My husband thought I was crazy when I suggested taking our three boys to Boulder’s Shakespeare Festival while we were vacationing in Colorado. But they were staging The Comedy of Errors and I couldn’t pass it up. Plus, when queried, the kids were all for it. At which point, the husband gives me this shifty-eyed look, like I set the whole thing up (I swear I didn’t).
For those not familiar with the Bard, The Comedy of Errors is a “farce of mistaken identities, taking place in the course of one whirlwind day, featuring two sets of twins separated at birth, slapstick humor, and fantastic coincidences.”
It was a huge hit.
The costuming was extravagant, the words all Shakespearean (except for a few modern references thrown in with hilarious effect – Expecto Patronum to you sir!), but the thing that made this a terrific children’s play was the out-sized physical acting.
The gestures were so grand, the intent made so clear, the words mattered not. Even Mighty Mite (8yo) was rolling with laughter at the pratfalls, the exaggerated expressions, and the obvious confusion and chaos. That actions can convey so much, even when the language is rife with obscure 16th century references most of the audience would never understand, amazed me. There was even a point where one of the actors broke the illusion, stepped into a spot light to deliver a lecture on the meaning of one of the terms in Shakespeare’s rich vocabulary. He was rightly booed back into character and the play proceeded apace. When he did it a second time, a sly self-deprecating comment on their ribald style, I was completely sold on the brilliance of the troupe (and their director).
Half-way through the show, as my husband and I were exchanging glances of delight across the stone seats, I realized the great lesson being taught before us. SHOW not TELL is a maximum repeated over and over for writers. Actors personify this in their craft. Kidlit writers can sometimes struggle to render complex emotional stories into a form that children can understand. But I think we just have to try that much more.
Because even children can understand well your meaning, kind sir, when you have filled it up with outrageous gesture, absurd coincidence and sublime comedy, that finest of arts.
Note to self: never underestimate the ability of children to “get” the fine arts. Shakespeare was one of the great highlights of our trip.