The small space of the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre is about to host Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” this weekend. Directed by Kimberly Shire to complete her MFA in Directing Theatre for Young Audiences, this classic play has been adapted with a high school audience in mind.
“The Taming of the Shrew” is the funny tale of Kate (played by Kyle Scholl), an unlikable and ill-tempered harridan who must find a husband before her younger, milder sister can be wed. Petruchio (Timothy Callais) is the man who thinks he can solve Kate’s probelm, and embarks on a mission to woo and tame this “shrew.” Meanwhile, there is a competition to win Kate’s sister’s hand. Lovers, suitors and hapless servants all get mixed up in this witty story, as Petruchio and Kate realize that love can never truly be tamed.
“I hope with this show that [audiences] walk away with their imaginations engaged and also thinking critically because the show talks about the role of women and how does that apply to our roles today,” said Margot Fitzsimmons, who plays Tranio and The Widow.
Shire opted to direct “The Taming of the Shrew” due to a love of the Bard as well as an interest in bringing Shakespeare to Hawai‘i high schools. A professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa had done a survey of local high school teachers, asking them what Shakespearean play they would most like to see performed live – and “Taming” was in the top three. Shire had previously directed the play in the 1990s and wanted to revisit the play with a new perspective.
Adapting for younger audiences
Kennedy’s “Taming” differs from the original text in that it has been significantly edited in order to fit a shorter running time. The original text might is a two to three hour long performance, while Shire’s version runs closer to one and a half hours. Although the production is aimed at high schoolers, Shire says that wasn’t the intent while editing the play.
“I wasn’t cutting it for teenagers in particular, I was cutting it more with the perspective that the modern ear is not used to a lot of Shakespearean text,” Shire said. “When Petruchio goes on and on about some Greek legends and stories that, in our modern audience, no one is going to recognize … I took those lines out.”
The design of the play is also different from a traditional adaptation. Unlike the script, the look of the production was designed specifically for younger audiences. Instead of actors in Elizabethan costumes with realistic sets, the characters of “Taming” inhabit an abstract world of colorful costumes, minimalistic sets and even modern graffiti. The intent, Shire said, was to layer the new on top of the old.
“The set will have a touch of antiquity that is layered on top of modern art, and the text itself is antique, but we’re presenting it in a way that is hopefully going to feel realistic to a modern audience,” Shire said.
From script to stage
Shire put her actors through a five-week rehearsal process, compared to the usual eight to 10 week rehearsal process that most UH Mānoa productions have. The intent was to have her actors be fresher and more excited about the material come opening night.
“It’s like Shakespeare bootcamp,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re living and breathing it.”
Immediately upon receiving the script, Fitzsimmons began rehearsing lines with her sister.
Memorizing Shakespeare’s complex text has been one of the biggest challenges for the actors, said Johnny Reed, who plays Gremio and Vincentio.
“People know sections of Shakespeare … so they’re gonna know if you mess up,” Reed said. “Maybe not so much for [my] character, but for the actors playing Petruchio and Kate – the audience is gonna know.”
Shire recognizes the importance of memorizing lines perfectly.
“With a heightened text like Shakespeare, if you invert two words, you switch them around, it doesn’t sound right anymore and it trips you up,” Shire said. “The memorization really has to be solid and it has to work perfect … whereas with a modern text, it’s easy to paraphrase.”
Shire hopes that “Taming,” one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, will entertain with its hijinks and witty dialogue. However, Shire hopes that it also starts a conversation about the role of women in Elizabethan society and in today’s society.
“I don’t think ‘Taming’ can be a feminist manifesto,” Shire said. “But I hope it starts a dialogue about how things can be different for women in the present.”
Shakespeare’s plays have universal themes, and “Taming” hopes to tap into these themes to not only entertain but to also make people think.
The play’s history
“The Taming of the Shrew” was written by Shakespeare some-time between 1590 and 1592. While most historians cannot agree on one particular source, the stereotype of the “shrewish” wife has been around for a long time in folklore. Shakespeare was most likely aware of these character archetypes and rearranged them to fit his story. However, the subplot of “Taming,” involving Kate’s younger sister Bianca, comes directly from Ludovico Ariosto’s “I Suppositi” (1551), where various suitors don different disguises in order to woo the gentle maiden.