StageNotes: What were your favorite subjects in high school and why?
Daniel: Drama, Concert Choir, Yearbook, Art, English. The arts classes were great because we learned by DOING. Studying English gave me practical writing skills that I use every day. Touch Typing was probably one of the most helpful classes of my entire life.
Jess: English, European History, and P.E. (I was on the basketball team until my Junior year). I enjoyed Drama, but gave it up in favor of the Forensics (speech) team. Same idea of developing skills in performance, delivery, comic timing and the like, but more fun travel, days off from school; plus I knew I’d have a great role because I was choosing the material myself. And I wouldn’t have to deal with other pesky actors: I would play ALL the roles!
SN: How did you first become interested in Shakespeare?
Daniel: My 8th grade class read Romeo & Juliet aloud and I instantly loved the verse form of the dialogue. The rhythmic language appealed to me and I didn’t have any problem understanding it. When the BBC filmed all of Shakespeare’s plays in the late 1970’s I watched them all and thought, “Some of these plays are fantastic! (Others, not so much!)” While studying drama in London, I saw everything the Royal Shakespeare Company did. They were so adept at finding clever techniques to make the old plays feel new. Their modern-dress Taming of the Shrew with Jonathan Pryce blew my mind.
Jess: I’d only had the requisite curriculum in Shakespeare (R&J, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) and hadn’t been wowed by any of it. Then two actors from the Ashland Shakespeare Festival came to perform for our drama class. They did a couple of Shakespeare scenes (which ones, I don’t recall), but they also did a bit of the game of “Questions” from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which prompted me to buy a copy of the play immediately. As it happened, my English class was just starting Hamlet. I found the interplay between the two works exhilarating. So in a way, my entrée to Shakespeare has always been via the backdoor of parody and satire… and Tom Stoppard.
SN: You mention in the notes that the play was originally developed through improvisation and ad lib. Can you please explain how the play came to be?
Daniel grew up in Santa Rosa CA, just up the road from the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County. He’d worked there as an actor in the late 1970’s. After drama school, he sent the Faire a proposal to produce a half-hour Hamlet – all Faire entertainment was scheduled in half-hour timeslots. There was a surprising lack of Shakespeare in their offerings so they gave the show a green light. Tom Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet had proven that an abbreviated version of the Prince of Denmark’s tragic tale was both easy to follow and comical in its sheer brevity, so it seemed like a natural. Daniel’s script was originally just a reduction of the play with no jokes in it.
Two of the actors Daniel hired, Jess Winfield and Adam Long, were brilliant young comics. We were all strongly influenced by the antics of the Marx Brothers, Bugs Bunny, and Monty Python. Our Hamlet became a showcase of broad humor and personal interactions between the actors. This allowed the audience to enjoy the show on multiple levels: the cleverness of seeing the greatest play in the English language rudely compacted into an absurdly short skit; the delight of vaudeville-style slapstick adapted to a 16th-Century idiom; and the witty interplay of three charismatic guys struggling to get through the damn thing.
Keep reading this interview at StageNotes.net!
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s classic farce, two of its original writer/performers (Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) have thoroughly revised the show to bring it up to date for 21st-century audiences, incorporating some of the funniest material from the numerous amateur and professional productions that have been performed around the world.
The cultural touchstone that is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was born when three inspired, charismatic comics, having honed their pass-the-hat act at Renaissance fairs, premiered their preposterous masterwork at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987. It quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, earning the title of London’s second-longest-running comedy after a decade at the Criterion Theatre. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is one of the world’s most frequently produced plays, and has been translated into several dozen languages.
Featured are all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, meant to be performed in 97 minutes, by three actors. Fast paced, witty, and physical, it’s full of laughter for Shakespeare lovers and haters alike.