BLOG POST NO. 48

I am in the process of reading an amazing book by a prize-winning American author named Paul Collins. This book, published in 2009, is called THE BOOK OF WILLIAM. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I would call it to the attention of anyone with intellectual passions, because this book is not merely about Shakespeare’s First Folio. It is a masterful exemplar of intellectual dedication, told through unpretentious anecdotes which are fascinating in themselves, but point to more, if you wish to follow up and look for more. I am having a great time reading it.

The main thrust of this book is that there were three “rescues” of Shakespeare’s works, one performed by the two remaining members of his theater company, The Kings Men; one by a dedicated scholar, though unsuccessful writer, Lewis Theobald; and two money-hungry printers, Jacob Tonson and Robert Walker. Without them, Shakespeare might have been lost forever, or neglected and forgotten.

Here is the post I wrote for my husband’s blog, Pater Familias, but I am also posting it here in full on mine.

         A SURPRISING ACCOUNT OF THE SUCCESS OF A VERY FAMOUS BOOK

The book in question is the First Folio of 1623 of the plays of William Shakespeare.Now very valuable, very much sought after. . . to say the very least!

But, wait, in his book The Book of William, Paul Collins gives a brief history of the assemblageand publication of this book of plays by the two remaining members of the core of Shakespeare's theater troupe, the men who had acted with him and for him for twenty years.  Collins doesn't spend too much time on this event, as he is more interested in what happened next: to the First Folio, to other Folios, and to the reputation of Will Shakespeare.  Several  events followed which turned out to have greater consequence than anyone could have expected.

The First Folio was followed by a second, and a third, etc., each one newly edited as the years went by in order for the publisher to maintain his publishing rights to the works. (Such a thing as a copyright law did not exist until early in the 18th Century.) Each editor of a Folio left his own personal imprint on the book. By the 18th Century, if not earlier, Shakespeare's plays were going out of style, and considered a relic of a previous era.  However, three things occurred to bring Shakespeare's work back into the sun.

Many people are aware that the famous actor David Garrick idolized Shakespeare and, by his emotional and impassioned performances, helped to renew the public's interest in his plays. What is less well known is that Samuel Johnson, a friend of Garrick's, had been his school master.  Johnson's view of Shakespeare was later set out in the Preface to Johnson's edition of Shakespeare's plays, and what he said was revolutionary. Johnson claimed that Shakespeare had changed the world of the theater forever by refusing to write simple love stories that featured untarnished heroes.  Instead, he wrote of complex characters living in situationsfar from simple, and in a world in which love was merely one feature. 

One further event or, rather, series of events, is credited by Collins as placing Shakespeare's works in the company of the classic authors of antiquity. Simply put, the great poet Alexander Pope was given HIS chance to edit Shakespeare's works, and he did it carelessly, basing his choices upon his own personal taste, with little to no care for establishing and preserving the actual texts. Lewis Theobald was a less gifted writer than Pope, but a much better and more dedicated scholar. And he became wildly indignant when he perceived the desecration, as he saw it, that Pope had inflicted upon Shakespeare's plays. And so he, in turn, wrote an entire book, pointing out, over and over Pope's errors, but of omission and commission. This bookwas called Shakespeare Restored.  As Collins points out, this book not only ruined the sale value of all the unsold copies of Pope's edition, but also pointed out to scholars and to the wealthy collectors of books that these were important works of literature, these plays, deserving of study and the kind of fidelity to the author that could be found only in the First Folio.

Finally, Shakespeare's works were also put forward to the class of reader who could not afford to buy a full collection of plays.  This was not a deliberate attempt to educate the masses.  This was brought about by a price war! The book seller and printer Jacob Tonson considered Shakespeare his private property until another printer, Robert Walker by name, decided to challenge him on that score, and began printing each play separately, with no frills, and charging only fourpence a play. Tonson was livid and tried threats of legal action (empty), bribery (not enough), and sabotage of the presses (abortive).  Tonson, though he lost money with each play he sold, countered by selling his individual plays for thruppence a play. Indeed, Tonson put out 10,000 copies of each play. Together these two men flooded London with Shakespeare's works, making Shakespeare available to everyone who could read.  Shakespeare awareness was renewed in London and it is hoped will never be endangered again. But that remains to be seen, I’m afraid.

Please go to The New Play Exhange for copies of my trilogy, The Lives of Shakespeare.


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BLOG POST NO. 47

A YEAR HAS PAST, AND SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED.

Last year in October, the third play of my trilogy, “Shakespeare and the Heart’s Desire” No. 3 of The Lives of Shakespeare, was performed as a staged reading at The National Arts Club in New York City. The day before, it had been performed in Norwalk, Ct., at The Theatre Artists Workshop, the theater “gym” where actors try out their audition pieces, where directors direct plays that appeal to them as a challenge to stage, and where new plays are being written, rewritten, and tested on audiences for comments and reactions. This play, originally called “Bloody Treason” and focused on the attempted rebellion of the Earl of Essex against the Queen, had been revised by me to center more upon Shakespeare’s role in these events, and also upon Shakespeare’s rueful acceptance of his unrequited love for the beautiful young man of the Sonnets, the Earl of Southampton.

Someone attended this performance in Norwalk and said, “This play should be done at The Players Club in New York.” Founded by Edwin Booth in the 19th century, the Players Club has as its mission to celebrate the works of Shakespeare and to educate each new theater audience to the importance of experiencing his work. The Lives of Shakespeare attempts to explore three possible Shakespeares, what he might have been like in various circumstances of his life. And each play has at its core true historical events, fleshed out by the literary imagination. Each play is also imbued by Shakespearean themes and motifs, and is written in an accessible form of Elizabethan English.

Sponsored by The Players Foundation, at the urging of Raymond Wemmlinger, and The Shakespeare Guild, the President of the latter, John Andrews, the three plays were given three staged readings, with a Q and A after each one. Sept. 25, 26, and 27, 2018. Three plays in three days—how Elizabethan. And how the audience listened and responded. Now the hope is that word of mouth will create a demand for these plays to be done again, as full productions. There is an audience waiting. All three plays are available from The New Play Exchange.

BLOG POST # 46: Mark S. Graham and My Shakespeare Trilogy

I began my day by posting on Facebook about my mentor, Mark S. Graham. This is a timely post because the third play of the trilogy we have worked on so long together is about to be given two significant staged readings.   So, this is a public notice, but also an acknowledgement of how instrumental Mark has been in the creation of three plays I am proud to call mine.

What follows is what has just appeared on Facebook:

MARK GRAHAM, the director of "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire," has beena theater person for most of his life, progressing from ardent young theater-goer to trainedprofessional, director and actor, as well asteacher, producer, and promoter par excellence.As a board member and director at The Theatre Artists Workshop, he has helped to develop, shape, and promote many of the works of playwrights, both within and outside the workshop, to bring them to final form, ready for the professional stage.

Mark has been the creative partner on this trilogy, written by Mary Jane Schaefer, since 2010, when she first approached him with a very long play she'd written, covering most of Shakespeare's life. He was able to see the work's potential, with this caveat: would the playwright be willing to rewrite substantially, to learn how to focus the material, to shape three dramatically effective plays, each one with its own arc, out of this one interesting but overly ambitious first draft. The result of this artistic collaboration has been the three plays that make up the trilogy.  

Both the first and second plays have already been presented at The National Arts Club ("Shakespeare Rising," 2013; "Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say," 2014).  And, now, "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire."

The first play was also selected for the 2014 Utah Shakespeare Festival, in its program of staged readings of plays by new, emerging playwrights.  It is also under consideration for production by several Shakespeare festivals in the U.S., as well as the U.K. and Australia.

Thank you, Mark.

The two staged readings appearing shortly are as follows:

Oct. 29 at 3 p.m.  at The Theatre Artists Workshop, 5 Gregory Blvd. (red brick bldg.), Norwalk, CT. Suggested donation $15, no reservations.  Adult Content.

Oct. 30 at 7:30, p.m. at The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York City.No reservations. Adult Content.

 

 

 

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BLOG POST # 45

A lot has happened since I last wrote.  All three plays of the trilogy are now in their final form.

"Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire"  is scheduled to be given a staged reading at The National

Arts Club in New York City on October 30th, 2017.  My mentor, Mark Graham, has moved to

Florida but is hardly what you would call retired. He is involved in theater in Florida, and also

comes north to keep his hand in with projects that interest him.   I'll write again soon with new

ideas, updates, and, I hope, news of further prospects for a full production.

BLOG POST # 44 Sherry Cohen and Broadway World Ct.

In a recent article for BWW, Sherry Shameer Cohen wrote:

"Coming up at the Darien Arts Center is a staged reading of actress and playwright Mary Jane Schaefer's play, Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire. This is the third of Schaefer's trilogy about Shakespeare's life and it explores a part few people know about. Each play can be a stand-alone. (The earlier ones are Shakespeare Rising and Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say.) "All three plays try to show him as human, although the first play also celebrates his emergence as a great artist," says Schaefer. She is being modest. The plays have angles most people don't expect and illuminate his interests and his emotions. This is not heavy Shakespeare, the type of play you feel obligated to see in order to fill your quota of serious theater and fit in with the theater snobs. This is accessible Shakespeare and it's thrilling. Directed by Mark Graham, the cast of Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire includes Larry Reina, John O'Hern, Damian Langan, Tom Zingarelli, Allan Zeller, Joe Maker, Miles Everett, Scott Bruno, Betty Jinnette, Emilie Roberts, and Marca Leigh. The play includes live Elizabethan-style music, composed on short notice by Stephanie Wong, who teaches violin, viola, piano and flute at the Darien Arts Center."

 

MJS:  As I have noted in the Trilogy section of this site, the play was very well received by a gracious, focused audience. 

 

BLOG POST #43 THE NIGHT BEFORE THE READING

"Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire" has gone through five versions now, and even the fifth version has been tweaked., tweaked even in ink on the pages of the actors who will be reading my play tomorrow night in the staged reading at the Darien Arts Center. They've been great about the last-minute changes.   They have been great about everything else too.  We have not had many rehearsals, but each one has counted enormously. The characters are growing with each reading, the relationships between and among the actors are becoming richer and fuller.  It's a pleasure to watch.

It's also a pleasure to anticipate the actual performance. No matter how wonderful the actors are in rehearsal, they often seem to rise to new levels of understanding and vocal commitment when there is an audience there, counting on them to bring the story to full life.

Mark Graham and I have gotten so used to working together over the past six years, our disagreements, and there always are some, get resolved to good purpose, with good humor intact.  As a playwright, I do from time to time over-commit to a phrase or an approach which is not in the best interest of the play as a whole.  While I may (and do) protest, I often find that what Mark is suggesting is better than what I thought "perfect."  Not always, though. Not always.  Sometimes I can figure out a way to make my way be the chosen way, and the play is all the better for my clarification and amplification to get his stamp of approval.

Telling the story has been our focus.  We have an exciting story. But, as with the other two plays, at the core is the heart of Shakespeare, as he grapples with the challenges all mortals face, even the greatest of writers.  It is easy to slip into the myth of Shakespeare as an almostgodlike fellow, all seeing, all understanding.   But the three plays of my trilogy try to show him as a man, and no less a man for being a great one.

 

BLOG POST 42 Program Note for "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire"

Here is an advance look at the program note I wrote for the Feb. 27th reading of
"Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire."  I don't know if the whole thing will be accepted for the program, but I wanted to make it as accurate and complete as I could. 

 

ABOUT THE PLAY: Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire

               by Mary Jane Schaefer

                

Tonight's play tells the story of an amazing and true event in Shakespeare's life, his dangerous involvement in a plot to pull Queen Elizabeth the First off the throne of England. How can this be our gentle Shakespeare?  Was he not content to enjoy his success at the Globe Theatre, and to present his plays at Court for the Queen?  Why in the world would a man who had won such great success risk everything: his life and fortune, along with those of his Company and his family? Many of the play's events are based on historical records; the rest provide an answer to that basic question: why did Shakespeare do it, and the question that immediately follows: how did he escape unscathed after abetting High Treason? This play follows the thread through a web of love and intrigue to answer these questions.

 

ABOUT THE TRILOGY: The Lives of Shakespeare

                   by Mary Jane Schaefer

 

Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire is the third play of the trilogy. Each play stands on its own, but together they present Shakespeare's life from very different perspectives. The first play of the trilogy, Shakespeare Rising, tells the story of Will's development as a successful playwright and how his life and work almost came to a crashing end when his only son, Hamnet, died at the age of eleven.  PRODUCTION HISTORY : This play was presented in 2013 at The National Arts Club, NYC, under the title Shakespeare in the DarkIn 2014 it won a spot and was performed at The Utah Shakespeare Festival under the title Hamlet's Shakespeare.  The second play of the trilogy, Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say, was given a staged reading at The National Arts Club, NYC late 2014.  This is the story of Judith Shakespeare, Will's younger daughter, whom he disinherited on his deathbed.  Seeing Will from his disgruntled daughter's point of view provides a very different perspective indeed.

 

All three plays have been developed under the guidance of Mark S. Graham, director and creative partner on the project, and through the generous assistance of the gifted actors of The Theatre Artists Workshop of Westport. For more information, see: schaeferonshakespeare.squarespace.com

 

BLOG POST 41

"Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire" will be coming up soon, in a February 27 presentation at the Darien Arts Center, featuring the great actors of the Theatre Artists Workshop, directed by my mentor and artistic partner, Mark Graham. This is the third play of the Shakespeare trilogy we've been working on for several years now. The first one was featured at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2014. Both the first and second ones were also done at The National Arts Club in NYC, 2013 and 2014. The three plays bring to life Shakespeare the man, the creative artist, the flawed father (through the eyes of the daughter he disinherited), and the writer caught in a political web he dreaded but barely believed possible, as well as a lover in thrall to an emotion he could not have anticipated. The plays have been called "magic" and "nothing like what anyone else has been doing."

BLOG POST #40 SHAKESPEARE AND THE HEART'S DESIRE

On Feb. 27, 2016, The Darien Arts Center: STAGE will present a staged reading of "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire,"  by Mary Jane Schaefer.  It will be directed and staged by Mark
 Graham, her creative partner, and feature the tremendously talented actors of The Theatre
 Artists Workshop.  I am very excited about this new forum for my work, and the new audience who will come to see this, the third play of my Shakespeare trilogy.  Right now, the play is in very good shape.  I need one more pass to erase the mistakes, as well as develop and augment a few characters and story lines that need a bit of work.  But the hard slogging, I believe, is mostly done, at least for the playwright.  Although it is the third play of the trilogy, it can stand fully on its own, as can the other two. 

The Darien Arts Center has created this notice:

Shakespeare and the Heart’s Desire, a drama, is third in the DAC Stage lineup and is written by accomplished local playwright Mary Jane Schaefer. This one-night staged reading will be directed by Mark Graham on February 27 at 8:00 p.m. Shakespeare's fascination with the beautiful youth of his sonnets is at the heart of this play that involves an historical incident and its aftermath. Shakespeare's Company is entangled in a treasonous act committed by the Earls of Southampton and Essex. At the play's center is Shakespeare himself, explaining to himself, and to us, this crucial event in his life.

 

BLOG POST #39: "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire": Aftermath

The reading on Aug. 26th went very well.  The audience stayed late to comment, critique, and listen to the other comments on offer.  There was a general feeling of having been entertained, but I'm still being urged to clarify characters and relationships earlier than I apparently have been doing.  Some of the audience members were indignant on behalf of the play: "Wait just a little
 while, listen patiently for a little while, and all the characters reveal who they are and what they want.  What do you want? A score card?" 

I've got some notes to review, to amplify and clarify the play; to delete a bit that doesn't do the play as a whole any good, though it's great fun in itself.  Mark Graham was right about that after all, although I fought like crazy to hear the scene one more time.  Oh, my darling scene, farewell.  Perhaps we shall meet again in another play that I will build around that scene.  I promised Allan Zeller, who was so good as the Knight, that I would do that for him.  He was sensational in this role which is now on the cutting-room floor.

The play is well on its way to being finished, and all the better for the reading and the ensuing reactions.  I am so fortunate to have this Workshop, this director, these friends.

BLOG POST 38 WHAT IS AN ALTERNATE NIGHT?

The theater group where I workshop my plays all year long is called The Theatre Artists
 Workshop of Westport. We're no longer located in Westport, but that's our official title. We meet every Monday night, except for holidays, summer hiatus, etc., to present material for critique. The actors often bring in audition pieces for work they plan to then bring into New York.

We playwrights bring in our scripts in various stages of development, to hear them read by our accomplished actors and to get audience reaction, advice, critique.  We also have a pool of gifted directors who can guide us through the process.  Hearing the plays is often the best way to spot what is working and what isn't!

One of the opportunities we playwrights have is called an Alternate Night.  We can secure dates in our scheduling book for when the theater will not be in regular use, and that's when we can rehearse and present versions of our new plays and invite an audience.  This audience is privately invited.  They are guests of the playwright, the director, and the actors. They are the people who would normally go to the theater to see plays; so their reactions are very valuable.

I'm having an alternate night in a few days.  And I plan to record here what I learned from it.

BLOG POST 37 SHAKESPEARE AND THE HEART'S DESIRE

The second draft of "Bloody Treason" has a new title, because it has a new focus. Shakespeare is back in the center of his play, where he belongs.  The draft has been cut and rebuilt, perhaps 50% of it all new dialogue. One character is gone, just gone.  This has been an intense month!

I'll get a chance to hear "Shakespeare and the Heart's Desire" very soon. Mark Graham and I will be having a reading of it next week.  I'll post again on how the reading goes and what I've learned from it.  Katie Sparer is a towering Queen Elizabeth, and almost took over the play in Draft I!  I haven't cut a thing of hers; in fact, I've added a long speech at the end of one scene. But the placement of what she says has solved the problem of over-featuring what is a major but not THE major character of the play.

My actors are wonderful.  And Mark Graham has a miraculous eye for placement. If only we had a light grid/and light board.  I keep writing my plays as if they are full productions, in a theater with a lots of lighting options.  That's how I see the play.  Mark can make it work, though, even without the complex lighting I keep on writing into the stage directions.

When it's in full production, though, this play will explode!

 

BLOG POST 36: REVELATIONS

        Draft II is now under way, after the reading on July 20th and all the reactions it triggered.
The heartening thing is that the audience loved the play and seemed surprised by their delight. I have asked myself, and others, why the raw, first draft of this play, "Bloody Treason" (note the quotation from one of Marc Antony's speeches--"and bloody treason flourished over us") got such a favorable reaction.
       The audience was the membership of The Theatre Artists Workshop, whoever came to the meeting that Monday night, which was the third Monday of the month and, so, playwright's night.  I've been told that this play has a great dramatic thrust and lots of suspense. Also, there is humor and wit (more than my other plays?).  One playwright said that its unfocused focus was a crowd-pleaser for modern audiences; that a play without a clear arc created suspense, surprises-- where will this go next. And that I should just trim it a bit and say to myself, "There. That's the play." Someone else suggested that the group has been familiarized with the world of my plays by the first two; so they were better able to assimilate all the history that is built into the plot.

       Some people who gave the play a lot of thought think the play should be centered around Queen Elizabeth and that Shakespeare could go whistle, that Shakespeare can have another play to himself, but not this one.

         I am processing all this advice, and the advice of Mark Graham to stay calm and consider the play's focus and how to make this play the third (and effective third) play of the trilogy.  He suggested that Shakespeare become the narrator, which makes a lot of sense as Shakespeare was also the narrator of the first play, "Shakespeare Rising." I think I can make this work.

 

 

 

BLOG POST 35: EATING MY HAT

Well, I had thought that my third play of the trilogy, "Bloody Treason," was going to need a major refocusing.  But I spent several weeks in May and early June doing more research and working on a outline for the play.  And I came to realize that I did have a focus, or, two foci, but that both of them centered on the themes of love and betrayal, and everywhere in between.

Unless I make a major overhaul of Draft I, which is now written, Shakespeare will be a main character of the play but not the central focus.  The play is held together like a woven net. The plot lines intersect; the themes support the whole.  And, beyond it all, is the vision of the complexity of Elizabethan life, combined with the basic human needs and instincts that live forever.

So, we will have the first reading on July 20 at The Theatre Artists Workshop. I'll get feedback, and then we shall reassess the needs of the piece.   In the immortal words of Nisma Baig, "It's all good."

BLOG POST 34 "WOLF HALL" as done by the Royal Shakespeare Company in New York, The Shakespeare Society, and "All Is True"

Phil and I went into New York City recently, to attend an event at the world-famous Players' Club on Gramercy Park.  The Shakespeare Society, which we have joined recently, hosted an attractive and unusual program.  Actors who were currently appearing in "Wolf Hall" at the Winter Garden Theater in New York used their night off from performing to participate in this program.  Selected actors from that show performed as readings several scenes from "The History of King Henry VIII," also known as "All Is True."  There was a subsequent discussion, moderated by Michaelf Sexton, President of the Shakespeare Society, of how the two plays overlap, comparing Shakespeare's treatment with the fall of Cardinal Wolsey to that of Hilary Mantel, etc. 

I say "Shakespeare" a little inaccurately.  Scholars are pretty sure that Shakespeare contributed heavily to this play, perhaps as a "guest artist" or script doctor. In fact, whenever something is really good in this play, it's attributed to him.  When it is heavy-going and inferior, everyone says, "Oh, this must be the part Fletcher wrote."  Now, this is a little hard on poor Fletcher.  On the other hand, it's probably as accurate as any other way to sort out the collaboration.

Phil has several interesting ideas about the different ways the major characters were represented. He also has insights as to the kind of risks Shakespeare liked to take with historical subjects. For a change, I'm not going to steal Phil's insights, but, instead, refer to his blog, philipschaefer.com, also known as Pater Familias.  He may not have written up this post yet, but I know he's planning to. 

After the program, we went to the bar of the Players' Club, where the actors were congregating, and got to  talk to some of the performers.  I'm afraid I talked far too long with Nicholas Boulton who was sitting with his lovely fiancée and trying to enjoy his evening.  He was very interested to hear about the effect of the PBS "Wolf Hall" on an American audience. (We had already heard that the Winter Garden was probably too big a hall to try to fill, and that's even before the PBS version of "Wolf Hall" aired.) I had to admit that I would have definitely come in to see both parts, "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" if I had not seen the brilliant television version. The novels had been so internal, the inner monologue of Thomas Cromwell so essential to the books,  I had been skeptical about any kind of dramatization of the novels. But television allows for a kind of internality that the stage, perhaps, doesn't. Mark Rylance's face, close-up on the tv screen, conveyed subtle feelings, complex ideas, without much language at all. 

Meanwhile, Nicholas Boulton, with his incredible, thrilling voice, his 6'3" presence, was a powerful presence on the stage. You may have seen him.  If you saw the film "Shakespeare in Love," he was Henry Condell, one of Shakespeare's actors.  If you've been watching this season's "Game of Thrones," he played the Master of Ceremonies at the fighting pits!  He deserved, of course, a much bigger role.  Perhaps they'll have him back to do something more substantial.  As it was, he was very patient and gracious to me, as I soaked up a good bit of time he could have enjoyed with his lovely companion. 

 

 

BLOG POST # 33 INTERVIEW FROM BROADWAY WORLD, CT.

 

 

 

 

 

BWW Interviews: MARY JANE SCHAEFER

June 11, 2015

 

👤by Sherry Shameer Cohen

 

 

Actress and playwright Mary Jane Schaefer explores the relationship between Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald in her play, Scott and Zelda: Happy Forever, which was performed at the Theatre Artists Workshop in Norwalk in June. Schaefer is best known for her work in Shakespeare. She performed with Shakespeare On The Sound and has written two parts of a trilogy on the Bard -- Shakespeare Rising and Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say.

BWW: Tell us first about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Why did you choose them? Why do you think they still resonate so much among audiences?

MJS: I originally wrote this piece on spec for a show called Forbidden Westport. I hadn't realized that broad comedy was what they were looking for, so it didn't really fit into their show. But I knew I had stumbled onto something special [because] the tone, the mood seemed so right. When Theatre Artists Workshop announced it was doing a show themed Love and Marriage: And Everything in Between, I realized I was sitting on something really good that had never done before. I went back to it and changed the ending, having seen, to my amazement, that I had been working towards the different ending all along. That happens sometimes. You write something and then you realize what you were really getting at.

I have always loved The Great Gatsby, and found it amazing that someone so self-destructive as F. Scott Fitzgerald could write with such a clear eye about a romantic figure with an imagination that led to his destruction. I think the current Hollywood scene is filled with stories of celebrities who think they have found Great Romance, only to end up with disaster, scandal and betrayal, and the need to re-invent the rest of their lives. (Robert Pattinson anyone?)

Mark Graham directed the piece, and it was performed with great sensitivity by Miles Everett and Emilie Roberts. The weekend run was sold out.

BWW: What makes your play about them different?

MJS: Any works that I know of about Scott and Zelda seem to focus on their mutual and self-destruction. Even Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris shows Scott trying to deal with Zelda's moods, her jealousy, with Zelda teetering on the edge of the Seine, tempted to drown herself. I didn't want to go there.

I wanted to show them early in their marriage, their Eden of a honeymoon, when the entire world seemed to be stretched out before them as their own little Paradise. The play is ironic, of course, because the audience knows they're heading for a monumental disaster. And yet, as my husband

remarked, it's nice to have this reminder of how happy they were once, and how much they fulfilled each other's longings.

This play, Scott and Zelda: Happy Forever is short and a two-person play, but there is definitely room for expansion. Several people have approached me and urged me to develop it into a full-length play. I've put it down on my list of projects, along with the third play of my Shakespeare trilogy, and a piece I've been working on that is about Byron and Keats. I like literary projects. A certain amount of research--and then my imagination takes over, wherever I see a chance to interpret and bring to life previously ignored aspects of very interesting subjects.

BWW: How do you come up with your inspirations?

MJS: There are certain authors that resonate with me, both emotionally and intellectually. Shakespeare, especially. And when I read their works and read about them, my imagination starts going full blast. I spend a long time reading up on the figures I have in mind, and then the first draft of each play comes pouring out. Of course, the first draft is only the starting point, if you want to have a focused and powerful play. Shakespeare Rising, the first play of the trilogy, has gone through fourteen drafts.

BWW: What is like working with Theatre Artists Workshop? Is it very competitive to get a show produced there?

MJS: Theatre Artists Workshop is an amazing group of gifted people -- professional actors, playwrights, directors. The whole point of TAW is to have a place to hone one's work and then take it out into the world. The two plays about Shakespeare that are already completed have been presented at The National Arts Club in New York, and the first one was also part of The New American Playwrights Project of The Utah Shakespeare Festival in August of 2014. My director at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was the renowned Henry Woronicz. The distinguished theater figure Mark Graham has been my creative partner on these plays and instrumental in their development. (Graham is working with Schaefer on her third play in her Shakespeare trilogy.) The actors of the Workshop have given me two gifts: their performances, which let me see and hear what needs to be rewritten, and their insights into the characters themselves or what rings false to them in a scene. I give some examples of this in my blog on my website, www.schaeferonshakespeare.squarespace.com, in which I write about Mia Dillon and her influence on Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say and on the characterization of Anne Hathaway as influenced by Katie Sparer and Nadine Willig.

TAW is not a production company, although the group invites audiences in from time to time to see what's cooking! We're non-profit, so those shows also help us to make our rent! My play Scott and Zelda: Happy Forever is the first of my short pieces to be presented as part of a TAW production. The competition for those spots is pretty fierce, yes.

BWW: Tell us more about your Shakespeare trilogy. How did that develop?

MJS: Shakespeare has been a part of my life for a long time. I've performed in many of his plays, from college productions to Shakespeare on the Sound. But how I began writing about Shakespeare began with the SquareWrights of Stratford, Ct. Vanessa David had urged me and my husband to join as playwrights, and this proved to be an invaluable experience. In the spring of 2007, the prompt for all of the playwrights for the April show was Shakespeare. Phil wrote a very funny comedy called Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth, but I wrote a monologue, "The Great Will Shakespeare Speaks." Will Rogers performed the monologue beautifully at the Stratford Library, and then it was picked up for the Outdoor Shakespeare Festival in Stratford and performed by another experienced Shakespearean, Mark Frattaroli. It was also done successfully at St. Andrew's College in Canada. A long story there. J. Sibley Law, one of the founders of SquareWrights, had not been able to come to the show at the library. The other performance took place the following year. But he kept hearing about how the monologue really brought Shakespeare to life. So, when I took part in the 24-hour play-writing festival months later, Sib, as the producer of this festival, gave me as my topic "Shakespeare in the Dark."

He also gave me two wonderful Shakespearean actors, Mark Frattaroli (who later did the monologue for me) and Lucy Babbitt. There was also a young man from New York named Jason Basso who had never done Shakespeare but was eager to learn. The director was a very gifted and dedicated man named Christopher Caltigirone. I wrote the play overnight, emailed the script to the actors and director at 4 a.m., tried to get a little sleep, and the following night I saw a FULL production of the play at the SquareOne Theater in Stratford. That was a jolt, let me tell you, a wonderful one. It was costumed, staged, memorized, even had intro music. They had lavished a tremendous amount of attention on it. And, to me, it felt as if I had had a dream the night before, and now I was watching it on the stage! An amazing sensation.

I decided to write a full-length version of it. My friend, Jo Anne Parady, is a member of The Theatre Artists Workshop, and I had come to see her in several productions at TAW. I thought, how wonderful if they would do a reading of this play for me. I approached her, and she said, "You would need to apply for membership first." So, I did, and joined in 2009. The following year, I asked Mark Graham if he would work with me on developing it. He read the first draft, in all its excess, and said if I would be willing to listen to him, to cut and focus, we might make something really good out of it. All the rest that followed has been the result of his vision, the workshop process, and a lot of hard work. I love the whole process. Now, to get the plays professionally produced, is the final goal.

Learn more about Mary Jane Schaefer at http://www.schaeferonshakespeare.com and about the Theatre Artists Workshop at http://www.taworkshop.org.

Photo credit: Annalise F. Schaefer

About Author

Sherry Shameer Cohen is an award winning parachute journalist and blogger who is always looking for more challenging work. Her articles and photos have appeared in Connecticut Magazine, Greenwich Magazine, Stamford Plus, The Advocate, Greenwich Time, The Minuteman, Connecticut Jewish Ledger, The Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish Press, The New Jewish Voice, and various daytime magazines. She has stage managed, designed flyers, programs and props for community theatre and reviewed theatre for the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Theater Inform and New England Entertainment Digest. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, Ken, and her two little drama kings, Alexander Seth Cohen and Jonathan Ross Cohen.

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BLOG POST #33: WAS SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE WITH A MAN?

A lot of ink and emotion have gone into this topic.  Argue away about the sonnets, everyone. Or the role of Antonio in "Twelfth Night,"  also Antonio in "The Merchant of Venice." 

During the English Renaissance men were, in general, more cultivated and educated than women.  Men went to University, for example, though Shakespeare did not. Nor did he need to, having gotten a great preparatory education in his grammar school.  Any education women got, however, had to be private.   This weighting of education in favor of men created an audience for brilliance that was comprised primarily of men. Men writing for men.

Queen Elizabeth I, of course, had gotten a stunning education. She amazed continental ambassadors with her capacity to discuss politics with them in Latin. But, ah, how many women had the Queen's advantages?  In my plays, I show Emilia Lanyer, the putative Dark Lady of the Sonnets, as a well-educated woman, having been trained by an extraordinary father to be an ornament to the Royal Court. 

But men were the wits, the poets, the playwrights.  When Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to the beautiful young man, he was writing, I believe, for money. And prestige. And reputation. Perhaps he was trawling for additional patrons. For years before their publication, manuscript copies of the sonnets were being passed around within the circles of young aristocrats. But perhaps Shakespeare was also writing with his heart.  I believe he had a crush.  And why not?  The Earl of Southampton was beautiful and aristocratic, with a great taste in literature.  He appreciated Shakespeare's work and was a willing and generous patron.  It is thought that "Venus and Adonis," dedicated to Southampton, was written at the Earl's estate, where Shakespeare was given  refuge from the plague sweeping through London, which it did with alarming persistence, repeatedly.  The playhouses were shut down, and a writer would be very grateful to find a bolt hole where he was fed and housed while he generated  income with a long erotic poem.  The erotic poem is heterosexual. Why not? On the other hand, it does focus on the dazzling loveliness of the young Adonis which has driven Venus mad with desire.

There is evidence that Christopher Marlowe was homosexual.  But Shakespeare?  I think the argument there is thin.  One is required to extrapolate so much from the writing, when Shakespeare is famous for trying out viewpoints and being impossible to pin down as to his "own" viewpoint.  He savors all of humanity.  What does he endorse, apart from basic decency?

In the third play of my trilogy, "'Twas Ever Thus: Betrayal,"  I intend to portray men fascinated by other men.  I have been cautioned, "Now don't make this your gay play!"  Why not? I wonder.  Well, first of all, I never want a play of mine to be simplistically defined in any way.  Secondly, I don't want to show something that may not have been true at all. And, thirdly, I find a sweetness and wistfulness in the concept of a crush.  Is it possible that a crush can be more powerful and more deadly than True Love? 

 

BLOG POST #32 SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHPLACE AMERICA

No, this is not a new theory, that Shakespeare was actually born in America. 
I'm a firm believer in the evidence that William Shakespeare, that great writer, was born in Stratford-on-Avon, England. 

Shakespeare's Birthplace America is an entity formed so that Americans who love Shakespeare can make donations to support preservation of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the U.K., and get a very American tax deduction.  In addition to preserving the old buildings that make up the Shakespeare complex,  there are new plans afoot to create a footprint tour of Shakespeare's great house, the house where he died. 

New Place House was one of the biggest, if not the biggest house, in Stratford.   Shakespeare bought it in 1597, the year after his only son died.  Perhaps he wanted to cheer up his family, a large number of people crowded into the house on Henley Street that Shakespeare had been born in.   Or perhaps he realized that life was short, and he was getting moderately rich.  Why not do this for his family, make his visits home more pleasant, and even look ahead with a view to his retirement?  The orchard, the garden, offered potential for many peaceful hours.

New Place House has an incredible history involving more than one murder.  Not in Shakespeare's family, but in two families that preceded his purchase of the house.  In fact, his title was not fully cleared until several years after his purchase, his investment in restoration, and his moving his family into the house!  This was due to a murder, the hanging of the murderer, and the rather strange inheritance laws of the time.   Of all the biographies of Shakespeare I've read, the one by Park Honan, "Shakespeare: A Life," seems to give the fullest account of the bloody/poisonous history of the building. 

But, under new management, New Place House became a shrine.  This is where Shakespeare lived after his great successes.  This is where he died.  In fact, in the 18th Century, the owner of New Place House, driven frantic and, I would say, mad, by the stream of visitors who would ring his bell and demand to be shown through the home of the Great Shakespeare, had it torn down!  He didn't sell it, as he probably could have.  Instead, he had it pulled down and probably jumped up and down on it, like a frustrated Rumplestilskin.

Today, we have an outline of the house, drawings of what the exterior of the house looked like in Shakespeare's time, and a plan to revive the site.  The British Government is not paying for any of this.  Private contributions are funding this project.  If any of you reading this would be interested in more information, please go to: development@shakespeare.org.uk or www.shakespearesbirthplaceamerica.org.

I don't work for this organization, but I think it's great, what they're doing.


 

BLOG POST #31 FOCUS

When Mark Graham first began to help me shape my plays, he emphasized that I needed to
 find or decide upon my primary focus.  Everything relies upon the strength of focus, which is,
 I suppose, similar to core training in a physical fitness program. 

The first two plays of my Shakespeare trilogy are very strong on focus, I think.  They hold together.  Strangely enough, focus allows for the introduction of surprises, in a way that an intellectually lazier approach does not. As I may have said before, I believe that a playwright should be sure to surprise his/her audience from time to time.  If you have a predictable series of events, you are not going to have as interesting a play as if you have a potential element of surprise, to keep the audience engaged.

I began writing my third play with a pretty solid concept for its plot and even characterization.  But I'm not satisfied with what I've written so far: four and 1/2 scenes that do not ring my bell.  And I think I've figured out why.  It's the focus.  I have moved the focus away from Shakespeare, making him only a minor player in this drama.  And that has to change.  I think I know how I can still tell my story, holding him and his actions as the focal point.  I just need to rework the plot so that what he says and does is both interesting and plausible.  Also, as far as possible, I'd like to be solidly on Will's side.  He took enough criticism from the viewpoint of his disinherited daughter in "Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say."  He's still my man, and I owe him so much.

BLOG POST # 31 DUELING SONNETS

When my husband and I were first married and combining the contents of our two apartments into one unit called "ours," we weren't surprised to find we had to deal with a LOT of books.  But what did surprise us was (a)  there were no duplicates and (b) He had nothing before 1900, and I had nothing after 1900.   How odd, especially as on our first date we realized that we both had the same favorite short story, James Joyce's "The Dead."

My husband, aka as Philip Schaefer, is a retired lawyer and he's been writing an amazing blog for almost nine years now, commenting on such a variety of things he's interested in that it has become an fascinatingly detailed portrait of his inner life.  In a way, this is the book that is absolutely perfect for him to write and to have written.  It is large. It contains multitudes, as they say.  (philipschaefer.com)

Right now he's interested in The Sonnet Project. (You'd have to go to his blog to see its exact title, but that's how I think of it.)  Each sonnet by Shakespeare is filmed in a  location in New York City that seems to fit the "story" of that sonnet,  and the sonnet is read/acted out by actors, as if they're are doing a short play. I think the general concept is brilliant.  Some of the actors are more successful than others, of course.  And the underlying concepts are pulled off to a greater or lesser degree from sonnet to sonnet.  But all of them become fresh and contemporary, in our current New York City, with the voices of young people, both men and women, bringing the sonnets into live performance.

Now, here's the irony.  Phil seems to be convinced that this is the way to look at the sonnets, almost like the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning.  They are little plays.  They have nothing to do with the poet's life.  He's trying out situations and working all the variations. In a way, though Phil might not say this, Shakespeare is. a musician trying out riffs. Meanwhile, back at home--no longer our darling little apartment in New York, but our home in the suburbs--I'm working on my third play about Shakespeare.  And I'm handling the sonnets in the most traditional way possible. Shakespeare, writing about the darling, well-born young man, the Dark Lady, the whole nine yards. 

The whole issue of highly romanticized love between men which was part of the Elizabethan culture (and never has to be defined, explained, or sensationalized) works for this play I'm writing.  It is part of its emotional charge.  And it's the part of the sonnet tradition that fits this play.  My husband understands, I hope.