The roles of playwright, producer, director and actor overlap with the innovative and versatile Silicon Valley Shakespeare (SVS) team. The most recent evidence of this is SVS’s production of Greatest Hits of the 48-Hour Play Festival at the Hall Pavilion at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara April 5 – 7.
In 2018, the fifth annual festival, Shakespeare Magic, was a collaboration with the Foothill College Theatre Arts Department. In just one weekend, local playwrights wrote, rehearsed and performed eight new, short — 10-minute or 10-page — plays inspired by Shakespeare.
From the five past festivals, eight plays were selected for Greatest Hits, directed by Tonya Duncan and Melissa Jones. Playing other roles, Duncan acted in one play, and Jones wrote one.
Doug Brook, SVS executive director, was also one of the playwrights. And Doll Piccotto wrote two plays and acted in two.
“The Greatest Hits are high energy and fun, accessible even to people not familiar with Shakespeare,” said Jones. “They’re brand new works inspired by the classics.”
The hits fall into four categories: A mash-up of two plays, such as Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet; a play with technology such as a mobile phone and a Roomba robot vacuum; and a play given a sports connection. Picture King Lear as a Giants baseball coach. The last category is Shakespeare epilogues.
The unique twists on Shakespeare and clever dialogues of the short plays made for engaging viewing, especially for those familiar with the original Shakespearean plots and dialogues.
In the mash-up of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet, a young Billy Shakespeare was an unpublished barkeep, taking notes for his plays.
“You can’t push teenagers,” comments Billy.
“Well, I really botched that one. They’re all dead,” says the monk from Romeo and Juliet to Billy.
In another play, Romeo is ecstatic because Juliet “friended” him on Facebook.
In Hamlet, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius poisons everyone. In the SVS epilogue, the ghost of Claudius talks about the challenge of poisoning people.
“All right, I’m sorry. I got a little carried away with the poison,” Claudius says to the ghosts of those he poisoned.
SVS producer Doug Brook calls Greatest Hits “a wonderful stepping stone for people who don’t really know Shakespeare or who aren’t used to Shakespeare’s style.”
“They stand on their own but all tie in to Shakespeare,” said Brook. Nonetheless, a quick rereading of the original Shakespeare plot summaries would add insights.
The mission of SVS is to help people enjoy and be inspired by Shakespeare.
“We want to bring Shakespeare to people who haven’t even seen it before. We like to make Shakespeare comprehensible and enjoyable and maybe even have some meaning to them,” said Brook.
“It’s a way for people who don’t know Shakespeare to get their feet wet and a new way of looking at Shakespeare for people who know it.”
ShakesBEERience on May 21 is a staged reading of the Merry Wives of Windsor at Cafe Stritch in downtown San Jose. Seating is free but limited.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays June 7 – 23 outdoors at Willow Street Park, San Jose. Admission is free, funded by proceeds from Greatest Hits. Seats for all productions are always free for those 17 and younger.
The last two 2018 – 2019 season productions are outdoors at Sanborn County Park, Saratoga. Macbeth plays July 26 – August 30. The White Snake, a Chinese fable, plays Aug. 2 – Sept. 1.
For information about the nonprofit SVS, founded in 1999, visit www.svshakespeare.org.