The plays were the thing at Bryant Park on April 23—all the theatrical works and sonnets, that is, written by one of the most celebrated playwrights in Western history. It was William Shakespeare’s birthday, his 451st to be precise, and the occasion was celebrated with music, open mic performances of his greatest monologues, and the hanging of banners, on which passersby could scribble down their favorite quote or phrase written by the Bard.
Bryant Park hosted The Drilling Company’s Second Annual Birthday Bash this past Thursday. The theatrical troupe, a small but vibrant company, is best known for its production of new works and its Shakespeare in the Parking Lot series. The company, whose name was conceived as a statement about the group’s commitment to search or “drill” for new playwrights and “riches,” was established in 1992. The group was first invited to perform in Bryant Park last year, and the relationship is now being extended with events and more performances in the 2015 season.
Eclectic New York City folk-group Thicket & Thistle, performed original ballads and compositions that were set to Shakespeare’s sonnets, and to start the program, actors, interspersed throughout the staging area, recited monologues. One of the musicians, Jonathan Eric Foster, had performed the role of Guildenstern in the Drilling Company’s performance of Hamlet, last summer.
Thicket & Thistle performs their version of Shakespeare’s “Come Away, Come Away Death”
The event also afforded viewers the chance to perform. Participants lined up on the park’s Upper Terrace to partake in the Speak the Speech section, in which a portion of or an entire monologue could be recited in exchange for a T-shirt. Some seemed eager, others appeared more sheepish, but all waited patiently for their turn to recite Shakespeare in the New York City scenic landmark park, where iconic skyscrapers serve as a backdrop. Only a few feet away, the audience sat on metal chairs, cheering participants as the stepped up to the microphone.
David Marantz, the group’s assistant artistic director, opened the Speak the Speech portion of the program with a well-known monologue from Hamlet, in which the prince gives advice to the players for his critical staging of the Mouse Trap:
“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounce it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines,” recited Marantz. “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”
“It’s very satisfying. We’re bringing Shakespeare–we’re bringing theater to people who don’t go to theater much, a lot of times-” David Marantz, assistant artistic director for The Drilling Company
“Approach, ye furies fell! O Fates, come come come,” bellowed participant Pete Trump shortly after in his recitation of a monologue from A Midsummer Nights Dream. “Cut the thread and thrum.”
Peter Trump’s delivery of the “Approach ye Furies,” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
For Hamilton Clancy, artistic director of The Drilling Company, the engaging event was another step forward in the company’s mission to make theater more readily available for those who might otherwise not attend such performances.
“What we like to celebrate about Shakespeare, is the universality of Shakespeare. It’s timeless and it’s universal,” said Clancy. “This is the meeting place of the world. This is one of the cornerstones of the biggest city in the whole darn world. So if you’re gonna pick a spot to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, that was a universal position, this would be a darn good one.”
Clancy, who also plays an officer in “Orange is the New Black,” noted that while Shakespeare is imbued in modern culture and consciousness, for many, access to theatrical productions is not always feasible. The Shakespeare in the Park series, Clancy noted, overrun with frenzied crowds and impossibly difficult waiting lines, is more of a deterrent than an enabler for incentivizing the population at large to attend theater in public spaces.
“There’s a fair argument to be made that Shakespeare is more present than ever in our culture,“ said Clancy said. “As a commodity, it’s reaching the audience—but is it still reaching a universal audience?”
The Drilling Company, a rugged and decidedly urban theater company, has been slowly cultivating audiences with its Shakespeare in the Parking Lot series (formerly performed on the Municipal Parking lot on Broome Street), in which plays are enacted on a vacant lot in the Lower East Side, a concept assistant artistic director David Marantz referred to as a “re-purposing of an industrial space for an artistic one,” that is successful in attracting a unique and diverse audience.
“When we come out here and get a 100 people, or when we do our summer Shakespeare and get 200-300 people—it’s very satisfying,” Marantz said. “We’re bringing it to people who don’t generally go to theater much.”
Clancy gives some background to the name and concept of The Drilling Company
The Drilling Company has already been reviewed by the New York Times, and are starting to become a name at Bryant Park. But although they are cultivating a following, maintaining a strong presence in the theater district can often be challenging for small, low-budget companies.
“It’s tough. It’s very difficult ,” said Ethan Lercher, director of the events for Bryant Park. Lercher, who said he thought The Drilling Company would be a good match for the park because of the group’s down-to-earth interpretation of the great classics, also added that the company may need some time to acclimate to the highly trafficked location as they embark on the staging of Two Gentleman from Verona, which will run in mid-May.
“I like companies that take the written word and translate it into something that the public can actually understand, instead of something that is a little more complicated,” he said.
The Drilling Company will be performing “The Two Gentleman of Verona” from May 15-31st and “Romeo and Juliet” from July 14th to August 2nd in Bryant Park.