Shakespeare in the Shenandoah

Head to Staunton, Virginia for authentic Elizabethan-style theater.

Continuing her tour, Bernardo leads us through a side door for a behind-the-scenes look at how ASC’s plays are produced. First stop is the costume shop, where plastic bins carry labels like “eye patches” and “horns.” Unfortunately, we won’t get a chance to examine the dismembered head—today it’s out for repairs. We continue on to the armory, bristling with realistic swords and daggers; take note of props and dressing rooms; and finally step through a curtained doorway onto the stage itself.

Sketches on display in the ASC costume shop. Photo by Laurie McClellan

In Shakespeare’s day, rich theatergoers brought their own chairs and plopped them right onstage, claiming the best spots to see and be seen. You can enjoy the same privilege at Blackfriars today, our guide says, pointing out a dozen stools where brave audience members can sit during a show.

Historians aren’t sure how much the actors in 1608 interacted with the people sitting onstage, Bernardo continues, but the soliloquies in Richard III and Hamlet may have been addressed to them. She also gives us a cautionary tip: If you sit on the stage in this Blackfriars, the actors will consider you fair game and may talk to you during the performance.

I’m not ready to enjoy that audience perk, but come evening, I am careful to arrive at the theater a half-hour before Julius Caesar starts in order to enjoy another one: music. In the 1600s, musicians played instruments before, during and after the play. In Staunton, the actors themselves do the singing and playing, and given that they’re not appearing in Julius Caesar! The Musical, I’m impressed by how well the cast can sing. Their instruments range from the classical (cello and trumpet) to the kitschy (ukuleles, an accordion and, perhaps for that actor who never got around to music lessons, a cowbell).

Categories: Travel
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