Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Blog's the Thing

Today is not the birthday of Laurence Olivier ,but it is possibly the birthday of the guy who created the skull he's holding. Scholars argue whether April 23, 1564 is William Shakespeare's real birth date (there is a record of his baptismal on April 26th), but the world is quite sure that Earth's greatest author left this brave new world on this date in 1616. So if it's not his birthday, it's his death day. Votive candles should still be lit.

My first recollection of Shakespeare was in sixth grade, when Miss Waugh became so exasperated with my classroom whispering she reared back and threw a paperback copy of The Bard's shortest play, "Comedy of Errors," straight at my head. Corporal punishment was still the law of the landscape back then in Wisconsin, which no doubt was the reason why Ed Gein left school early. That got me thinking, how amazing old age is that a sixty-five year-old woman could still throw a three fingered splitter. I was to learn that had she hit me with Shakespeare's longest play, "Hamlet," I would today be Yorick himself, rather than an emaciated wannabe lookalike.

A friend asked me once whether there was a way of using animation to teach children at an early age the beauty of Shakespeare. He thought because I was in kids programming, everything I touched was educational in content. I must have looked like Big Bird that day or had sesame seeds caught in my teeth. The closest I came to anything educational was spelling X-Men with a capital X.

But the question haunted me, because at that moment I didn't have any girlfriends that did. Google Shakespeare with animation and you get dozens of sites where three hour plus plays are squeezed into 24-minute loopy truncations. While much of the animation is steps above the 70's Saturday morning cliche, the largest obstacle remained: Some of the world's greatest tales were so watered down that Classic Illustrated Comics read like St Augustine.

The Master's works were filleted to such a blistering degree that the Hamlet soliloquy, for instance, "To be or not to be, that is the question..." became "To be" and we're out of here. Things were so crudely edited that Romeo was left talking to himself under the balcony, the "Taming of the Shrew" morphed into a pigmy mouse, Falstaff resembled a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, and the trio of MacBeth witches became one Weird Sister with a multiple personality disorder. The Bard deserved better. A new method to introduce kids to the man who invented being human was required.

Nine years and hundreds of thousands of words later, scores of broken ideas, busted concepts, burnt out laptops, and too much taste testing of Absolut, Popov, Ketel One, Smirnoff, and Vox, I'd come up with one clean possibility of using animation without hopefully the crack of doom or the dogs of war crashing down upon me.

Over time, I will lay out the ideas that didn't make it, concepts too limiting, not clever enough, too stupid, or really really too stupid. Eventually I will post the one I think works the best. Some have already read my proposal, their facial expressions forcing me to wonder whether I've given them the Piers Plowman Middle English version. I'll take that as a positive sign.

I would post one short idea now, except I am already late to see Oliver Sacks at UCLA.

1 comment:

  1. My father, who was a Shakespeare aficionado and schoolteacher, mulled over a similar question for years - how to render the Bard unto the modern culture without overly pedantic explanations or bowderization of content...Or playing it Miami Vice style.

    He was quite taken with Pacino's Waiting for Richard as a result, although not because it answered his question, but rather that the question was now writ large in a medium where it could be debated by the vox populi with minor prompting.

    My opinion is that those who are enthusiasts of Shakespeare's oeuvre must impart that enthusiasm with fierce determination, so that those who come to the works as strangers leave as friends.
    Truly, there is an element of all humanity within them if one but looks.