With the upcoming release of Roland Emmerich’s conspiracy thriller Anonymous, a film based on the premise that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford is the real author of the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, Hollywood has officially jumped on the Oxfordian bandwagon. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the Annual Shakespeare Memorial Lecture on Oct. 24 (Arts Building, Moyse Hall, at 5:30), titled “Why I Believe in Shakespeare,” to be delivered by Antoni Cimolino, General Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Free admission. Limited seating. RSVP required: firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-398-4681
In the world of Twitter and Facebook, how can live theatre and Shakespeare be made relevant to younger audiences?
A production of Love’s Labour’s Lost that I saw in Stratford when I was in high school changed my life. The idea of being in the theatre, sharing an experience with two thousand people made an enormous impact on me – it made me very conscious of being part of humanity. So I am firm believer that Shakespeare and live theatre in general will always be relevant to young people.
However, in the world of Twitter and FaceBook, we do have to change the way we engage our audience – before, during and after they come to our theatres. In terms of before and after, we know we have to go beyond the traditional model of communication – in which carefully crafted information is delivered to a passively waiting populace – and embrace the interactive, fluid, dynamic and democratic possibilities afforded by today’s social media.
As for engaging young people during the theatrical experience, I think it’s important to note that the great enemy of Shakespeare, and of all serious art, is not the 140-character tweet; it’s reverence. The worst thing you can do to any work written for the theatre is to lay it reverently on a shelf to be admired, out of reach of grubby and sacrilegious hands that might want to play around with it. That’s what plays are for: playing with. Playing demands intellectual, emotional and physical energy. It’s how we discover things. It’s how innovation comes about, in the arts and in the sciences. And it’s how a theatre stays relevant not just to young people, but to all people.
Shakespeare’s authorship has always been questioned. Why do you think people are so enthralled with Shakespeare’s identity?
Actually, Shakespeare’s authorship hasn’t always been questioned; it wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that these ideas started to be raised. And there were reasons for that. As James Shapiro explains in his book Contested Will, it had everything to do with the emerging idea that an author poured his own soul into his works, and that the former could thus be inferred from the latter.
Once that idea took root, it fascinated people because it played to the fact that there is so much we don’t know about Shakespeare. How exactly did he go from being a husband and father in Stratford-upon-Avon to the most successful playwright in London? We don’t know how he made that leap. But of course, we know even less about many other writers of the time, so it’s not surprising. That big blank in the middle of what we know of Shakespeare’s life invites us to fill it in with all kinds of speculation.
There’s also the mystery that surrounds any genius: how did he do it? What enabled him to create such a stunning body of work? What went on in his mind? Shakespeare, like his plays, is in many ways an enigma, and we love to try to solve those kinds of puzzles.
What type of training did you need to get to where you are?
I started my career as an actor (I have a BFA) and one day found myself onstage thinking about the business aspects of theatre rather than fully focusing on the show I was in. I knew at that point that I wanted to go in a slightly new direction. I started to get work as an assistant director and then worked closely with the Festival’s artistic director at the time, Richard Monette, who taught me a great deal.
My experience as an actor and director has been very helpful as it has given me a full understanding of the support and facilities necessary to create art, which informs me in my efforts to fund our various projects. That same experience allows me to speak passionately about the arts to potential donors, and in a not-for-profit enterprise, fundraising is a crucial aspect of the job. I’ve also been very fortunate to work alongside some exceptional businesspeople who have served on our board. Their mentorship has been invaluable.
How do you create a work-life balance for yourself?
I am very lucky to have an understanding wife and family – and since my wife, Brigit Wilson, is an actress, she’s lucky to have an understanding husband, as well. We both try to carve out as much time for family as we possibly can. This winter, we’re able to undertake a project in Calgary because our son has just started at Queen’s and our daughter is doing a year of high school in Italy. And while I always felt I didn’t have enough time with my kids, I’m becoming acutely aware of just how central they have always been to my everyday life and how much time we did indeed spend together. That said, the Festival does tend to permeate everything I do, but it is a joy to be involved with so it becomes both a personal and professional vocation.