What was the first Shakespeare you ever saw? - A thread in celebration of World Theatre Day!

This Saturday, March 27th of 2010 in World Theatre Day, (the link is for a message from Dame Judy Dench) as promoted by the International Theatre Institute. As I’ve thinking about how to celebrate the role that theatre has played in my life, I wanted to ask Dopers about their relationship with theatre.

What better place to start than with Shakespeare? What was the first play of Shakespeare’s that you ever saw, and how did it affect you? ( Or, barring that, what was the first piece of theatre you ever saw? Or, what was the most recent piece of theatre you saw? Yes, it’s three questions for the price of one!)

The first Shakespeare I ever saw was a production of ‘Measure for Measure’ at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1977, when I was in Grade 11. It completely blew my mind - until then, I had accepted the point of view that Shakespeare was stuffy and irrelevant, a point of view reinforced by the fact that narrow minded, small-town Rotarian and Presbyterian grownups approved of it.

To see a play in which the puritanical governor is the bad guy, and the denizens of the whorehouse are the good guys totally floored me. The idea that someone almost 400 years earlier had understood that kind of hypocrisy and mocked it, that he had made the rowdies the heroes and best of all, that the stuffy people that surrounded me in real life didn’t seem to get that message was life-altering. On the two-hour bus ride home that night, it was all that my friends and I could talk about. I was hooked…

What about you, O fellow Dopers? Do tell…

Probably Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton. My mom was a big fan of Elizabeth Taylor. Saw the movie at home with my parents.

I saw Romeo/Juliet in junior high lit class. Teacher setup a projector. I saw Merchant of Venice in class too.

I probably first saw Hamlet With Laurence Olivier on a late night cable channel in high school.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at some theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (I’m pretty sure) circa 1983ish.

I had read a little bit of Shakespeare before this, but to see it performed (by the Royal Shakespeare Company) was magical, overwhelming, breathtaking and left me a little sad that the best I could see at home at that time was some college troup doing some godawfulboringdreck by Pinter.

If I close my eyes I can still put myself back into that theatre. Wonderful!

The Merry Wives of Windsor - Stratford-upon-Avon, 1968-ish. I had seen Peter Hall’s film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that year as well.

Those are the first professional version I saw, I think. I had read some of the plays prior to that, and even acted in scenes from some in school. But Stratford was my first exposure to Live Shakespeare!

Cleveland Play House, back in the early 60s. I think it was Romeo and Juliet. I remember being surprised that I could understand (roughly) the dialog.

In Ontario, where I went to high school, we took Shakespeare every year:

Grade 9: Merchant of Venice
Grade 10: Twelfth Night
Grade 11: Romeo and Juliet
Grade 12: Macbeth
Grade 13: King Lear

In Grades 9 and 10, I lived in a really small town, so we didn’t get to see the movie for either. By Grade 11, we moved to a much bigger area where the local theatre manager was only too willing to order in a Shakespeare movie, so it was Romeo and Juliet, and it was the Zefferelli version(!). The following year, for Macbeth, it was the Roman Polanski version. For Grade 13, there was a trip to go to Stratford, Ontario to see King Lear, but I couldn’t be bothered…

One of my high school English teachers had our class go see “Much Ado About Nothing” at some theater in Connecticut. It was a disaster. There were a number of classes from differnet schools and apparently some of them did not appreciate having to go there. They were jeering and mocking the actors every chance they got. The actors were throwing up their hands in disbelief.

The funny thing was one of the chaperons was our science teacher. Someone told me that the body of water nearby was a braided stream which we just got done studying. So I brown nosed him by asking “Is that a braided stream?” He said yes and talked a few minutes about it. The next day he gave a quiz and one question was “What did you see on your trip yesterday?” A number of students had no idea what he was asking for and were as pissed as the actors.

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade we got to see a production of Twelfth Night. A modern-English narrator came up front to discuss the scenes in advance with us, sort of like watching a movie trailer, giving us tips on what to watch for and what we’d bee seeing.

I remember I was expecting stiff and stilted and pompous and it really rocked my world to discover that Shakespeare was funny as hell and fast-moving.

I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet actually in the Globe Theatre. Okay, obviously it wasn’t the Globe Theatre, as that burned down in 1613, but it was in “Shakespeare’s Globe”, the recreation just 750 feet away from the original.

It was pretty amazing… fire-eaters, stilt-walkers, the balcony was a Volvo for God’s sake. Like, if Juliet was on the balcony, she was actually standing on the roof of the car, and Romeo was below her. Oh, and did I mention it was in Portuguese? Didn’t understand a single word but of course we knew what was happening. Oh, and the best part? We were groundlings. :slight_smile:

I think it was a production of King Lear when I was in third form.

In year 7 (age 12) at a boarding a long way from home, in the first couple of weeks of term we were taken to “see a show”. We didn’t learn it was “The Tempest” until we got there. Most didn’t know what it was after we left. Absolute waste. Like psychedelia without the drugs

We studied one history and one comedy every year from 9 on. I enjoyed them, I keep his Collected Works above my desk now and use it as reference regularly. But we never studied The Tempest. I’ve never read the script, and doubt I ever will.

On a school field trip to see “The Taming of the Shrew”. I was 10 or 11, and like others posting here it was an eye-opener that hooked me right into Shakespeare.

Although we had studied “romeo & Juliet” the previous year and saw Zefferelli’s film, in my junior year we studied “The Taming of the Shrew” and then were taken to see ACT’s version (around 1975?) with Marc Singer as Petruchio. OMG. Still the version for me.

*Julius Caesar *at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego when I was 13.

Othello, my freshmen year of high school at a local theater in St. Louis.

In elementary school, maybe fifth grade, we took a field trip to a local college and they did a few scenes from Romeo and Juliet. I know they did the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt because I remember the swordfighting and how much actors spat when yelling their lines. Most of the class found that kind of funny. I also remember the director came up with the idea of having characters who were killed hang around the stage. Whenever someone was killed, a character who had died earlier in the play would help them up and walk them offstage. (So for example, Mercutio was still somewhere around the stage when Romeo killed Tybalt, and when Tybalt was dead, Mercutio was there to escort him into the wings or the afterlife or whatever. At the time I wasn’t sure why they did this, and in hindsight it seems stupid.

So I think that’s the first time I saw any Shakespeare in a theater. I might have watched Orson Welles’ Othello movie by then, and it was probably around the same time.

“The Tempest”, at my elementary school. They put on either “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “The Tempest” each year. I left that school before I was old enough to be in the plays, but I saw both quite early.

We read Shakespeare in high school, and listened to records of the plays, but I think the first play I actually saw (other than Kiss Me Kate) was a version of Hamlet at Hofstra University around 1969. Hofstra has a replica of the Globe Theater, and the production was fascinating (“To Be or Not to Be” was performed as a comic monologue – which worked perfectly).

The first one I remember was Kenneth Branaugh’s Much Ado movie. I was in Julius Caesar before I saw Shakespeare as part of a theater audience - The Winter’s Tale at the 1996 Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

*MacBeth, *at the University of Tampa when I was in high school, around 1975. We read it in English class and the teacher took a few of us to see it with her.