What is Annotation? [Part One]

At Play On Words, we like to read. We like to write. You know those magnetic poetry kits you can use on your fridge? We got those. This spring, as we plan ahead for our next show, we’re busy reading, writing and discussion production. In addition to rehearsing, performing, teaching and curating, Play On Words Casting Director and co-founder Melinda Marks is busy adapting Shakespeare plays. She agreed to share some thoughts on the process of annotation, and how adaptation can help writers reflect on their own artistic processes. Today’s post is the first of three in a series we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks on the art of annotation.

Julia:
So Melinda, you are a playwright slash dramaturg, director, actress. Tell me what it means to annotate a play.

Melinda:
With anything, it’s making notes that are relevant, making notes about what other people have said about something, anything that contextualizes a piece of writing for a reader or an audience. I decided that I was going to annotate some Shakespeare plays for fun. I’m just doing a cut of the play, how I would like to see it done, edited how I would like to see it edited, in order to make a cleaner and clearer version of what I imagine the play to be about. It isn’t radically different from how it started, but it’s different enough that if whatever imaginary people might read or watch this version of the play, if they had any questions about it, then I would be addressing those cuts in as bold and defensive manner as I can.

Julia:
Do you actually cut lines?

Melinda:
Yea.

Julia:
What’s an example of a change you made?

Melinda:
With Hamlet, I actually ended up cutting about 50 percent of all the dialogue. I made it really short because I wanted to see a version where the only time that Hamlet really talked a lot was when he was alone. And that’s very different from the version where everyone has these long speeches, especially Hamlet. When he’s alone he goes on and on to the audience. But I decided that I was going to make it really dense. And that’s because I wanted a version of Hamlet that was really scary, where people weren’t really saying anything, or a lot of it was represented visually. That’s a choice, and I justified it at the time.

Julia:
Did you stage it?

Melinda:
No. I don’t have that kind of pull. If I were ever to stage it, I would go into it being able to justify it, not only to whoever was on my creative team, based on what I wanted, but already having that version, having thought about it.

I went to Virginia recently and I saw three Shakespeare plays and none of them were edited. I saw a version of the Taming of the Shrew, and while I don’t have a problem with it, a lot of people do, because of the lighthearted psychological torture that happens.

Julia:
Which part makes people uncomfortable?

Melinda:
The fact that Petruchio marries Kate for her money, and she’s a mean person, so he decides to give her a taste of her own medicine. Once he takes her back to his house, there are these references to the fact that he’s denying her food, or he’s denying her sleep. And they are played for laughs, and that makes me think that it was played very broad and very silly, and at the end the conceit is that they go back to her dad’s house, and everybody says, she’s so different, and there’s this speech about marital obedience at the end. A lot of people have different approaches to this, with different degrees of tongue-in-cheek.

Ten Things I Hate About You
Source: Wikipedia

Julia:
Isn’t Ten Things I Hate About You based on Taming of the Shrew?

Melinda:
Yea.

Julia:
That’s my cultural reference.

Melinda:
In 10 Things I Hate About You, Kate realized that she wanted more than herself, and that she could still be who she was, but also fall in love, be in love with someone at the same time. The switcheroo there was that Petruchio made a bet, but he felt bad about it. A lot of people play it with different degrees of that. I’ve always considered it to be the fact that it should be a joke, that that should never be taken seriously.

Stay tuned next week to hear Melinda’s thoughts on adapting Taming of the Shrew.

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