About our Canon Completion Project

In March 2011, when our repertory performances of The Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III open, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company will have produced the entire Shakespearean canon over its 25-year history.

While planning our 2010-2011 season last year, our Artistic Director Jeff Watkins realized that our company only had a few Shakespeare plays left to perform for the first time. And as he puts it, “At that point we had a choice to make: should we continue working our way toward completing the canon slowly, performing one rare work each year for the next four years, or should we do it all in one season and make a celebration out of it?” We ultimately decided to go for the gold with this season’s ‘Canon Completion Project.’ A September run of Henry VIII marks the kickoff for the remaining, rarely-produced plays to be produced this season, which we like to call the ‘Shakespeare Final Four:’ Henry VIII, Timon of Athens, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III.

With its Canon Completion Project the Atlanta Shakespeare Company joins ranks with a few larger American companies, including Colorado Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who take pride in having performed the entire Shakespearean canon. We will become the first theatre company in America, however, to complete a 39-play version of the Shakespeare Canon which includes a full-scale professional production of Edward III rather than a staged reading. We will furthermore be the first company in the world (next to Shakespeare’s own company, of course) to produce the canon solely with an ‘original practices’-informed staging aesthetic inspired by Elizabethan and Jacobean staging techniques.

In fact, our ‘original practices’ style of production is what assured Jeff that the Canon Completion Project was an appropriate choice for our the company and our audience. When watching or producing the more obscure Shakespeare plays like Henry VIII or Timon of Athens, he feels, “it’s helpful to delve into the early modern mindset to better understand what Shakespeare was going for. Plays like Henry VIII don’t lend themselves as readily to different settings or experimental concepts as plays that modern audiences are probably more familiar with, like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.” When combined with our interactive delivery of Shakespeare’s poetry, we hope that the productions’ visual clues situating the plays within their early modern context, such as period costumes, will help to clarify the language and story for many audience members experiencing these rare plays for the first time.

As a company, we strongly believe that an audience exists for these ‘Final Four’ plays. When an anonymous donor put forth $50,000 in matching funds toward completing the canon this past June, our audience members contributed the remaining $50,000 in under a month! The challenge grant coincided with a June production of Coriolanus, another first for the company and its patrons. Fresh from their recent introduction to a more obscure Shakespeare play, our audience showed support for the chance to see more ‘new’ Shakespeare by contributing to the challenge grant. Many audience members thanked Jeff personally for scheduling titles like Coriolanus and marvelled at how much they had enjoyed and understood the play.

The upcoming Canon Completion Project is not solely a rare opportunity for our audience--Jeff believes that the project holds a great deal of artistic significance for the actors in our long-term ensemble as well. In the midst of yearly popular titles like our annual Februrary Romeo and Juliet production, our actors - many of whom have performing with us for 15 years or more - relish a chance at more unusual projects. Such a major accomplishment as completing the Shakespearean canon solidifies our sense of ensemble as a company and provides artistic validation. In many cases, performing all of Shakespeare’s work is a personal goal as well as a company-wide one: some members of the ensemble have specifically requested that Watkins cast them in the last four plays.

The decision to produce Edward III, an early play only recently attributed to Shakespeare, came to Watkins after another ambitious project: in 2008 we produced all three parts of Henry VI over the course of one month, using one ensemble cast. Coming to the play with a perspective freshly informed from working on the Henry VIs plays, he says, “I read Edward III and thought, ‘Shakespeare wrote this.’ There was no doubt in my mind. It was young, brash and energetic, and felt very like the Henry VIs.” We’re confident that our audiences, who have always responded positively to the company’s history productions, will find Edward III equally action-packed and entertaining. They’ll also be among the first modern audiences to see this play performed live on stage!

See what ArtsCriticATL.com writer Louis Mayeux has to say about our Canon Completion Project here.

Completion of the Canon is made possible by the special generosity of ASC’s Board of Directors

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