Thursday, May 29, 2014

T-Shirts Are Shipping

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year's Shakespeare is Universal fundraiser. Although we did not hit our original goal, the good folks at Teespring were generous enough to lower our goal number so that everybody could still get a shirt.

Those shirts are now shipping, I got mine this past weekend.  If you ordered one and have not yet received it, you may want to check with Teespring support. They are very, very good at responding to customer concerns. I am only the middle man, they will not let me have anything to do with account information or purchases.

Thanks again for  your support! As promised, a portion of the proceeds will be going to the American Cancer Society.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review : That Shakespeare Kid

I've been trying to get out of the time wasting habit of checking my newsfeeds everytime I'm bored and have my phone handy, and have started working my way through my kids' Kindle books. I suppose I could read more interesting things, but really, instead of pulling them over to read what I like, what's the harm in reading what they like?

Recently I read That Shakespeare Kid, by Mike LoMonico. I first spotted Mike's project about a year ago when he ran a Kickstarter to get the book published. My oldest daughter was actually one of the pre-readers, which is where we got our copy.

It's hard to "review" a book like this because it is for kids, written in a kid's voice, and sounds just like you'd think a 13yr old girl trying to tell you a very long story would sound. But, like I said a year ago, I'm in it for the Shakespeare.

The gimmick is that Peter gets hit on the head with a Riverside Shakespeare and wakes up able to speak only in Shakespeare quotes. He can write and text things fine, and he can understand everybody around him, but when it comes to vocalizing anything, it always comes out in surprisingly relevant Shakespeare quotes. The gimmick is silly, of course, but who cares. It's fun. I was a little more annoyed with the giant plothole where Peter has to bring his friend Emma with him everywhere because "he communicates by texting her."  So, then, he couldn't just text other people equally well?

But I digress. The question I originally asked my daughter was, "Does he just use all the same old Shakespeare cliches that you already knew?" The pleasantly surprising answer is no, he doesn't. Well, he does, but not exclusively so. There's a wide range of quotes, some large, some small, most you'll recognize, some you may not. I was very pleased to discover at the end of the book that Mr. Lomonico deliberately chose quotes from all of Shakespeare's works, and even lists which play each quote came from.

If you're a Shakespeare fan and you'd like to slip some Shakespeare in on your kids who are around that age, it's a good book. The plot is all the usual stuff - boy and girl "friends" find themselves cast in Romeo and Juliet, have stress over the kissing, blah blah blah. But that's what kids that age expect. I didn't need all the pseudo-texting jargon that he worked in during the whole "Peter can communicate by texting" plotline, but I suppose it would sound more natural to its intended audience.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Do You Pay Attention To Hippolyta?

Another day, another Shakespeare discussion between Bardfilm and I. I'd found a Shakespeare lesson that asked, "How is Hippolyta’s reasoning concerning how quickly the next four days will pass different from that of Theseus?" and I was about to rip that lesson plan a new one about asking such stupid questions that focus the student's attention on the minor details that do nothing but prove they read it, rather than appreciating the play as a whole.

"No, that's a good question," Bardfilm argued, "It involves interpretation of Hippolyta’s character and how to understand her relationship with Theseus—and whether it changes over the course of the play." (I'm sure he won't mind me quoting him here).

He goes on to discuss how a powerful statement can be made here. You're starting with a prisoner of war being forced to marry someone unwillingly (he's seen a production that involved bringing in Hippolyta in a cage!). Then you double Titania/Hippolyta, go on about the play, then return to a "softened" Hippolyta.

Now, I understand the "Every word Shakespeare wrote was important and he put it there for a reason, so find depth in it" school.  So I totally understand that you can find a powerful interpretation of Hippolyta's transformation in what few lines she has. What I'm wondering is whether the audience, in general, cares? If I started polling audiences coming out of Midsummer, asking what parts they liked most, how many would pick anything about Theseus/Hippolyta at all? If I started asking "What did you think about Oberon? Bottom?  Hippolyta?" how many would say, "Wait, which one was Hippolyta?"

I'm just being realistic. She's at the beginning of the play for a couple of lines, then at the end where most of her lines, like everybody else's, involve heckling the mechanicals. Is it a stretch to go making powerful statements in what little material she has? Is it asking too much for the typical audience to get it at that level?

Shakespeare makes lives better. Find out how.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Kevin Spacey Talking Shakespeare on Jimmy Fallon

If you only get your clips from social media you might think that Kevin Spacey's big moment on Jimmy Fallon last week was singing some barbershop quartet.  No thank you, we already have Dick van Dyke.

Instead, here's a direct link to his segment about NOW : The Film, his behind-the-scenes documentary of their traveling Richard III:

"When we went to Spain, for some reason the subtitles weren't above us, they were in the boxes beside us, you know, where people usually sit.  But we could see them. And it was a great lesson for me in 'never look at the subtitles.' Because one of my fellow actors had a line that went, 'Yes, my lord' and I looked over and it said, 'Si, senor!'"
Yes, I am that much of a geek that I went looking for the line in question. And you know what? I can't find it. I'm sure he's just paraphrasing for the sake of the story, but if anybody can show me where there's a line resembling "Yes my lord" in Richard III, I'm all ears.

What I did love was this line that I'm not sure people fully understood:
"I did over 200 performances as Richard III, it's a wonder they didn't find my bones in a parking lot somewhere."
Watch the segment and see how little of a chuckle that gets :)  I laughed myself silly.

Shakespeare is Universal proves that Shakespeare makes life better by supporting cancer research. Please take a moment, visit the site, show the world your love for Shakespeare and support a great cause. Don't leave without telling your friends and family. Surely you know somebody that would love one of our limited edition shirts. Available this year in multiple styles including long sleeve, v-neck and women's styles. Multiple colors available!

What Would You Ask Sir Ian and Sir Patrick?

Every time I see a photo or video with Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, I'm clicking.  I love those guys. There's something about seeing two of today's greatest actors just hanging out and being goofy one moment, and churning out some outstanding acting together (both on film and on stage) the next.  P.S. I'd like to think that one day we'll be saying this about Zach Braff and Donald Faison.  It's guy love, that's all it is.

But here's what drives me crazy. Despite Stewart and McKellen's lengthy Shakespeare resumes, I hardly ever see them talking about it. When people get to ask questions, nobody asks a Shakespeare question.

So let's pretend. Let's say that I've got Sir Patrick and Sir Ian here on stage with me at the first annual Shakespeare Geek Convention, that I haven't completely fainted yet (got a little woozy just typing that), and we're taking questions from the audience. There'll be no Star Trek, Lord of the Rings or X-Men references today, people!  Nothing but Shakespeare questions. You only get one, which can be to either one or to both equally.

Here's mine:

"Sir Ian," (Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian...), "Christopher Plummer performed his Prospero a few years back and that said that's it for him, there were no more great roles for men his age. Dame Helen Mirren recently said a similar thing about roles for older women.  How do you feel about that?  Sir John Gieldgud was still performing Shakespeare into his nineties. You've played Prospero, you've played Lear, is there going to come a day when you too will retire from Shakespeare because there are no more roles for you?"

I was going to ask Sir Patrick an entirely different question about Claudius' shrug when he drinks the poison, but I looked at the two questions and decided I like this one better.  Plus I don't expect he'd answer that one.

Shakespeare is Universal proves that Shakespeare makes life better by supporting cancer research. Please take a moment, visit the site, show the world your love for Shakespeare and support a great cause.  Don't leave without telling your friends and family. Surely you know somebody that would love one of our limited edition shirts. Available this year in multiple styles including long sleeve, v-neck and women's styles. Multiple colors available!

Friday, May 02, 2014

What Are You Waiting For?

This year's Shakespeare is Universal fundraiser is off to a slow start, and I admit that I'm a bit stumped as to why.

Last year we made our goal, when I had no idea what I was doing. This year I took to heart the advice I got:

1) Focus on an image, not on text.  Done.  My friend Peter Phelan and I worked on a "cut him out in little stars" image of Shakespeare cast as a constellation, which we then decorated with many of Shakespeare's famous "star" quotes.

Buy a t-shirt, support cancer research.

2) Donate to charity. Again, done. I'm not going to lie and try to claim that this isn't a fundraiser - it is. I have costs to pay to keep my little empire running, and while there's a variety of dinky little ads on the pages, this is my one shot during the year to bring in enough to foot the bill (or at least put a dent in it). But this year I really wanted to get behind the "Shakespeare makes life better" mission and do something real with the money.  So yeah, I bumped the price and the goal a bit so that we're talking about a bigger chunk of money, because when we hit our goal I wanted to be able to send off a nice check. Whatever we get, should we meet our goal, a substantial portion of it is going to the American Cancer Society.

3) Advertise. Right now I'm paying up front to advertise my campaign. Usually I'm very averse to doing that, because if I drop a few hundred dollars on a campaign that fails to then bring in a few hundred dollars, well guess what? I'm out a few hundred dollars. That's like the opposite of fundraising, that is fundspending. But, nothing ventured nothing gained, right? I have to have confidence in my ideas and my mission and it's not going to be the end of the world if it doesn't happen. I'm going to be sad about it, sure, but it's not going to break me.

4) Not a fan of the black.  Check.  Lots of people told me that they don't really do black t-shirts. I had no choice to get started because the star background in our image was black. But that's been changed and colors are now available.

We were late on the design this year, I acknowledge that. I really wanted to get it out there for Shakespeare's Birthday, and while it was technically there, the initial image was not ready for primetime. I've since gone over it with the professional designers at Teespring (great, great company by the way.  Exceedingly helpful!) to create something that I think is an excellent final product. It also comes in a variety of styles this year, so you can choose from traditional, women's style, v-neck and long sleeve.  Each style has its own choice of colors as well.  My kids all have the red from last year, but I think I'm going to get blue for mine this year.

There's about a week and a half left on the campaign, so maybe we'll surge before the end, I don't know. Everybody I speak with says that they like it and are in for one, but I don't always see the numbers go up when they say that, so maybe everybody's waiting for something. If so, I'd like to know what. Is the number of pre-orders too low and you're waiting for it to get higher? That doesn't make any sense, your order is what's going to help it go higher for the next guy. If everybody thought that way we'd never get out of the single digits.

Maybe it's the image, which would be unfortunate. We wanted to keep with the "universal" theme, and the "cut him out in little stars" thing made a perfect opportunity.  The question is, does that translate into a t-shirt design. I think it does. It's subtle, but I like it that way. Makes the other person stop and pay attention to your shirt, instead of just giving it a passing glance.

Are you waiting until just before the deadline? Again, not really sure why. If we don't make the goal then nobody's getting charged, so it's not like you have to wait and see if we're going to make it. Failing to pre-order just makes it more likely that we won't hit it, so it's a bit self-fulfilling.

Even if it's not for you, for whichever of those or other reasons, maybe you could at least visit the site and hit those Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest buttons so your friends see it?  This game is all about eyeballs, and just because it's not for you doesn't mean your friend wouldn't love it.

Ok, rant over. I'm not going to whine and cry and imply that I'm going to shut the site down like I did last year.  Last year was something of an identity crisis, I completely admit. I was questioning whether there were enough people out there even listening to what I had to say. I know you're out there. This year I wanted to turn that into doing some good.  Maybe it'll still work, maybe it won't, I don't know yet.

Shakespeare makes life better.  Buy a t-shirt and support cancer research.