Remixing Shakespeare

– My name is Christopher Merrill, and as the Director of the
International Writing Program, it’s my pleasure to welcome
you to the second year of Creative Matters, which is sponsored by the Office of the Vice
President for Research. I wish to begin by singling
out for special thanks Dan Reed, whose support
for the arts and humanities is crucial to the life of our community. Creative Matters, which brings
together artists, writers, scientists, and thinkers to
discuss the creative process grows out of the Arts
Advancement Committee, convened by Provost Barry
Butler, and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences Chaden Djalali. Co-chaired by Alan
McVay and Chuck Swanson, our charge is to synthesize
energies, forge connections across the disciplines,
and spark new ideas in conjunction with the
rebuilding of our arts campus. Innovation is our theme. In Creative Matters, the
brainchild of David Gere, George de la Pena, Ann Ricketts,
and Leslie Weatherhood, to whom I owe a debt of
gratitude for coordinating this wonderful series
of events, is a showcase for those who challenge
conventional thinking in a range of disciplines across campus. Creativity is a defining feature
of the University of Iowa, the first higher educational
institution in this country to award graduate credit for
creative work, and to broaden our understanding of the
mysterious means by which new discoveries are made in the
arts, humanities, and sciences. I often turn to The Creative
Rrocess: Reflections on Invention in the Arts and
Sciences, a book of essays and reflections on the ways
in which artists, writers, composers, mathematicians,
and scientists have made discoveries integral
to our fabric of life. In the introduction to this
book, Brewster Ghiselin argues that “invention in
the arts and in thought “is a part of the invention of life.” Creative Matters seeks
to foster such invention, because it is critical to
our aesthetic, physical, and spiritual survival,
moreso now than ever in the midst of the
contentious political season. Surely William Shakespeare,
whose first folio is on display in our library, would not
only understand the stakes involved in this election,
but would find creative means of transfiguring it into
works of enduring literature. What good luck for us, then, to have in residence the Q Brothers, who translate the Bard into
a modern idiom and context. Musicians, actors, writers,
and educators, and DJs, GQ and JQ created and
starred in the award-winning internationally acclaimed
production Othello: The Remix and Funk It Up About Nothin’, both musical hip-hop ad-rap-tations of
Shakespeare’s classics. Othello: The Remix was
commissioned by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London for the
2012 Globe to Globe Festival, produced by Chicago
Shakespeare Theatre, played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,
enjoyed a five-month run at Chicago Shakespeare
Theatre, and has toured to Germany, South Korea, London, Poland, the United Arab Emirates,
Australia, and New Zealand. Funk It Up About Nothin’ was commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Festival,
and ran at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, you can
see a pattern developing, and on tour to London and Australia. A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol had its world premier at
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in winter of 2014, and returned in 2015. Their off-Broadway smash
hit, The Bomb-itty of Errors, which they co-created and
starred in, has toured around the world and is
published with Sam French. Their latest production
is a two-man version of The Two Gentlemen of Verona,
called Q Gents, commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival
and currently touring. Film and television credits
include The Music Drumland and the TV show Scratch and Burn on MTV, which they co-created and starred in, as well as work with
Fox, CBS, and Showtime. They have numerous album credits
as musicians and producers, including The Q Brothers The
Feel Good Album of the Year. The Q Brothers also conduct
hip-hop workshops for children of all ages, and have worked
at Connecticut College, Lehigh University, Lollapalooza
Music Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, the
Latin School of Chicago, in London and throughout
Australia, as well as in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, and
two state prisons in Missouri. Their interlocutor
tonight, Miriam Gilbert, Professor Emerita of English taught at the University of Iowa
from 1969 until 2013. Her major interest is teacher, scholar, and co-editor of anthologies focus on drama performance and
the teaching of drama. She’s written two books
studying individual plays and performance,
Shakespeare and Performance: Love’s Labour Lost, and
Shakespeare at Stratford: The Merchant of Venice,
as well as articles on teaching Shakespeare
through performance. She’s co-editor at Stages of
Drama, an anthology of plays from Aeschylus to Suzanne Lori Parks, and she has taught
eight seminars sponsored by the National Endowment
for the Humanities. Her second home is in
Stratford Upon Avon in England. So please join me in
welcoming the Q Brothers and Miriam Gilbert to
the University of Iowa. (applause, cheering) – Thank you.
(applause, mumbling) Thank you for joining us. And I suspect that many
of you, when you saw that the university theatre
was going to produce something called hip-hop Shakespeare, you said to yourself, as
I did, “What is this?” (laughter)
So we decided that the best way to get started was
to give you a sample, first of Shakespeare, and
then of hip-hop Shakespeare. So I am going to read
a speech from Othello, this is the only chance I
will ever get to play Iago– (laughter)
And I am taking it. (laughter, cheering)
Absolutely. You’ve gotta rise to the occasion. This is very early in the
play, when Iago is talking to Roderigo and is explaining
his feelings about why he hates the Moor, so I’m
going to read this speech, bit of performance, but only a little bit, and then we’re going to
have the excerpt from Othello: The Remix that shows
you what they’ve done with it. Just to make it clear, Iago
keeps talking about he, when he is talking about
he, meaning Othello, he will be here, when he is
talking about he meaning Cassio, I will look this way. I’m sorry Shakespeare
wasn’t clearer on this. (laughter) Roderigo leads off by saying, Thou told’st me thou didst
hold him in thy hate. (as Iago) Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to
make me his lieutenant, Off-capp’d to him: and,
by the faith of man, I know my price, I am
worth no worse a place: But he; as loving his
own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance Horribly stuff’d with epithets of war; And, in conclusion, Nonsuits my mediators;
for, “Certes,” says he, “I have already chosen my officer.” And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife; That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows More than a spinster;
unless the bookish theoric, Wherein the toged consuls can propose As masterly as he: mere
prattle, without practise, Is all his soldiership, But
he, sir, had the election: And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds Christian and heathen,
must be be-lee’d and calm’d By debitor and creditor:
this counter-caster, He, in good time, must his lieutenant be, And I–God bless the
mark!–his Moorship’s ensign. (applause) – Let’s just do it.
– Nicely read, nicely read, sister.
(laughter) – Thank you (laughs). (hip-hop music)
– Wanna know why I’m mad? Wanna know why I’m mad, I’ll
tell you why I’m mad, check it. Three of the hottest
hip-hop producers in town, told ’em my album should drop next, and that I should throw down, now I know what I should
be, I know what I’m worth, but Othello just ignores me–
– And Cassio’s first. – Yo, battle after battle
after battle with this crew, I murdered mad emcees,
but what’s Othello do? He deals a freshman a fresh hand, and he makes him his best man, lessens my chances for making me yes-man. Oh Cassio’s this–
– What. Oh Cassio’s that–
– What. – But he don’t know jack,
’cause Cassio can’t rap, he’s a poster-child pin-up
boy in a land of pop, I’m half-man, half-beastie
boy when I mmm-drop, my shit is John Blazes,
kid is just an actor, I live what I say, he’s
just a candy wrapper, he’s anything but hot, and
I get the cold-shoulder? (unison) VP needs MD to cross over. Every time he make noise,
I get annoyed, man, I heard his latest song,
he belong in a boy band, he make music for little
teenage white chicks, dancin’ round, smilin’,
while we make hype shit, why, Othello’s rich but he keeps me poor, ah, and now it’s time to settle the score, hey, he never lets me
get my foot in the door, (unison) and this is why I hate the Moor. Look, Emilia, this is not what I need. – Well I’m your wife, I
just want you to succeed. (laughter)
You know Iago, a lot of people find that they just need a release to get some peace of mind.
– Have you heard the new record, what is this, damn, a rapper should be a
rapper, not a business man. – Chill, baby, you’re totally obsessed, there’s plenty of creative
ways to de-stress, like, a naked game of Twister,
or anything athletic. – I’m opening for the opener,
this is just pathetic. – Look, baby, I’m poppin’ the pill, there’s a concert in my dress, you’re at the top of the bill. (laughter)
– What am I gonna do? – We could watch a dirty movie. – Seriously, what am I gonna do? – Let’s see, you could do me?
– What? – What if I let you get to third base? – Ew, not even if you waxed your face. Why, Othello’s rich but he keeps me poor, ah, well now it’s time
to settle the score, hey, he never lets me
get my foot in the door, (unison) and this is why I hate the Moor. Here comes Roderigo,
there’s no lamer herb, let me picture me hangin’
with some gamer nerd, I let him be my techie,
and say some words, ’cause the kid is holding
paper like it’s made to burn. Yo, what’s up, Roderigo,
you play D and D last night? – D and D, yeah that was
like 20 years ago, alright, it was World of Warcraft, and yes, I won, yes, I killed a dwarf,
and yes, it was fun. – Ah, if it was so fun, why
do you sound so depressed? – Because I was thinking I
don’t think I’ll ever have sex. – Ah, you could pay for
it, you know where that dirty pub is.
– Not like that, I mean with someone I’m in love with. – Then find what you want,
pursue her and do her. – There’s only one woman for
me and I can’t talk to her. Desdemona.
– With that I can assist, even though she and Othello
are in the midst of a tryst. – What, oh frak, my life is through, dude. – Calm down, Roderigo,
I’m-a tell you what to do, you really do love her?
– Yes, with all my heart. – Then stick with me and we
can tear these lovebirds apart. – Oh yeah, like I’ll ever
end up with that girl, let’s see, me, or the
greatest rapper in the world. – What did you call him?
– Whatever, I’m just sayin’, he’s awesome.
– Doesn’t mean nobody can play him, every man has
a fault, his Achilles’ heel, when I find his, shit’s
gon’ get really real. – But you’re his boy, so
what’s with the treason? – Trust me, Roderigo,
I got my own reasons. Why, Othello’s rich but he keeps me poor, ah, well now it’s time
to settle the score, hey, he never lets me
get my foot in the door, (unison) and this is why I hate the Moor. (applause) Thanks, y’all. Also, just before we go any
further, I’d like to just add to what Chris was sayin’, ’cause
I think that was taken off of an old website, this
is Jackson Doran and this is Postell Pringle, they
are also Q Brothers, a part of Q Brothers Collective,
they have co-written and co-directed multiple
pieces including the one we’re doing here,
including I Heart Juliet, a Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol, and Jackson is an alum of UI, so–
(applause, cheering) – So, just to repeat,
Pos, Jackson, G, and J. – Word up.
– Okay. So I thought I’d start with
some questions and then I’m sure we’re gonna have plenty of
time to open it up to you. But my question is how
did you get from what I was reading (laughs)
to that, in other words, what’s the process by which you do that? – So typically, the way it
started, it gets a little more stream-lined each time we
do it, and we’re probably on like our seventh Shakespeare
project at this point, on some level or form,
but the first translation is a line by line translation. – Of every line?
– Every single line, every single stanza, every
single character, so the first like, literally, you can
look at Shakespeare’s version and our version and you can
just turn page by page and see, okay, they just modernized
this vernacular, they kept like, we might have like 40% of Shakespeare’s language still in that. – [Miriam] Well I heard the
thing about I am worth no worse a place, I know what I’m worth. – Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah–
– It’s a bunch of little phrases–
– So you’re picking up on that.
– Yeah– – He said, in yours it
said, in yours (laughs)– – In yours, it is.
(laughter) I own it, yes.
– Despise me if I do not, three great ones of the
city, and he says three of the hottest hip-hop producers in town, told ’em my album should drop next, you know it’s mirrors closely
a lot of the language. – Okay, at least, and
especially in the first draft, it mirrors a lot more closely,
what we end up getting to, 39 drafts later, is maybe
10% of Shakespeare’s original words in what we’re using,
but the intention we find we’re getting closer to each
draft, the story that we’re telling, we tell it, we
like to tell it more truly each time, well we’ll talk
about what that actually means I guess down the conversation, but also, what we incorporated into
Why I Hate The Moor was like two other scenes–
– Yes. – That I think you recognized
about, we added something with Cassio and Emilia, his
wife, to show that relationship, I think that scene, is that
scene in the original as well? – It’s later.
– It’s later. – It’s later, and then you
also have the Roderigo/Iago scene, which actually is both
before and after what I read, so the surrounding.
– After that first line by line translation is
done, we’ll go back at it, J’ll make a bunch of
beats, we’ll go back at it, and try and put stuff over
music, but then also take a big red pen to a bunch
of things, say these three characters are extraneous and
they can be one character, these three scenes can be one scene– – Also what happens when you’re
translating line by line, what ends up happening is your
understanding of the original gets really deep, and so you
get the play in a way that you didn’t had you just read it
quickly, you know, because you have to translate it
into your own language, your comprehension grows,
and so what happens then is that you start to have
a point of view on it, and when you have a point
of view on it, you can start to go, you know what’s a
better setting for this for our world, or for what
we’re gonna try and do to it, is potentially the music
business, for this particular one, and for Julius Caesar, it’s
like sort of a fictional capital city, but it’s modern, and
so we see how it’s gonna get modernized a little
bit, and we keep pushing it in those directions and
sometimes we hit a wall, we have to go back and
kinda rework it, but yeah. – Yeah, I was gonna say–
– Pos. – Yeah, to add to that, I
was gonna say we also like, we basically also use Shakespeare’s
version kind of as just an original road map to some,
in terms of like the plot, the plot points, in terms of
how the story, the road that the road goes, a lot of
his plays were very linear in the sense that every moment
in the play happens the next moment, as opposed to there’s
this side of the story, and simultaneously something
else is happening here, he had some plays that were
like that, but a lot of his plays were straight linear,
but regardless we use it almost as a road map, but what
we do is kind of like, if we’re riding on that
road, we like turn off into the woods and drive it
into the sea, and you know, and go swimming, kind of.
– Okay, but it’s interesting to me that it starts with
that discipline of having to translate every single
line, because in a way, that really does ground you–
– You don’t really understand it until you do that, and the
first one we, the first few we ever did, like it was
necessary on a few levels, you know, I grew up with a
reading disability so like, I needed to dissect every single
line, then I got to points where I would like weeks in
this text and not even seeing people or living in the world,
and I would get to points where I thought like, you
know I’m gonna look up what, I’d have the OED out, I’d
have the internet there, I’d have like two notebooks of
mine, I’d have two different versions published of the
play, some with footnotes and everything, and I’d be
like, I still don’t think I’ve understood what this
means, or what reference it’s making, and I’ll find
that there’s conflicting opinions out there–
– Definitely. – And then I’ll find like, it
was super empowering for me because I ended up forming
opinions about it where I believe I discovered things that
are not written about yet, if you spend 60 hours, 80 a
week for three weeks on a text, you’re bound to find some stuff
in Shakespeare that you’re like, I swear to God,
Shakespeare meant that, but nope, I can’t find anything, I
would scour the internet and nobody said anything
about that, so like that’s, whether I’m right or not, I
don’t think anyone’s fuckin’ right or not, but like
it was empowering to have those moments, and then to be like, okay– – Well, and what I would
support on that is, you know when you’re writing
as a critic a literary essay, you can pick and choose which
quotations you want to use to make your argument, but
in fact what you’re saying is by forcing yourself to go
through this every minute, or word by word, you can’t
pick and choose, just as actors who learn the lines, you
have to know what you mean or you can’t own them, so
maybe this should’ve been a preceding question is,
what drew you to Shakespeare, I mean we’ve got that
process, why Shakespeare, why do it to Shakespeare,
whatever it is you’re doing? – Why…
– In other words, what led you to go for Shakespeare? – I mean…
– It wasn’t… – It was an accident– – An accident?
(laughter) – Well–
– An accident? – I mean, he was in senior
year of college and was doing a senior project with some
friends, was trying to do hip-hop and theatre, they ran outta time, they had to adapt something,
and Shakespeare’s free. (Laughter, applause)
That’s it, that’s it. That’s how it started, but
it wouldn’t have continued and we wouldn’t have been
doing it for the last 17 years, 18 years, if it wasn’t
accidentally a really good idea, you know–
– Yes. (laughter)
– It turned out, once you got into it,
and we wrote the first couple pages, or even first eight lines, and you just rhymed
them and put a beat on– – Fuckin’–
– It just popped off the page, and we just went woah,
there’s something in this. – I don’t really believe
it was an accident, but it wasn’t an accident, you know. – Okay, you mentioned the beat,
and of course we could hear that, I went to see a rehearsal
a week ago, just to listen and kinda get a more better
sense of what was happening, where do those beats come
from, you write those, too? I mean, ’cause they’re not–
– J does most of ’em, Pos does a bunch of ’em.
– Right, you wanna speak, I mean, but it’s not the
same for every scene or every character, so what goes into
your creation of a beat? – I mean basically, initially
we make a beat that just works for the cadence of the four-four
time that we’re writing in. – Okay.
– So like, Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter–
– Which is five beats. – Yeah, exactly, yeah,
which is five beats, stressed and unstressed, we
write for four-four time, so initially what we do is
we make a beat, once we have what feels like a good
scene or passage, we put it to a beat, put it around
90 or somewhere between 90 and 95 bpms, beats per
minute, and see how it works, and see how it works,
see how the scene plays, if it’s actually, see what the
feeling is, ’cause you know how when you, certain
scenes, a scene from Othello for instance of Iago can be
when he’s by himself can be very intimate, when he is manipulating
somebody, it can also at times feel very jovial, and
then all of a sudden become very conspiratorial with the
audience, and then a scene with Othello and Desdemona
can feel celebratory, so we figure out the emotion
that needs to come from each scene, then we go back in and
we go back to our laptops, both J and I, the predominant
production tool that we use is Logic, and we go in
and we try to make beats that reflect that, the sound, the emotion I should
say, from those scenes. – Okay.
– Also– – Jackson, yeah.
– We also have like, a sort of varied background
and musical taste as well, and so when we find a character
or a group of characters embodies a certain theme
or style of, not just mood but also like certain
characters have their own little instrumentation to reflect or
to reinforce that character, we’ll be like, oh yeah, you
remember that weird seventies rap song by the Sequence, that
group of women or whatever, we did the version of
Lysistrata, and we’ll go back and listen to that and be
like, okay, yeah, cymbals, high-hats, you know, weird
triangle moments or whatever and like, inflect our, infuse
our musical background. – I mean, some of it is
like, it’s more like opera, ’cause all the scenes, that
what you saw was a number, that was like a music, like in a musical, that would be like a song,
but in between there’s a bunch of scenes in between all
the songs and all those are over beats, too–
– That’s right. – And so the songs are more
fleshed out and have more of a chorus, and the scenes,
in order to give the actor freedom to have dynamics
within what they’re acting, they have to be skeletal to
some degree, because if you have too much instrumentation
or you’re pushing your idea of what the mood of the
scene is, it doesn’t, it’s too prescriptive, and
it doesn’t give the actor enough freedom–
– Okay. – And so we try and stay
out of the way, like you go, what is the general sense
of this scene, it’s tense, okay it’s tense, but it’s not
like brooding and it’s not tense and happy, it’s just
tense, so like how we do that and stay kind of with
a lot of space in there for the actor to still put the type of tension that he or she wants to on it. – Okay, and one more thing, I
don’t know whether this gets too technical, but Shakespeare
frequently has got both prose and blank verse–
– Right. – Which are different
rhythmically, and it’s not as noticeable say in Othello,
but in Much Ado About Nothing, there’s tons of prose–
– It’s wildly noticeable. – And it’s very witty prose, especially Benedick
and Beatrice, does that have an impact on the
kind of beat you’re doing or on the rhyming scheme
that you’re working with? – In that particular case
with Funk It Up, or Much Ado, that allowed us to see that the characters of Benedick and Beatrice were
gonna be the best rappers in the, of the whole play–
– ‘Cause they’re so smart. – They’re so smart, and then
they actually have a battle, a rap battle at one point,
where she kinda, they dupe each other, but it’s, they’re like
alright fine, let’s break it down, they look at the DJ,
and the DJ spins an old-school beat and they’re like,
there’s a straight-up battle where people, each of their
crews are behind ’em, goin’ ah, and like, you know.
– Okay, because in some ways Much Ado is a battle of the sexes, it’s sort of original, before Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers got
there, they were doing with Benedick and Beatrice.
– Part of what I guess what you’re asking is like when
he heightens the language into poetry–
– Exactly. – It’s an indicator for us
that there’s an emotion there that is important for a
character’s arc that we need to be true to, so for
us all of it’s in verse, but when something like
that happens, we go okay, we need to spend some time
on this couplet because, oh green-eyed monster,
when he goes into that, you know we didn’t end up using much of that line, but in
that scene, our version, equivalent part of that–
– The jealousy scene. – Yeah, we started to put in
like, all of this word play, it happened naturally,
and then we looked back and we’re like, oh, it’s in
the same spot that his is, you know, so he says like,
the pieces of my puzzle I’m-a press into place,
and I can tell this work and see the stress on his
face, and it’s a really complex rhyme scheme there, and it happens to pop in the same spot that Shakespeare’s pops, so a lot of that happens.
– Okay, that’s a really useful idea, so we’ve heard a bit from Othello, we’ve mentioned Much Ado,
you’re working on Julius Caesar, and my question is, does Julius
Caesar, which is the first really sort of history Roman
play, I mean it’s not a comedy, not one of the big tragedies,
does that pose new problems for you, and ask because
it’s such a rhetorical play, you know this is a play full
of people making big speeches, best known Friends, Romans,
and Countrymen, you know, I mean a fabulous, fabulous
piece of rhetoric, but I’m just wondering what kind of challenges
this play, which you’re working on right now, Jackson
are you jumping in here? – Yeah I mean I would say,
I had a great lunch with one of my professors from here
actually, one of my mentors, Carol McVay yesterday, and I
think one of the first things she said to me was, “Making
theatre is never easy,” and I think that every time
we go into this, I’m always like the planner of the group,
I’m like we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna get there, we
gonna go this, and it’s always a challenge, you know, I was
hoping we’d be at a certain place by this point and
we’re never at that place, it’s always one door
opens up another door, and you find yourself down a rabbit hole that you need to get out of and go back into another one and that’s the
beauty of the process right, that’s what we love, but–
– So a lot of re-writing is going on.
– Lot of re-writing, yeah, and this play in particular–
– Ask our actors… – There are a lot of speeches,
and we did a line by line translation and what
we found actually was, in a contemporary context a lot
of that heightened emotional nationalism that these characters have is pretty hilarious in
context, there’s a lot of man love and like
super crazy masculinity– – And over the top Make Rome Great Again– (laughter)
A possible dictator in our near future–
– Ridiculously over-reaching foreign policy.
(laughter) – A bunch of people who are
like sheep and kinda go where Fox News tells ’em to go.
(laughter) – What are we hearing?
(laughter) – I mean it’s hard to not just
do that the whole time, too, we need to have characters
that we care about– – Yeah, it’s tempting to make a bunch– – Yeah it was important
for us to put elements of, like when we we’re
discussing current events, we were throwing them on both,
we were throwing them on both sides of the fight–
– Okay. – Because you don’t wanna end up being like SNL–
– Preachy. – You don’t wanna be SNL, you
don’t want it to be a spoof, and you don’t want it to be
disposable, you want it to feel classic, so we would take
elements of you know, what we might be like annoyed
with by the media and put that in somewhere, or what we
might say is hyper nationalism or what we might say is crazy
foreign policy and we put ’em on the same side, and so people
who come to see the show, are not gonna be like, he’s
Trump and he’s Hillary, and you know, it’s not gonna
be like that, you’re gonna get elements of both in both, and
it’ll be kind of a swirling of all of the shit-storm that
we have to deal with today. – Right, and I mean it’s
got to be not a coincidence that this play is being done
right now, I mean it’s one of the great political
plays, and the whole question about who the leader should
be and what kind of a leader he would be, and what
if you think he’s gonna be really dangerous, I
mean those are questions at all times, especially now though, Pos. – I was gonna say, just in
with regard to what you asked about the nature of it
being so rhetorical, one of the hardest parts for
us is like, that rhetorical quality, that quality of people constantly speeching and speechifying–
– They do make speeches. – Where they’re constantly
doing this with their hands– (laughter)
Yeah, exactly. (laughter) We have to find a way to make that active.
– Right. – We have to find a way to
make that active, so oftentimes we just have to dissect what
it is that they are actually saying in all these speeches,
and almost kind of like internalize it for the
character and then find a way for the character to express
that with another character. – Right, because one of
the things that is both so noticeable but also so
infuriating is the habit that both Caesar and Brutus
have speaking about themselves in the third person.
(laughing) Caesar does this all the
time, but Brutus does it too, and there’s a certain kind
of distance, isn’t there? – Maybe we should keep
that joke after all. (laughing)
– I told you. – Footnote, yes, okay, the
other thing you mentioned was, Jackson you said man love, and
I mean it does strike me that this is a very male play, at
least as Shakespeare wrote it, there are only two female
roles, they’re out of there by the middle of the play and
so forth, yet you’re doing this with an ensemble–
– Of majority female ensemble. – Which is seven women, five
men, and so I’m interested in how that’s working and
especially what that is allowing you to do, with an ensemble
because obviously some roles are gonna be what we would
call cross-gender casting, right, so what’s that done
for your process here? – Well, I’ll start by saying
that every play that we’ve tackled of Shakespeare’s, we
have found, I’m not saying all his plays do this, but every
single one that we’ve dealt with, we find that the female
characters get slighted, so that if Benedick has a page
and a half of all this stuff, Beatrice has a mirror
image of that in like four to eight lines–
– Yep. – So maybe at the time, because
that wasn’t really being played by a woman–
– It was a boy. – Or maybe it was just sexist,
because people were sexist, and still are, so we’ve had
to, we made a very conscious effort to strengthen our
female characters in every play that we’ve done, so our
Beatrice is way stronger, our Hero’s way stronger, our
Desdemona, even though she’s– – Been eliminated.
– Been eliminated, is stronger, we feel, I
mean she’s an audio presence that we think is stronger
than any physical presence we’ve seen in any production,
so that is something we like to have a new vision about. – Right.
– So that’s really cool that we could do that in this
play, but also there’s some instances where we are
casting females as males, but there’s some instances
where we’re rewriting male characters as a female character. – Okay.
– So, the possibilities are all over, and it’s kind
of just like as creators you deal with, you take what,
the tools that you’re given and you make the best
piece possible, it’s– – Through limitation
comes creativity, right? – Yes.
– Yeah, yeah. – So we limit ourself in
four-four time, or we say like when we write together,
for just the four of us, we have four guys that are
gonna try to pull off telling this story with twenty characters,
like our Christmas Carol or whatever, how are we gonna
do that, and that opens up the door to more creative stuff. – Right.
– So this is, in this particular context, trying to
write for women as four men, which as you can probably
imagine is you know, difficult, or we try to open up doors
within ourselves or open up doors within our version or
adaptation of the play that, and challenge ourselves in whatever way. – So it is a challenge,
we’re trying to stay true to Shakespeare’s storytelling
and come at it with our vision today, but that’s what we
do for every single play, so to me it doesn’t really
matter that it’s seven women and five men, it could be 12
women, it could be 12 men, I still think we’d probably
have female characters in it, we would still have, we might
even make some of the senators female at the point, I really
don’t know what we would do in that situation.
– Right, and of course you’ve also got the other
challenge which is you’ve got 12 actors and forty-some
roles, although I’m sure some have been, yeah, cut-cut-cut-cut-cut. – Cut, combined.
– Cut, combined, absolutely. – I mean that’s a part of
modernizing now, is like we don’t have to, we’re not in like a
giant, we’re not in the Globe in a three hour piece of
theatre where there’s people yelling and throwing
things and bathroom breaks, you don’t have to repeat
every plot point four times– – This is true.
– And so, the truncation process is like, people come
in for an hour and 10 minutes, hour and 15 minutes, and they’re
gonna get the full story, it’s gonna smack ’em in the
face, I think we keep it short on purpose, I think modern
attention span is such that we like to but also the
fact that it’s a lot, like theatre now is a lot
less heckling than I imagine was back in the day, and so
there’s, people are attentive in a way that–
– Right. – That and, really quick,
sorry, you’re squishing so much, I mean it’s all over a beat,
like we said, so there’s no time for like pauses and like
pregnant spaces, and there’s only so much, we find
that after 75, 78 minutes, maybe 80 max, even if we were
watching the A-list piece that we thought was, you
know, the coolest thing, like, at some point your brain just goes like, stop
fuckin’ rapping at me, like I’m done.
(laughter) – There’s, this play in
particular, I’ve never seen it produced, but there are so
many characters in this play– – There are an awful lot.
– And a lot of them have the same names, like
there’s multiple Brutuses, there’s multiple–
– Cinnas. – Two different Cinnas.
– There’s two different Cinnas but that’s actually a wonderful
moment, is Cinna the Poet surviving?
– Ah, we’ll see. – Sorry, spoiler alert.
– We talked about it yesterday–
– I just have to– – We’ll see.
– I’m a big fan of Cinna the Poet.
– So are we. – Big fan here.
(laughter) – But we kind of, because of the form, everyone’s Cinna the Poet in this at some point.
– Fair enough. – Because we do–
– Everything in poetry. – Because it’s comp-art,
our style is comedic, a lot of people’s favorite
comedic moments end up getting cut because it’s like, I mean
when the whole thing is funny, you don’t need the comic
relief as much, so that’s like been, and we’ve tried to
keep it in for many drafts of many versions of things
we’ve done, and at some point people go like–
– The grave diggers always get–
– The grave diggers get cut every time.
– Yeah, if we ever did Merchant of Venice, Gobo would like– – Oh yeah, well listen, he gets cut a lot at the end these days.
(laughing) I just put in my plea for
Cinna the Poet in that it’s not exactly a comic moment.
– We’re working on it– – We’ll reference it.
– Okay. – For you.
(laughter) – If you can find the hidden,
it’d be like Where’s Waldo, if you find the hidden Cinna reference. – There we go.
(laughter) I bet you guys have some
questions that you’d like to ask, and this might be the
time to throw it open, things you’d like to
know, speak up, Maeve. (mumbling)
What’s it like performing in a prison,
I will repeat questions. – Powerful and intense,
especially in our form we connect with the audience pretty
intimately in a lot of ways, and the first time we did it
was for a group of all men, it was 110 guys who were
recovering addicts and that was, felt like a more intimate
environment, we talked with them afterwards which was pretty
interesting, but I think we came outta that feeling like
we gave people some form of inspiration that, and
we told them, you know, just because you’re in here
doesn’t mean that’s the end of shit, you know, which I’m
sure they know too, but it was just, it was a good connective
moment for us I think to see what theatre can do to the human
spirit, Othello: The Remix, and then when we did it in
front of a mixed gender group for 500 inmates, it was really
interesting to watch the guys on the stage-left side who
were just kinda like chillin’ there like afraid–
– Couple of ’em bobbing their head.
– They didn’t show much, and the ladies were just like whoo. – Screaming. (laughter)
– It’s pretty awesome. – Most of the time the
guys were just lookin’ over at the ladies ’cause they
don’t get in the same room, and the women were just
screamin’ and shakin’, and then the other thing we
did, we went down to Louisiana, some state penitentiaries,
and helped 40 male inmates, lifers, double-lifers, people
who were gettin’ out soon, re-write Hamlet into, in
their own words, taught them our form of rewriting it and
they wrote their own version of Hamlet in rap and put it on
for the public of the prison and their family and friends,
which I can say is super transformative experience,
because the same workshop that we taught these guys
and then also the all female prison we went to,
which was, we didn’t work with Shakespeare, but similar
exercises, the effects were the same on our students
there as like as they were on fourth grade kids from
Glennview, like a privileged suburb outside of Chicago, as
they were with an all-Muslim girls’ school in Manchester,
UK, like the same exercises are done, and it’s amazing
to watch the same effect from like a four, how old
are you in fourth grade, like eight or nine, and like
a 78 year old man who’s from Chicago who’s been in prison
for 30 years, or over 30 years, and to have to witness the
same result and also the same empowerment over the language,
like wait I can do this, I can actually write this, and I mean, it’s mostly a humbling experience because you get to go home at the end of the day– – It also gives new meaning
to the words you’re saying, so like, you know we’d be
performing these words that we had done, we’ve done Othello 500-600
times, and you’d be saying these things that you just
kinda brush past sometimes in normal performances, and
you realize that it takes on a whole new meaning in that setting, that you didn’t notice–
– Jealousy and betrayal and murder–
– Yeah, it’s about jealousy and murder and backstabbing
and poor decisions, you know like it’s, what’s up? – Ah, I was just gonna, poor decisions, making the wrong choices.
– And making choices and like, and also then, we
talk sort of about how Othello’s an outsider and there’s this
song where he sings about living in a cold, dark,
and unforgiving system, and like when he’s singin’
that at the end, all of us were like, I have never sang
these words before, you know, these words never really made
sense like they do right here, so, it was really cool.
– There’s a, we’ll stop talking about that, but
there’s a mini-documentary made about that day, it’s like
about five minutes, if you just YouTube Cook County and Q
Brothers, you’ll see it, or if you go to at the bottom of the front page, you can
click on it and watch that video on YouTube, it’s like four
minutes, it’ll give you a cool insight into our
day at Cook County jail. – Other questions, yes?
(mumbling) What’s it like staging for…? (mumbling)
– For 12 people, as opposed to four?
– It sucks. (laughter)
– What’s it’s like to stage for twelve people rather than for four. – It takes a lot longer, and
you know, that’s, it’s a lot of moving bodies and honestly
that’s been one of the biggest challenges, that’s what our
biggest learning thing for us as artists which is a
good challenge for us, I mean part of this thing is
we’re teaching students here, but also they’re teaching
us every day, which is why these experiences are so
cool for us, ’cause they, I’m sure you all know, or
have heard how much you learn by teaching as opposed
to jut learning, and so– – But it’s really fun, it’s
like if you’re a painter and you only have four
colors for six years, someone says here’s eight
more, like the possibilities are really awesome, it’s
just overwhelming at first. – Yeah, yeah.
– Yeah, you almost wish you had more time ’cause the
part that we almost kinda leave out every time is that we are
actually every day creating what this piece is, so we
come in with the new material every day, and we don’t
know what to do next, like we don’t know (laughs)–
– There are cool things– – So we just have to figure it out. – Like in the piece that we
did for you guys right there, like when we’re all just
doing this at some point, with three people in the
background, like we make do, but if twelve people are doing this, it looks awesome.
(laughter) You know what I mean, so
it’s cool, seriously like, there’s movement to the stage
now in a way that there isn’t, it’s harder to do with just four guys. – And I mean, am I allowed
to mention Halloween? – Sure.
– Yeah. – The Ides of March has
gone but Halloween has not, and I think that, I’m wondering
whether having this many people opens up the possibility
of what that Halloween scene is gonna be like.
– I bet you ask Megan, our wardrobe supervisor, when
two weeks in, we’re like, oh yeah, by the way, it’s
Halloween, so every costume you come up with, everyone
is also gonna wear another costume that night, she was like, ah awesome.
(laughter) – Or as they used to say
in Up The Down Staircase, let it be a challenge to you, alright, other questions that you have, yes please? (mumbling) So the question is because–
(laughter) The question is because
Shakespeare is seen as so scholarly and whatnot, do you guys get
criticized for, and if so, how do you respond, and I’ve
pulled all my punches today. – [Chris] That’s why we brought Miriam in. – Most people who criticize
it either haven’t seen it, so they’re just saying like
that idea sucks and they haven’t seen it, or–
– Or they’ll admit afterwards, I wanted to hate this.
– I wanted to hate it and I don’t, yeah.
– But I think– – The scholars tend to be
the biggest fans because they get what we’re doing
and they catch all the– – The references.
– Shakespearean references and the original dialogue
that’s still in there– – And they see that we revere
what we’re working with, that we’re paying homage to
it, but I would be careful, I guess my first question, was
your question, you were like, because Shakespeare is this
scholarly thing, I would ask you to see it differently
because, or pose that question and say, is seen as the
way you reinterpret it, that’s an important distinction
for me, I’m a word-head, and that’s maybe why I love
Shakespeare, but I would also challenge the world to stop
looking at Shakespeare that way because it’s only alienating
ourselves and everyone who’s possibly super connected to
it and doesn’t yet know it. – Yeah, I mean, he was the hottest verse of his day and we’re fuckin’
with the hottest verse of our day, you know.
(cheers) That’s it, that’s it, people
that walk around talking in iambic pentameter, you know–
(laughter) Well we sometimes do, but
people don’t walk around just rhyming all the time,
it’s a heightened version of the language that’s
popular at the time anyway, and so we’re–
– And on top of that, it was pop, like it was popular
entertainment at the time. – It was, and just to give a
nod over to the first folio, that book was such a revelation,
it was such a challenge, who would publish plays,
in a big expensive coffee table book?
– Right. – It’d be like publishing
television scripts. – Right.
– I mean we don’t do that. – And these things weren’t
meant to be read, they were meant to be experienced.
– They were not, that’s right, and you saw them, I mean we
know this because when they were produced, they didn’t have
long runs, they weren’t on Broadway for months, you
know you were lucky if you got three performances in a
month of the same play, unless it was a Richard the
Second and you were putting it on real fast before the
authorities found out you were doing a play about
the deposition of the king. – Wow.
(laughter) – You know, so you run that
for seven days just to get that over with, but I think
there’s that, the other thing, and I have to admit that being
in an English department, we’re probably the people
who have fostered that notion of Shakespeare belongs to the
scholars, one of the things that I learned from watching
rehearsal the other night was to be reminded of what a
collaborative art theatre is, and we say that is a cliche,
but cliches are true, right, and Shakespeare was a
collaborator too on many levels, both with the works he was
adapting, sometimes he was working with another playwright,
young man John Fletcher that he did some work with
and others, but mostly we know he was there with the actors,
and just as these guys are coming in with new pieces
of text, and I see the look on the actor’s face when they
say and tonight we’re gonna do the scene this way, and
they’ve just been handed the scene, one’s gotta believe
that was also going on with Shakespeare and his guys,
right, that he was coming in and saying, no, no, and we know
that sometimes he got really ticked off at them when he
said, let your clown speak no more than is set down for them,
when somebody was going on and on and he was essentially
saying, I don’t think we need more adlibs, this
play is long enough, so, good question though, go ahead– – I was just gonna tail, there
was a little bit of anxiety though going into Shakespeare’s
Globe with a world premier and the first time
amplification had ever been in Shakespeare’s Globe
Theatre was our play Othello: The Remix, and it
was sold out for three shows, and we’d never done it in front of people. (laughter)
There was a level of like, oh shit, what are they gonna
say, you know, but a lot of the Shakespeare heads
were the ones that came up afterwards, the people
that had been studying it and going to the Globe
to their whole life– – That usher was like 80-something
years old, she was like, I’ve been ushering here
for 60 years or something– – Sam Wanamaker would be so proud. – She said that this is
the closest thing that she can imagine to going to
Shakespeare in his day. – And former Royal Shakespeare
Company members have seen our work and said very
same things, in Australia, Simon’s Hinton’s dad, and all that shit. – Good, we have, can I get
a question back here, yes? – Hey.
(all hello using funny voices) – We’ve got a ringer here.
(mumbling) No that’s fine, you come on. (mumbling) – Nothing is precious,
is one thing I would say, you might have an idea that
you think is gonna be the play and this is everything
that, and you’re gonna stick to it and fight, fight, fight,
but if you have three guys in the room that are also
making the same play with you and they tell you every day,
actually no, that’s not gonna work, this is it–
(laughter) And you’re like, no I got
this, I got it, but you really can’t be precious with anything
because it’s gonna take you all around and the other thing
I always say to you guys too is to say yes to each other,
you have to say yes, you can’t, there’s times when you’re gonna
butt heads and say, I don’t think that’s gonna work, I
don’t think that’s gonna work, but you have to say let’s
try it, at least, you know. – Also, collaboration is like
a marriage, so you kinda have to like, the things that
annoy you about that person are also the thing, the
reasons that you love them and that they’re awesome, so
you need to, I’m gonna cry, I love you guys.
– We love you, too. – Aw.
– You have to appreciate people for the way they are.
– And I would add to give, on that same note, probably
just different language, it helps to give thanks every
day in some form, now you’re making me cry, dude–
(laughter) For your team, for your
brothers, and do it like, because when you do that, you
humble yourself to a point where what they bring, what
you all bring together means more than what you could
ever bring yourself, and that’s the heart of collaboration– – And I’m not gonna cry–
(laughter) But I what I would say is also
you, you have to have a huge level of trust, you just have
to trust that whatever road these people are leading you
down is like, that you’re gonna land safely, yeah, and the
same thing, that you have to trust that when you know
like, this is what we should do, and they’re going with
you, you have to trust that it’s gonna land safely.
(laughter) – That being said, when you see the show, no, I’m just kidding.
(laughter) – We’ve got time for
just a couple more, yes? (mumbling) How long would a residency be?
(mumbling) Sorry?
(mumbling) – We have not–
– Gone down that road– – We want to, but we have not yet. – And you know, in one of these
things, you’re always gonna ask for more time, like right
now we’re like, oh shit, we’re running out of time–
– Should be six weeks, should be six.
– There’s something to be said about giving yourself
a deadline and the version we’ll produce here at Iowa
will be you know, probably it’s version before we go back
and rewrite it 20 more times you know, and so, but you
wanna give something that you present that is a work in
progress but also speaks for itself in the process, but I mean– – I’d say–
– I think five weeks– – Yeah, I mean I think it’s
fine, I mean I’d say the only thing that I would desire,
if we had five or six weeks, is for it to have two weeks
off in the middle of that, ’cause incubation in
terms of like marinating on the ideas and–
– Getting a little distance, maybe?
– Yeah, getting a little distance from it is really
good, ’cause we can sometimes like, you don’t wanna see
the house after we’ve been in there for three consecutive days– (laughter)
– Or four consecutive weeks. (laughter)
– That’s the only thing that I probably would
ever desire out of it, like a week or two off. – Between this process and the next time we work on this
script, we’ll get that incubation, that’s how–
– Right, exactly. – Right, anything else? No, well then– (mumbling)
– Oh, there’s two people at a time, we’ll get both.
(mumbling) – Awesome.
– How does it feel to be back, that’s great.
– It’s beautiful, there’s the souls of many
amazing writers that traipsed the streets of this beautiful
town and that’s like– (laughter)
– Oh yeah, he’s been re-inspired, he’s been
spouting off all this stuff since we got here.
– We pay people to say things like this, yes, one more question? (mumbling) Are we going to see you
in performance here? – Just did, did you not get here in time? (laughter)
– There’s nothing planned right now-
– Oh yes, Thursday night, the Yacht Club, we’re playing at 11 pm, you should come see it, it’s
a little more irreverent than our normal stuff–
– It’s very irreverent, actually.
– Highly offensive rap music. – But so is Shakespeare,
it’s more self-effacing than anything, so feel free,
but don’t, obviously you can’t bring kids to the Yacht
Club at that point– – You should tell them to bring
Q Gents or something here, tell the powers that be
to give us more money, that’d be awesome.
(laughter) – Okay, just want to
thank you for joining us, and thank Pos and Jackson–
– Miriam, thank you. – And G and J, thank you very much. – Can we give it up for Miriam, please. (cheers, applause)
– Thank you. – You’re awesome.
– Is it okay? – It was lovely.
– Good, thank you, I like it, you were fabulous. – Thanks y’all.
(cheering, applause) – And Pos, you were
threatening not to come, I can’t believe it.

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