Taming of the Shrew was the first Shakespeare play I ever read. In seventh grade, Mrs. Medlock decided it was high time that public schooling introduced us to The Bard. I had the “easy” edition which had the verse printed on one side of the page and the “modern” translation on the other side. We read it aloud and I was lucky enough to be cast as Kate during her super insult speech with Petrucchio. Since I didn’t like the boy reading Petrucchio’s part, it made that class especially sweet. All of this made it appropriate that the first show I attended in Toronto as a Theatre and Performance Studies graduate student would be the same early Shakespeare comedy.
The seating at the High Park amphitheater didn’t work out quite like I expected. Although we tried to arrive at the park early, an hour ahead of show time wasn’t enough to snag a flat, comfortable seat. No, my parents and I found ourselves perched precariously on the stage left side of the audience. Only one wrong move and we would go slipping and sliding down the hill toward the bottom of the stage.
By the time the show started we were certainly tired and sniffly from seasonal allergies, but I was immediately engaged and drawn into the Italian world I hadn’t visited in ten years.
I have to warn you: I didn’t have my critic’s hat on like normal. Sure, I wasn’t sure of casting Lucentio as “Lucentia/Cambia” at first. And I must say that although Katherina’s performance was powerful, her voice bothered me the entire time. I saw her lighting a cigarette in the first scene, but her first lines didn’t have any of the huskiness I recognized from my friends and family that smoke(d). Some people might have a problem with the director/production’s decisions to add in Starbucks orders and Twitter hashtag lines for the second servant, Biondello. They might argue that it’s needless pandering, trying to make Shakespeare more relevant for contemporary audiences when his themes are already timeless and compelling.
But as I said, I wasn’t there as a critic for one night. I was there to be entertained. Most importantly, I was there to be reminded that this was why I had waded through the mass of paperwork, harried packing, months of research, gritty applications and decision-making processes. This is why I had battled my anxiety in order to pursue a less-defined career path. Theater. The fight call before the show with the stage manager imperiously observing the comedic flops and slaps of actors in disheveled half costumes. The buzz of the audience pre-show discussing the performance from last summer, the youth production they had seen with niece and nephew in title roles (of course).
I left the park hopeful, babbling about the production, the choices, my own projects and dreams for the type of theatre I will make. My parents still seemed to ache and stumble from the precarious seating, the late night trek back through the subway to beds. But all was well because they wouldn’t be the ones living in this world of theatre, commuting, and Shakespearean verse. It wasn’t easy when they left the next morning, but I knew that finding new theatre geeks to accompany me to the next show would be better for all of us.