Classical Theater: Snooze-fest or Flip-cup fun?

In order to celebrate the extraordinary list of classics, both straight up and reimagined, that anchor fully half the evenings in the latest edition of Great Evenings Out, we asked one of our favorite artistic directors and maestros of fun, Jessica Hansen, to give us her take on how to enjoy an evening of classical theatre.  

Classic coke, classic cars, classic rock…we know classic things are good, but why? Google defines classic as “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.” In artistic forms, like movies, music, and theater, classics not only stand the test of time, but are stories that continue to resonate through the years. Stories that compel us to retell them, reinvent them, and reimagine them.

Washington has the classics in spades. We have resident and visiting ballet companies, symphonies, and of course, theatre. Classics of theatre can range from the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare to more modern classics, like Hedda Gabler, Waiting for Godot, or Angels in America. Hamilton is sure to be a classic, just give it a few years.

Washington is bursting with smart and creative theater makers; you can get your classics served up almost made-to-order. If you like your classics done the traditional way, find your way to the Shakespeare Theatre company, or the Folger Theater, connected to the Folger Library, which has the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare (although the Folger has been known to take a few fun risks, like Aaron Posner’s magic-filled A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

But if you think women in corsets and men in tights sounds like a snooze-fest, keep reading. Taffety Punk produces one Shakespeare play each year with an all-female cast. Shakespeare in the Pub and LiveArtDC are producing Shakespeare in bars: devised (usually a script that is formed by a group collaboration, rather than a playwright) and with audience-participation flip-cup competitions. Synetic creates silent versions of Shakespeare: acrobatic physical theatre, like “Cirque du Shakespeare,” if you will. Completely opposite to Synetic’s visual experience, Lean & Hungry creates audio-only versions of Shakespeare, to fire up your imagination. Exploring Washington’s classical theatre scene, you’ll find timeless tales told in many innovative ways.

So whether you’re looking for a formal night out complete with fancy clothes and velvet seats, or a night in jeans on a bar stool with a plastic cup of beer, or a theatre experience in the comfort of your own earbuds, Washington has your classics…traditionally and reimagined in every flavor. Try a few, and let us know what you like!

Jessica’s company, Lean & Hungry, has just completed its first season of podcasts, with a lively adaptation and discussion of Romeo & Juliet.  Learn more and give a listen at the L&H Website.

Great Evenings Out with Classics that we recommend as of this printing:

A story behind the show: Sense & Sensibility at the Folger

There’s a fun tid-bit about one of the shows we featured in our last edition of Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC — Sense & Sensibility.

When the good folks at the Folger were planning their season, they heard about this great show that a company in New York called Bedlam were doing, a very imaginative new take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. British literary giants are sort of their thing at the Folger, so they were interested.

Originally, they figured that the New York production of this play would be finished by mid-summer, so the plan was for that production to transfer from New York to DC at the Folger. That would mean that everyone in the New York show would travel down here and perform their same parts. There would be some adjustments for the different shape of stage and house, but still, it would basically be the same show.

Transfers are great for a bunch of reasons. All the work that went in to designing and rehearsing the show get to pay off with extra performances in the new place. Also, the more times actors get to perform a show, the better they get at it. Even just knowing that there will be a fresh bunch of performances for a new audience, can give the actors extra motivation, so the audience often gets a better show whether they see it before or after the transfer. Finally, it generates more paid work for all the actors and some of the other artists involved. Benefits all around.

But as it turned out, the New York production from this fairly small company, became a smash hit. As a result it just kept extending and extending – currently it’s still onstage in New York, through November 20th, a week later than the show is expected to run in DC. When it became clear earlier this year, that the production couldn’t transfer, a new plan had to be developed for the DC run.  The original production’s director and artistic team started working on a brand-new production reusing many of the concepts but with a new, mostly local, cast, new set, and new everything else. That’s what is playing at the Folger right now. In the world of our dreams, New York playgoers and DC playgoers would be talking smack about which production was better with lots of people traveling back and forth to see both.

The show has done enormously well in DC also, and the run has now been extended through November 13th, so as of this writing there are still many opportunities to experience this Great Evening Out.

(Bonus food for thought: Why do theaters call it a “season”, even though it usually stretches from fall to spring? We don’t know, and no one has ever been able to explain it to us.)