Renowned Shakespearean Linguist to Train UHD Theater Students
A British Shakespearean master is coming to the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) to train theater students to perform the Bard's work in original Elizabethan English - the language first spoken in the historic Globe Theatre in London.
Renowned actor, producer and linguist Ben Crystal - author of "Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard," and "Springboard Shakespeare," and co-author of "Shakespeare's Words" and "The Shakespeare's Miscellany" - will work one-on-one with UHD students to train them on original practices from Shakespeare's time, including the more vigorous, tangible pronunciations popular from the mid-16th to the early-17th centuries.
This event marks the first time a Texas university has performed an experiment in early modern English. While certain vowel sounds are changed or elongated, and consonant sounds are more guttural, theater patrons quickly and easily adjust to Elizabethan English.
"We are thrilled to host Ben Crystal, one of the world's preeminent experts on Shakespeare, at UHD's O'Kane Theatre this spring," said Kate Pogue, lecturer of drama and communication studies at the University. "Ben - along with his father, the equally respected linguist David Crystal - serves as an advisor at the Globe Theatre, noted worldwide for its original Shakespearean practices in costume, movement, casting and pronunciation."
The Globe Theatre, first built by Shakespeare's playing company, "The Lord Chamberlain's Men," in 1599, was destroyed with all other theaters of the time by the Puritan government in the mid-17th century. The Globe was rebuilt in London in 1997 to resemble the original structure. This replica stands approximately 750 feet from the original theater and is both a public theater and a laboratory for original Shakespearean practices.
Crystal will provide UHD students with the same pronunciation, body language and interpretive guidance he regularly shares with distinguished actors at the new Globe Theatre, renamed "Shakespeare's Globe."
"So many aspects of our language and mannerisms have changed since Shakespeare's time," said Pogue, who has written four books on Shakespeare, directed two dozen Shakespeare plays and for 18 years served as the artistic director of the Shakespeare by the Book Festival. "These gradual changes over time have made a tremendous difference in the way we hear, understand and enjoy Shakespeare's words. In fact, many of the puns and wordplays so indicative of Shakespeare's creative genius are lost completely with modern English."
While Shakespeare's original recordings do not exist, scholars can replicate Elizabethan English based on the writings of orthoepists - individuals who wrote about the language at the time, through the phonetic spelling of words during this period and also by following the rhymes and word play inherent in Shakespeare's work.
In speaking of early modern English, Crystal said, "It transports you back through the centuries. It's a very magical, almost hair-raising experience, as close as we can get to a 400-year-old accent, with a 400-year-old play."
Crystal notes that use of the original pronunciation fundamentally alters the production of Shakespeare plays, making them much faster, helping actors more fully assume their characters, and enabling performers to better connect with their bodies, as well as with the audience.
While in residence, Crystal will give two different interactive presentations to the public on April 9 at 2:30 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. the same day at UHD. He also will present to students at Annunciation Orthodox School on April 10 at 1 p.m.
Following Crystal's visit to UHD, theater students will perform "Julius Caesar" in original pronunciation for the public May 1, May 2 and May 3 at 8 p.m., and again May 4 at 3 p.m. in UHD's O'Kane Theatre. Pogue encourages wide community attendance for this opportunity to see Shakespeare "come to life" through original pronunciation - something one would otherwise have to travel to Europe to see.
The first week of August, Pogue's theater students will travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland - the largest arts festival in the world - for nine performances.
"There's something about working our way back to Shakespeare, rather than dragging him into the 21st century," said Crystal. "[In so doing], you make direct eye contact with every member of the audience, and then going to see a Shakespeare play becomes a two-way dynamic, a complicit thing."
For more information about Crystal's public presentations or to purchase tickets for "Julius Caesar," please contact the O'Kane Theatre at 713.221.8042 or visit www.uhd.edu/theatre.