A couple of weeks ago Mended Wing finished its tour of Two Gentlemen of Verona to thunderous applause at Southwood Middle School in Miami, FL.
It was our eighteenth performance in two weeks; the culmination of months of preparation, an eleven-day rehearsal process, and more than a thousand miles on the road together.
We were triumphant but exhausted, and its taken some time to sort out my reflections on this project, and what those findings will mean for Mended Wing in the immediate future.
When we started playing with the ideas that would become Mended Wing Theatre Co. in 2017 we had no clue our tour would be successful enough to have a second shot. Now, after two excellently received tours, it feels like our beliefs that Shakespeare can and should be made accessible to young folks have been confirmed.
In the year and a half since Cameron and I first felt the need for this company, the issues that we were seeking to address have deepened. The need for empathy and for compassionate conversation is greater than ever, and I believe, stronger than ever, that this living, breathing experience of Shakespeare and of the transformative magic of theatre is essential in cultivating those very qualities.
There is an empowerment that comes with watching a Shakespeare and being able to say afterwards "hey, I got that!" We know we're doing our jobs right when someone tells us that they related to a character for the first time, or had understood the story in spite of being unfamiliar with some of the words, or when audiences cheer or boo a characters actions--becoming directly involved with the world of the play.
Our Two Gentlemen of Verona, presented by an ensemble of six clowns, would often spill across the boundary between the stage and the audience, involving teachers, students, and interruptions from class bells. The clown ensemble kept everything spontaneous, and the blocking from the original rehearsal room, would shift to fit each different space, a gymnasium here, a classroom there, a blackbox theatre, a giant proscenium, a courtyard. All the costumes and props were carried in a large hinged box, and taken out of the box by the clowns to try on the different characters. This sort of Playbox Shakespeare is born out of necessity--we need to pack light on the tour, and we have a shoestring budget--but is also consistent with a certain Commedia del Arte aesthetic that we were aspiring to.
The clown ensemble also made a major change to the end of the play.
As written, Two Gents ends with Proteus attempting to force himself on Sylvia, but gets caught by Valentine, who almost immediately forgives him and offers Sylvia to him as a symbol of their friendship--at which point Julia (who's been there the whole time disguised as a boy named Sebastian) reveals herself to Proteus, who does a second about-face and declares his undying love for her. At this, Valentine joins their hands and everyone walks off to be married.
Now, the clowns were not into this ending, this message was not one they wanted to send the kids of Georgia and Florida. They could not be persuaded by my insistence that it was satire--satire, they said, was for the birds. So we fashioned a new ending, one in which Valentine still forgives Proteus, but Julia and Sylvia ultimately abandon the two boys. This was done without adding any new lines, we merely cut the play off at the final line from Julia, then the clowns scrambled to get all the props and costumes together and start to pack them away, and as they did spoke this little rhyme I wrote to wrap things up, like one of Shakespeare's "apologies."
If these shadows have offended
Think but this and all is mended:
When we play so fast and loose
With tales as old as Mother Goose
Perhaps tis fit to cut some lines
To make our play fit for our times.
These men, un-gentle, in days of old
were not left standing in the cold,
but we can't stand in times like this
to end our romance with a kiss.
Thus in this very day and age
Tis meet to burn the final page
And craft our girls a fitter ending,
So chide us not, we're merely mending.
In many our talk-backs students would often say they were glad we changed it from the original ending, that they would have hated to see the girls give in, satire be damned--the clowns were right.
Students also asked us how they could get involved, what programs we could offer them as actors. At this time we aren't even a real company in the legal sense, we have no home base, except when we're all together eating a delicious meal together, we have very little of the structure needed to support those programs.
But we will build them.
It is my intention to incorporate Mended Wing as a non-profit theater in the near future, and to offer tours year round to schools in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. More updates on that front, and on other Mended Wing news can be found here or on facebook page. Thanks to all who have supported us and continue to support us as we bring Shakespeare to the people!