Vandalizing Shakespeare

What's in a nameThe Oregon Shakespeare Festival is currently producing a massive project. They are commissioning 36 playwrights and pairing them with dramaturgs to, as they put it, “translate” 39 plays attributed to Shakespeare into contemporary modern English between now and December 31, 2018. Their website reads :

“By seeking out a diverse set of playwrights (more than half writers of color and more than half women), we hope to bring fresh voices and perspectives to the rigorous work of translation. Each playwright is being asked to put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content. Our hope is to have 39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions. We are also excited about the potential for a highly engaging national conversation about language that this project could prompt.”

They have been getting a lot of press on this project, which I’m sure is a major part of the agenda. Well, in answer to their call, I would like to join their conversation. Here is my take…

OSF recently posted an example of this work that they are doing on their “Play On” Facebook page. The following excerpt illustrates perfectly how terrible the foundations of their project really are.

Please read this excerpt from their own post..

From Translating Timon: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare Translation/Adaptation Project By Scott Kaiser:

Although the Cavander version is written as dramatic verse, it is not penned in iambic pentameter. Working line by line, Cavander strives to honor the meaning of each line rather than strictly adhering to Shakespeare’s original meter.

For example, here are five lines, written in verse, where Timon finds that the servants have locked his doors to keep out his creditors:

TIMON: What, are my doors opposed against my passage?
Have I been ever free, and must my house
Be my retentive enemy, my jail?
The place where I have feasted, does it now,
Like all mankind, show me an iron heart?
[Arden 3.4.77]

And here are the same five lines from the Cavander translation, written in free verse:

TIMON: What’s this? My doors locked—to shut me in!?
Haven’t I been always open with my friends,
And now my own house turns against me,
Becomes my jail? Does my home, where I heave feasted,
Show me, like the rest of mankind, an iron-heart?

Shakespeare uses the common and easily understood English word FREE in this instance not for the purpose of just ONE interpretation, but for MANY. Even the sounds of the word itself evoke an experience. Be Free

Free – unencumbered
Free – liberal
Free – liberated
Free – complimentary
Free – for nothing
Free – gratuitous
Free – with love
Free – generous
Free – unshackled
Free – open
Free – limitless
It goes on and on. Every person reading, or listening, could add three or four more interpretations of what “free” means to them in the context of the moment.

You see, there are so many personal experiences in the word FREE that an audience is afforded an opportunity to participate, to build it for themselves when listening to the word in context of the story. That’s the genius of great writing. Shakespeare trusts the imagination of the listener. These “translators” strip the opportunity for such a wide breadth of experience and eliminate an economically beautiful word like “free,” which aspirates with the construction of a lip and the teeth into an elongated, potentially endless, “eeeee,” like the squeeeeeze of a lemon. They strip the listener of an opportunity to experience any of this and replace it with mundane and pedestrian interpretations like Cavander’s of Timon being “open with his friends.” This forces a narrow, limited interpretation on the audience, under the guise that this is Shakespeare’s own intent. It’s not translation they are engaging in, it’s vandalism.

On another note, the word: TRANSLATION
OSF and their writers continue to call this work a “translation.” Shakespeare is already in ENGLISH. It doesn’t need a “translation.” That word alone, being thrown around willy-nilly over this project, is evidence enough that no one supporting this endeavor knows what they are really talking about. Words have meaning and if this project is an exploration of the meaning of words, why not start there? These are not “translations,” they are at best adaptations and at worst interpretations. Unfortunately, if this is a shining example of the work they are doing, the latter is probably more likely.

Funk It Up About Nothin' By The Q Brothers, adapted from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

Funk It Up About Nothin’
By The Q Brothers, adapted from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

If people want a better practical understanding of the more archaic passages, there are already plenty of books out there that offer up what OSF is doing. Instead of wasting all this talent and resource on this nonsense, why not commission these talented playwrights to write entirely new interpretations or adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (like West Side Story is of R&J or Lion King is of Hamlet, or any of the exciting work done by the Q Brothers)? Adaptation is what Shakespeare did himself, so it would be entirely in the spirit of his work and at least we’d have some new plays. Perhaps they could even expand them to involve more women and different ethnicities.

By doing something that is the equivalent of the well-intentioned elderly woman updating the 19th century Spanish fresco, “Ecce Homo” by painter Elias Garcia Martinez, and representing these works as “translations,” reveals that OSF doesn’t even fully understand the language of our own time. How can we expect them to reliably interpret Shakespeare’s language better than the bard himself? Coming from an organization of this level of prestige, this is a disappointing and shameful representation of the state of classical theatre art in America.

Shame on OSF.

“Ecce Homo” by painter Elias Garcia Martinez, with

“Ecce Homo” by painter Elias Garcia Martinez, with “help” by Cecilia Gimenez.

Special thanks to Marnie Bullock Dresser for reminding me of the Spanish fresco debacle. 

Bard Core – 2015

I’m offering my Shakespeare Workshop again this January!
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WOAHPraise for BARD CORE & Matt Schwader’s work with Shakespeare

“Matt Schwader knows Shakespeare. He is an accomplished Classical actor who has a unique curiosity about how language works. He possesses experience, technique and the passion to make poetry come to life in an active and accessible way. His intense desire to share this knowledge with actors who are interested in learning what it takes to do Shakespeare is a valuable gift to anyone who is lucky enough to take his workshop. He will inform AND inspire…”
~ Brenda DeVita (Artistic Director, American Players Theatre)

“Matt Schwader brings an unbelievable amount of energy to the stage when he performs Shakespeare. His work is always incredibly focused and contagious in the rehearsal hall and onstage.”
~ Cree Rankin (Casting Director, Court Theatre)

IMG_9001“I would recommend this class to all actors with any level of Shakespeare experience. Matt excels at meeting each person and group as they come, and encouraging the entire group, which then fuels each individual member.
I would say the overarching experience of the Bard classes is one of saying “yes.” Yes to trying new things or the stupid idea you never wanted to say out loud, yes to accepting new ideas and perspectives, yes to fully participating and engaging all aspects of your personality in each moment of a piece. By the end of a weekend, my pieces were truly mine in an new way, and I gained a much broader and deeper range to my Shakespeare knowledge through everyone else’s pieces. Also, I had a hell of a great time.”
~ Meg Harkins (former Bard Core Student)

“Scansion, antithesis, verse vs. prose, end- vs. mid-line shifts — most Shakespearian actor training focuses on giving the actor tools to clearly speak the Bard’s poetry. This is necessary work but it isn’t the whole picture. Through the study of rhetoric, Matt’s Bard IMG_8999Core workshops help actors to understand how the characters they play fit within the larger context of Shakespeare’s plays, thereby guiding actors to make stronger, textually-supported choices. This training is the natural next step for actors who seek to deepen their work with Shakespeare’s text.”
~ Jake Penner (former Bard Core Student)

“Not only is Matt Schwader a Shakespeare genius, he has the unique gift of being able to share his knowledge and skill with others in a way that makes student and teacher feel more like enthusiastic colleagues, exploring and working together.”
~ Hillary Clemens (Casting Director, Gift Theatre… & wife)

Sign up for BARD CORE – 2015 now! 

It takes commitment to wear a monocle.

I did a fun little Q&A on the subject of my role of Tristan Tzara in American Players’ production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties directed by William Brown. Check it out here and then try out the Dada Poetry Generator.

Nate Burger as James Joyce and myself as Tristan Tzara in American Players Theatre's production of TRAVESTIES, byt Tom Stoppard. Photo by Carissa Dixon

Nate Burger as James Joyce and myself as Tristan Tzara in American Players Theatre’s production of TRAVESTIES, written by Tom Stoppard and directed by William Brown
Photo by Carissa Dixon 





A Romanian Nonsense

A Romanian Nonsense

Dada Backstage

Dada Backstage

Tristan Tzara, by Man Ray

Tristan Tzara, by Man Ray

Dada Poetry

Dada Poetry

Myself as Tristan Tzara & Marcus Truschinski as Henry Carr in TRAVESTIES at American Players Theatre. Photo by Carissa Dixon.

Myself as Tristan Tzara & Marcus Truschinski as Henry Carr in TRAVESTIES at American Players Theatre.
Photo by Carissa Dixon.

Oh My Stars

We in the midwest are a large theatre community and many of us are in tremendous pain today over the tragic loss of so many of our own, very suddenly. With the devastating passing of Sati Word, Trinity Murdock, Joel Lambie, Molly Glynn and Bernie Yvon, we are left in genuine shock and disbelief. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It is unimaginable.

I had a performance last night, like so many others in our tribe. For some it was an opening night, some maybe closing, and for others, like me, – just another night in a run. It has been just over a year since I got word backstage here at American Players Theatre of the sudden tragic passing of Tayneshia Jefferson, an extraordinary theatre maker and friend.

Stephen Hemming (American Players Theatre)

Stephen Hemming
(American Players Theatre)

Hanging on the wall, outside the doorway to my dressing room, is a production photo of the late, great Stephen Hemming. It’s a somber shot of him in deep contemplation, wearing a friar’s robe. Stephen passed away in 1996. I didn’t really know him, but was blessed as teenager to watch his work and even fortunate enough share an afternoon lunch and brief conversation with this generous, marvelous man. His short, but profound impact on me has lasted my entire career. Today, looking at his photo, remembering Tayneshia, thinking on all the grief stricken friends and family of the recently departed, memories of so many other people that have left our community over the years started to fill my heavy heart. Guy Adkins, Dan Loftus, Fritz Szabo… so many good, good folks. And then, one in particular popped up and made me actually smile. William Leach who, among many other extraordinary achievements, originated the role of Owen Musser in the Foreigner. Bill left a message for us all when he passed. He wanted us to “keep buggering on.” I loved that, ‘bugger on.”

Recently, in a beautifully eloquent memorial, Billy Crystal likened Robin Williams to a star so big that it’s light burns on long after it has died. An apt and lovely thought. I have shed many tears for men and women in my field over the years, both local and on the world’s stage. I remember crying in bed the day Jimmy Stewart passed, the shock of Christopher Reeves, Brittany Murphy, Bernie Mac, Phillip Seymour Hoffman… the list goes on. It’s true. Big, distant stars dazzle us long after they are gone. But here’s something I know about those nearer, smaller stars, our local stars… they provide us with that which is necessary for LIFE. Our local stars inspire us with breath and abundance of spirit. They warm us with generosity and open arms. Our local stars teach us how to love, how to honor, how to give and receive, how to share, how to BE. And when they burn out… their stardust lives on inside us all. Their memory sparkles in our tears, eventually our smiles, and always in our hearts. The big, bright, distant stars may dazzle our eyes, but it’s our local stars that keep us alive.

As I mentioned, I performed on stage last night; outdoors. The Importance of Being Earnest. Nearly everyone in the cast/crew in one way or another was effected by the tragedies of today and the previous week. The evening was perfectly crisp, the air still, and the sky full of stars. The music began. The lights shifted into focus. The actors stepped onto stage in front of a thousand people and the first joke of the night EXPLODED into boisterous laughter. We were set free, soaring into a tradition that has spanned the centuries of humankind. I honestly don’t know if our going “on with the show” would have been what Molly, Bernie, Sati, Trinity, Joel, and all would have wanted us to do. I can’t speak for them in that way, but what I do know is that given the chance… they would have done it. They lived. They loved. They brought us life. For that, I am profoundly altered and eternally grateful.

Right now some of our local stars are burning overtime to warm us all and to keep one another afloat (Joe Foust, Matt Raftery, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Melanie Keller, Lindsey Pearlman, and so many more saints). Thank God for them. They are doing what they were born to do… continuing a legacy of life and love, while standing vigil over the memories of our friends. Give them some of your own light, they need it. Share it. Spread it all around. Visit and contribute to the trusts set up to support the families of Lennal Sati Word, Joel LambieBernie Yvon, and Molly Glynn.

“Keep buggering on.”
I love you all.


I am often struck with anxiety by our culture’s “news” organizations – Terrorism is gonna get us. The Cold War is Back. Our airplane will disappear over the ocean or worse, crash into the mountains where we will have to eat the frozen remains of our fellow passengers before we freeze to death the night before a rescue operation arrives. Bees Everywhere

Also… the bees. BEES! What is going on with you, Bees? Are you trying to kill us Bees or are you all just trying to disappear? WHERE ARE ALL THE BEES and WHAT ARE THEY UP TO!?!?!?!

It’s not just the sensational news stories that get to me either. Facebook. Facebook has a nasty grip on my ego and my self worth. I didn’t get that audition. I didn’t get invited to that event. I don’t own a home. I don’t have kids. Compared to you, I just don’t have enough happiness / smarts / intellect / wit / money / success / friendship / toys / adventure / respect / depth / freedom / joy / strength / maturity / confidence  / humility / younameits to survive in this world.

All this stuff is lined up perfectly; stacked against us, like a malicious set of Dominoes. Dominó del diablo!


The Bees are piloting the plane, while we sit alone in coach listening to everyone else live it up behind the little blue first class curtain. To top it all off, there’s a long line for the bathroom and the flight attendant won’t stop giving us the stink eye for accidentally calling her a “stewardess.” How will it all end!?

The good news? It probably won’t all end today; or even tomorrow for that matter. As a matter of fact, when it DOES finally end, it most likely won’t end with bees or planes or terrorists or nukes or asteroids or being left behind during the rapture. The good news is that today, this day, the one we are living right now, will very likely not be the worst day of our lives. Far from it, actually. No, it’s not likely to be the best day either, but the good news is that it really probably won’t be that terrible of a day at all.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the odds of being struck to death with a bolt of lightening is 1 in 126,158. Those are some pretty damned good odds. Especially when it isn’t raining outside. Some people are terrified of dogs. I get it. Dogs are animals and they can, at times, be unpredictable and yes, some folks HAVE been mauled to death by dogs. However, those unfortunate folks were 1 in 122,216 (again, according to the NSC). Guns are scary to me. I’m not going to lie. I hate hearing about the horrors of school shootings and misfired pistols in toddlers hands. It bothers me that “a number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world” (The Atlantic, Jan. 2013) But unless I am that unfortunate and unlikely 1 in 7,059 to be killed by a firearm discharge, I’m doing pretty good. If I don’t own a gun and am not living in one of those cities, my odds are probably even better! Sure, 1 in 12,146 people will die of exposure to electric current, radiation, or temperature, but today, right now, on THIS day… most of us probably, will likely not be that 1 person (particularly those of us not working “clean up” at Fukushima).  So… that’s a pretty good deal… generally speaking.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the numbers on how many people will likely be licked in the face by a dog today, or how many plants that will find nourishment from a rain, or strangers that will share a nod or a smile in passing today; because those numbers are so big and so vast and so positive that no one is bothering to report them. The truth is… things aren’t. so. bad. They’re pretty good actually.Soldier Puppy kiss If we were to just take a breath every now and then… just STOP to breathe and enjoy that little moment of life sustaining breath, we might just find that things, right now, in THIS MOMENT, aren’t so terrible. Sure, the average credit card debt for a typical adult American may be $4,878 and our mortgage may be due this week and the IRS just informed us that we owe THOUSANDS more than we expected… but the IRS and the credit card companies are not very likely to be threatening us right now with shards of glass in the hopes that, if we don’t pay up right this minute, we’ll become the 1 in 32,322 that will perish on a sharp object. It’s just not very likely to be the case. Not right now. Not in this minute.

So, since it is not likely that today is going to be the absolute worst day of our lives, perhaps, at the very least, knowing that it won’t likely be the worst day of our lives might just make today a little better than the one we were going to permit ourselves to have in the first place. Maybe with this knowledge we’ll have a little less anxiety or concern taking up room in our hearts and minds. Maybe, with the little extra space and freedom that we have without all that worry, we might be able to learn a stranger’s name or pick up a piece of litter at a bus stop. We might be able to do something with our moderately average to good day. As a result, it might even turn out to be an exceptionally better day, today, than the one we planned. That might be worth something, a small something, but a good something. Just for today. Bees be damned.


Take my Bard-Core Verse Workshop!

Interested in improving your Shakespeare?
Check out my 4 part Bard-Core Verse Workshop!
The course is designed for all levels of experience with verse. Actors that have had many years performing Shakespeare will find this tremendously helpful to take your work to the next level and those of you with just a taste of it will find this work to be a handy and economical way of getting into the language and making confident choices. Though this is not primarily an “audition” workshop it will help you enormously with your audition monologues. However, the primary end result is to give you the tools for improving and building confidence in ALL of your future work, not just one monologue at a time. If you are interested in audition coaching, I do offer that on the side. That being said, taking this workshop will put you miles ahead in the process.
What’s it about? It’s surprisingly simple. schwaderShakespearean verse is written in a fairly straightforward code, but most people are either simply unaware of that code or don’t take the time to see the code in front of them. Once I take you through the steps of deciphering this rhetorical structure, you’ll not only have a faster way of comprehending a piece of text that is new to you, but it will be more fun than just the laborious work of learning a new piece.
There will be 4 classes in the span of 3 weeks. The first 2 sessions will be back to back days. The next two sessions will fall consecutively by the week. I have 2 separate groups due to high interest.
WEEK 1: Friday Feb.14th: 6pm-10pm and Saturday Feb, 15th: 6pm-10pm
WEEK 2: Sat. Feb. 22nd: 6pm-10pm
WEEK 3: Sat. March 1st: 6pm-10pm

WEEK 1: Sunday Feb.16th: 5pm-19pm and Monday Feb, 17th: 6pm-10pm
WEEK 2: Mon. Feb. 24th: 6pm-10pm
WEEK 3: Mon. March 3rd: 6pm-10pm
The price for the course is $175. I am requesting a deposit of $75 to secure your spot. Deposits are non-refundable. The remaining $100 will be due on or before your first session. No refunds if you are unable to complete the course for any reason.If you’d like to join the fun, contact me HERE!Hamlet