''Trying to make people appreciate and read the sonnets as drama, just as we do the plays, that's the task that I have.'
Rogue Community College's theater director, Ron Danko, is launching an exciting project, titled "Shakespeare's Sonnets and a Will to Boot." We met to read sonnets in his office at Rogue Community College.
EH: What is your task with this material? What do you want to do with it?
RD: I want people to realize that the sonnets do speak, just as Shakespeare's plays speak, to an audience today, regardless of how educated you are. They talk to us with the deepest most complex emotions, in terms of relationships and what happens in relationships, and the understanding of love. Think about it. How many actors who have done Shakespeare and theater have really looked at the sonnets? They don't.
Trying to make people appreciate and read the sonnets as drama, just as we do the plays, that's the task that I have. And it's difficult because these are complex. And how do you, without changing words and language, how do you get across the underlying subtext? What do you bring forth from your own life's experience that touches this material? I'd like to think that it can relate to anyone through time.
A lot of it will be acted out. I've taken the sonnets and broken them down. Instead of having one person speak the entire sonnet, in some cases, there are two or three, four, six, fourteen actors on one sonnet. I've mixed three sonnets that are somewhat similar. I'm going to have three individuals do them and physical-ize a lot of it. There is a thread that is woven throughout the sonnets. It's a drama in terms of three people, The Poet, The Beloved, and the Dark Lady of the Sonnets — the triangle.
Some scholars think that some of the sonnets are trivial or that someone else wrote them. I'm using them in places not only as a bridge, a transition, but because they're interesting and can be acted out.
There are a few projections in this. I'm going to incorporate underlying music into it. I'm going to use different dialects; I'd like to contemporize it; it's going to be very eclectic. One sonnet I'm going to do as a rap. One, I'm going to do as a ritual incantation with monks chanting it. Some sonnets will just be done straight, they're so beautiful: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
EH: Do you see a lot of humor in these?
RD: I do, and a lot of tongue-in-cheek, and a lot of puns. There's a barnyard drama that takes place with a housewife, a chicken, and a baby. It's hilarious. I don't see it as all heavy. There's a lot of room for improvisation, etc. to make it so an audience can understand it and enjoy it, without making it hokey.
There are some very heavy ones and some beautiful ones, so it's a real mix. He's concerned with time and death and immortality. In a lot of these poems the immortality is always there. There's one about breeding, that a young man should have children and that through his children he will become immortal. He mentions that. But then he spends more time in talking about his writing and his poetry as far as immortality. We see at the end of this, that's what we have. We have it.
"Shakespeare's Sonnets and a Will to Boot" will run for eight performances in mid May. Individual auditions may be arranged with Ron Danko by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling 541-899-1575.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.