or two sentences.
Is it possible for Shakespeare to include twelve popular Elizabethan tropes in one play? Faked death? Fidelity Test? Cross-dressing? Yes! Have your cast explore this little known play and discover how he did it.
3. What’s the most important visual for you in this play?
The most important visual aspect of this production is how creative you as a director can get with avoiding any actual scenery and employing every member of your company in creating the scenic elements. Have them create everything that is needed through living tableaux and the tools available to actors: their bodies, their faces and their voices!
4. If you could give one piece of advice for those producing the play, what would it be?
Tempo; always be mindful of your tempo. The percussionist, or on-stage “Foley Artist” keeps the show moving along while supplying incidental sound punctuation. The action is fast until it get’s complicated. At those times Shakespeare puts little re-caps in throughout the original play and I preserved them in out-of-character commentary. Leave room for the audience to get what you’re doing with the living scenery but not enough time for them to question it!
5. Why is this play great for student performers?
Full cast involvement. Everyone is engaged throughout the production. Each cast member is part of the whole playing a tree in the forest in one scene and a prince in another. It is the true ensemble experience.
by Julie Hartley
Shakespeare is one of the greatest resources a drama teacher can have. But teaching it can be a challenge. Practical Approaches to Shakespeare in the Drama Classroom helps drama teachers break down the Bard to make his themes, language and characters accessible to all.