The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Giving New Life to Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is the most-produced playwright in the English-speaking world. It's been said that every single day, at least one of his plays is being performed. Obviously, this means his plays are studied by almost anyone involved with the theater, from directors to actors to designers. Add to this the scrutiny given his work by a plethora of Shakespearean scholars, and it makes one wonder how there can possibly be an original approach to anything written by old Will. How does a director bring a fresh perspective to these much-studied plays? And, since the effort to be original, at times, undermines any real understanding of the play, how does a director keep a balance between a new sensibility and the emotional truth of a work?

For help with this question, I turned to Joseph Haj, the artistic director of Playmakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. While Haj has a broad theatrical mandate, he has directed many of Shakespeare's plays in theaters and festivals around the country, including the 2010 production of Hamlet for Washington DC's Folger Theater, which won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Production. My question to Haj: How do you approach a play like Hamlet with a fresh sensibility while still availing yourself of all the thought and scholarship it has generated throughout the years? [4:38]

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