By Richard Ouzounian
The Toronto Star
|Self-appointed Tennessee censors almost derailed Toronto Classical Theatre Project's 'Romeo and Juliet.' (Photo: WILL O'HARE FILE PHOTO.)|
When Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," he must have had the city of Nashville in mind.
Toronto's Classical Theatre Project presented Romeo and Juliet in the capital of Tennessee to an enthusiastic audience of 1,000 students and teachers Monday afternoon, but the performance was almost derailed Sunday night by a group of self-appointed censors who found the Bard of Avon a bit too racy for Music City, U.S.A.
David Galpern, artistic director of the theatre company, was taken aback when confronted with requests for a series of cuts to Shakespeare's text and a general "toning down" of the bawdier elements in the show.
"We've performed this for 100,000 people in Canada without a single complaint from a teacher or student. Why should it suddenly change here?" he said on the phone from Nashville Monday.
Since it was founded in 2001, the acclaimed company has become Canada's largest producer of classical theatre for youth and has played to more than 350,000 students. The production of Romeo and Juliet being performed in Nashville was nominated for a Dora Award in 2009.
SAMPSON: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
MERCUTIO: This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
— (Act 2, Scene 4)
Most of the worries were about the sexuality explicit in the script and how it was brought to accurate life by the group, especially in scenes involving the ribald Mercutio.
Charles Roy, co-founder of the company, admitted there was an element of bawdry in some of the passages, but, as he pointed out, "If Mercutio doesn't offend the Nurse with his line about the bawdy hand of the dial being upon the prick of noon and she doesn't try to exit in protest, then what happens to the rest of the play?"
Despite the worries of some of the staff of the Program Services for Education department at the Tennessee Performing Arts Centre about the content they saw at Sunday night's dress rehearsal, their director, Sherri Leathers, remained steadfastly committed to the show.
"The performance I saw ... was awesome, as I always knew it would be," said Leathers.
She had come up to see the theatre group in Canada and was so impressed that she lobbied extensively to get them to perform in Tennessee and was anxious that everything should go right.
"Sherri has been totally supportive and we value everything she's done for us," volunteers Roy.
"We're guests here and we don't want to fight a cultural war," adds Galpern, "but at what point are we starting to betray the work itself?"
After much discussion, they decided to present the show as planned and Monday's audience was, by and large, enthusiastic.
Danielle Moffitt, 18, from Goodpasture Christian School, said, "The sexuality was a good thing, the way they addressed it openly back then, not like now."
On the flip side, a woman who identified herself as Val, a home-school teacher from Hermitage, "struggled being here with my son. The sexuality was too much. Our children need to be more pure."
Several other teachers echoed her opinion.
No matter how the rest of the week's performances go, it seems the Toronto company has already fulfilled one of its missions, which Galpern sums up. "We want them to think Shakespeare is the furthest thing from boring."
26 January 2010 — Return to cover.