Students perform Shakespeare in unexpected locations
By Jane Cavalier, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Huddled at the center of the Green last Friday at 9 p.m., Paul Marino ’04 stood with a small group of students in Theater 65: Drama in Performance, to plot their next place of attack. Marino’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked around for an unsuspicious crowd.
“We’re right on their tails,” Marino said, giddy with the thrill of the chase.
Their game, however, was “pop-up” Shakespeare — Act 3, Scene 2 of “Julius Caesar,” to be precise.
Marino pioneered performing Shakespeare on the subway in New York City as a busking act in 2011, an art that he has since brought to London and Berlin. Busking refers to the practice of musical or artistic performance in a public space, usually while asking for money. Invited by the Hopkins Center, Marino returned to Dartmouth this past weekend for HOPFest to work with Theater 65 students on performing scenes from “Romeo and Juliet” and “King Lear,” among others, in surprising places around campus.
“In New York, there is a culture of subway performance — break dancers, mariachi bands, preachers,” Marino said. “I took that space and what was already happening there and introduced something new. Performing theater on the subway as buskers was novel.”
While students performed alongside Marino without asking for money, they still had the experience of transforming a space of isolated individuals into an engaged community of onlookers, Marino said. This is the concept that most inspires Marino’s work, he said.
“I am impressed by the notion of taking a space and an unsuspecting gathering of strangers and uniting them as an audience organically without the conventions of a theater,” Marino said.
Ben Page ’12, who performed Mark Antony’s monologue from Act 3, Scene 2 of “Julius Caesar,” was initially hesitant when he learned he would have to command an audience outside the boundaries of a theater.
“My first reaction was a mixture of excitement and nervousness because it’s one thing to perform in front of an audience who gathers to see you, it’s another to stand up in front of a group of people and to perform when they really have no idea what’s going on,” Page said. “I didn’t know how people were going to react.”
Another difference in the audience’s reaction outside of a theater is the humor in otherwise tragic scenes, Page said.
“The last scene of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ where the characters kill themselves, is, for lack of a better word, very sad if you’re seeing it in a theater,” Page said. “But if you do it on the subway, people laugh and cheer. If you start busting out Shakespeare, the reaction is more like amusement. It’s almost silly, and the juxtaposition of Shakespeare in [an atmosphere with no] Shakespeare is very dramatic, and people laugh and smile.”
The best scenes for pop-up performances often include fighting or death, Marino said. He looks to provide the audience with some sort of “finality” at the end of each performance, he said.
Sarah Peck ’14 played a servant in Act 3, Scene 7 “King Lear,” in which Cornwall gouges Gloucester’s eyes. Peck’s scene attracted an enormous crowd immediately due to its performed fight, after which her character, Cornwall, dies from being stabbed by Lear’s evil daughter Regan, Peck said.
When selecting scenes, Marino said he often opts for Act 3 and Act 5 because Act 3 holds the turning points, while Act 5 usually has a strong ending.
“I ask myself, ‘Does it have enough on its own that you don’t have to know the whole play and can be entertained without putting it into the context of the play?’” Marino said.
The very nature of surprise performances has a degree of drama in its own right, according to Marino. He described the excitement of jumping from G to L to F subway lines in New York and sprinting between cars to carry out another scene.
“The energy is palpable,” Marino said. “I always talk about it like ‘my fix.’ You get addicted to it. It’s like ecstasy. No other experience in my life has even come close to it.”
Audience reactions are typically positive, Marino said, a statement which proved true this weekend during HOPFest. Crowds encircled the Dartmouth performers, while children pushed their way to the front, enthralled by the absurdity and excitement of a surprise performance.
“The important thing is to be flexible and improvisational in blocking and more perceptive about the audience while you’re performing, so you can engage them as much as possible,” Peck said.
Busking on the subway remains illegal in most cities, but despite countless run-ins with police, “young and old, gangsters and intellectuals, people respond with respect to what we do,” Marino said. In London, Marino was even tipped by an undercover cop who would have otherwise shut down their performance, he said.
After each performance, “the audience and performers are all friends and you can talk to everybody in the car because you’ve really shared something with them,” Marino said.
Marino aims to accomplish the same sense of humor from this weekend’s performances in his subway career around the world. Whether through fake eyeballs to accompany the gouging of Gloucester’s eyes or the sheer absurdity of standing on a cube in the center of the Green reciting Mark Antony’s monologue, the performances brought together a diverse Hanover audience in appreciation of the bizarre and the hilarious.