The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy
General Admission – $10
Under 18 – FREE
Doors Open at 7:00 pm
The Shakespeare Time Traveling Speakeasy is a literary concert that celebrates the life and works of William Shakespeare. Running just under 55 minutes, the presentation begins by exploring Shakespeare’s early life and continues into his life as a poet and playwright in London during the Elizabethan Era. The concert includes elements of theater, a slideshow, costumes and a live band. Many songs are performed to interpretations of popular and familiar songs across several genres including Jazz, Pop, Blues, Country and Hip hop. It is designed with middle school and highschool in mind, as they are the two populations most likely to be engaging with Shakespeare and may have some difficulty with the material. We attempt to place Shakespeare in a context that excites and intrigues young learners to want to engage more with the words of the Bard. As a precursor to a Shakespeare play or unit, as well as a tool for maintaining interest in the subject, The Shakespeare Time Traveling Speakeasy is a valuable resource for teachers who are looking for learning enhancement for their students in ELA, Theatre, and Music.
This program will...
Engage students – with multimedia slideshow, live music and interesting facts and details about the Bard.
Entertain students – with funny and intriguing content that is simple and easy to understand.
Educate students – with more information in the span of a classroom period than the average lesson plan.
Affect students – with programming that helps them to see Shakespeare as a real human being who lived and loved rather than an ancient icon whose work has no relevance for today.
This presentation aspires to prepare students for engaging with Shakespeare and developing a true appreciation for the beauty and the power of the written word. Shakespeare is all around us every day. His words live on, even over four centuries later.
Robin Hoodfellow – a man-about-town, streetwise and flamboyant fast talking sort of a tour guide and a carnival barker. He represents the person more intimate and familiar with Shakespeare’s plays and Shakespeare’s London.
Horatio Everyman – a humble companion and partner to Robin. He is somewhat familiar with the Bard and his works, but not as deeply as Robin. He represents the novice Shakespearean learner. He works to gain greater understanding of Shakespeare and is fascinated by the many ways Shakespeare has impacted our lives over the past four centuries.
The Players (band) These are the musicians who help provide an audio vehicle for the text in the presentation. Through the lens of popular American music forms such as jazz, blues, hip-hop, funk, rock and country, the Players assist with the musical exploration.
Shakespearean Mic Check – Cleverly disguised as a warm up piece, the mic check allows an opportunity to grasp the attention of the audience and provides not only information about Shakespeare (including a brief explanation of blank verse) but also gives a little information about the science of microphones.
Quoting Shakespeare – Accompanied by a rendering of Miles Davis’ So What?, the importance of Shakespeare’s words and their enduring effects on our culture is highlighted in this delightfully edu-taining piece — a more grammatically sound version of the Bernard Levin arrangement that still hangs on the wall in Shakespeare’s Globe in England.The piece asserts that if you utilize any number of what we consider everyday phases, (“all’s well that ends well” “in a pickle”, “green eyed jealousy” and “vanished into thin air”, for instance) you would in fact, be quoting the Bard, who invented or popularized a great majority of them.
Controversy – This piece, set to a version of Prince’s Controversy is a disco-like song that addresses how controversial Shakespeare’s biography is. Many scholars have debated for centuries even who William Shakespeare is. Some have speculated that he might have been a noble person or someone of considerable schooling, since the person from Stratford-Upon-Avon never went past grammar school and had come from humble beginnings. In an energetic, fun song, we explore some of the questions and some of the things we know for sure.
Stratford – Set to an interpretation of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s theme song, this piece briefly dramatizes Shakespeare’s journey from Stratford-Upon-Avon to the city of London, providing basic details of his early days and ending just as he heads off to London to seek his fortune. There is some speculation here about the “Lost Years of Shakespeare,” a period of 7 or so years (1585-1591) where there is no information about what the young Shakespeare was doing. Some speculate that he might have been a sailor during this time, and was away at sea, others say this must have been when he was studying, working on his craft and gathering his sources for his plays to come.
London – The music for this piece is inspired by Killer Joe by Quincy Jones. This poem paints a portrait of London during the Bard’s day. How London might have appeared to the young man taking in the sights sounds and smells of the bustling metropolis that was 16th century London. The piece is of course, delivered by our tour guides. Robin Hoodfellow takes us through and around the ins and outs of London, giving us a closer look at the city, including all the slop and stink that make it to the streets. In Elizabethan London, people just threw their trash right out the window onto the walkways below. Passers-by had to keep constantly aware, lest they be pelted by falling waste.
Dark lady – Performed with a version of Biz Markie’s famed tune Just A Friend, we explore the mysterious Dark Lady from Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
In about 27 of Shakespeare’s sonnets (127-154) the subject is a mysterious lady with dark features. Shakespeare described her as having hair like “black wires” and having “skin of dun.”
It is apparent that the writer’s feelings for the lady are strong, but she is unreceptive and more than a little shady. The writer pines for her then begins to curse her for breaking his heart.
Get Married – The major takeaway from the collection of sonnets is that one should be sure to find a suitable mate to marry and have children with before you expire. In other words, “get married and have kids before you die.” This fun, high energy tune, set to a country music groove, takes this advice to heart and attempts to highlight the importance of this action.
Sonnet 2 – This sonnet and others like it, must have had special meaning to Shakespeare as he was composing it. It speaks about a young person who is almost 40 years old and how empty and meaningless their lives would be if they did not take the time to produce a child, in particular a son, to carry on their legacy.
Hamlet – One of Shakespeare’s longest and most popular plays summarized in a rap: two 16 bar rap verses and a call/response hook. The abbreviated and hip hop inspired retelling makes for an enjoyable and intriguing rendition of the popular play. Some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines (including Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy, are found in the play. The intent is to spark interest in the further exploration of the play, or provide some orientation and context before delving into the play.
Swagger (Henry The 5th) – A musical and dramatic retelling of the two speeches of Henry V, as written by Shakespeare. Performed to the tune of an interpretation of Blackstreet’s No Diggity, this song presents Henry’s confidence and bravery at Harflour and at Agincourt, where against the odds, with a small army he successfully invades France. This piece is performed with a funk and hip hop interpretation that will stir the blood and make you want to get your swag on.
Smackdown! – Much like the Rap Battles of History series of internet fame, our Shakespeare Character Smackdowns are fun verbal battles between Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Imagine if Romeo and Juliet had survived their ingested poisons and made their escape and had gotten married….and years later were at a couples’ therapy session talking about the pains of married life. Can you imagine if Bottom the Weaver, and Oberon the fairy king, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were to battle over the love of the fairy queen Titania? How about Lady Macbeth (the murderous queen from Macbeth) versus Iago (the hard-hearted villain from Othello) dueling it out about who is the worst villain? These are some of the pairings you might find in the Shakespeare Character Smackdown!
No More than Imaginings – A selection of phrases from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that act as a bridge to the finale, revealing once more that Shakespeare was right when he said “all the world’s a stage,” and “If we shadows have offended think but this and all is mended…”
Here We Are – An original piece addressing our humanity and the finite nature of existence. We are but “…short lived hominids hanging about, doing our best just to figure it out.” The song ends in a raucous and enjoyable, danceable musical moment.
After the performance, students are invited to ask questions of the performers regarding the show’s content, artist and group background, inspiration and experience, etc.
Ask your students what they know about William Shakespeare. Have they ever seen a play? Have they heard a quote attributed to Shakespeare?
What were thoughts about it?
Ask them if they recognize these phrases :
- All’s well that ends well
- Catch a cold
- Vanished into thin air
- In a pickle
- Star-crossed lovers
- These are all attributed to William Shakespeare!
If they groan “Oh no, Shakespeare!” ask them where or how they developed their opinion. Was it a parent or an older sibling who influenced their thoughts about the subject?
Read a quick biography about Shakespeare and discuss.
Have a discussion about what the Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy might be like.
Post Performance Activities
- Debrief with the students.
- What did you think of the show?
- What was your favorite part of the show?
- What was a part you found difficult to understand?
- What are some Shakespeare facts that you did not know before seeing the performance?
- Take the quick Shakespeare Quiz, included in this study guide. Give a prize to the students who get all the answers correct, or reward the entire class for their collective recollection.
- Delve into a Shakespeare play! May we suggest A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The Folger library has excellent resources for beginning Shakespeare learners.
- For older students who have already had some experience with Shakespeare you may begin working on Romeo and Juliet, including Gnomeo and Juliet or Quentin Tarantino’s version of the play, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
This project is supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.