Notorious B.A.R.D. | Theater | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) story began with a benefit production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison in 1987 organized by local actors Melissa Stern and Terrence O’Brien. After two shows in the rain, the play had to be relocated to an elementary school gym. Over two decades later, HVSF is known for its creative, spot-on direction and breathtaking Hudson Highland views at the historic Boscobel estate on the Hudson River, the backdrop for its earthen stage beneath a giant, arching tent. The festival now features multiple productions each season, the “In Process” reading series, and extensive educational outreach.

The 2010 season includes three shows in repertory through September 5. “Troilus and Cressida” is a Trojan War drama; “The Taming of the Shrew” is a suitor’s comedic attempts to win a less-than-willing bride; and “Bomb-itty of Errors” is a rap version of “Comedy of Errors,” the story of the hilarious, accidental reunions of two sets of twins who were separated at birth. Instead of river valley and sunset views, “Bomb-itty”’s background is graffiti art and colored lights. In a crow’s nest above the audience a DJ spins the hip hop soundtrack. I spoke with “Bomb-itty’s” director Christopher Edwards about the irreverent show. For the full schedule and ticket prices:

How did you have the actors prepare for "Bomb-itty"?
We did a lot of early work with freestyling, just getting used to the idea of finding what the rhyme is and dropping in on the rhyme. We did freestyle circles and switching up the music a lot so that they were able to count music instead of just being able to respond to a particular song. So it didn’t matter how fast  or how slow the beat was—they were able to go, "Okay, these are the four bars and I’ve got to get this language into these four bars."

When I saw the show, people actually left in the middle of the action.
Fortunately or unfortunately, when you do comedy, there’s always going to be someone who is offended. The great thing about the show is that no one is safe. We treat all the characters with the same sort of energy. We’re irreverent to everyone.

I think it’s the same with Shakespeare. If you do a Shakespeare play straight, people tend to think, “Oh, well, that’s the way that it was supposed to be done.” And there’s people who think, “If you don’t make it relevant why do we need to watch it?” And then there’s people who say, “How dare you put a Shakespeare play in the sixties?” So, this isn’t really anything new, it’s just that this is a contemporary, palpable thing. Hip-hop is of our generation. So I think it’s easier for people to say, “I reject that.”

Is it different because it’s hip hop and not Shakespeare set in the ‘60s?
I think it is because of the media’s portrayal of hip-hop and the commercialization of hip hop and what things are popular in hip-hop. The things that get popped out are misogyny, foul language, sexual content and exploitation, drug use, generational rebellion. And those are pretty much some of the same things that were happening when rock and roll was a big movement. The negatives come to the forefront.

A lot of people don’t see the positive. You’ve got people playing with language, creating language. You’ve got people being exposed to an art form, whether that be singing or dancing or graffiti art. You’ve got people who find a way to express themselves for the first time.

Have you seen more young people in the audience at “Bomb-itty” compared to other HVSF shows?
Definitely. For our theater we think, “How are we going to develop new audiences over the years?” Let’s face it, there is a tendency for audiences to be older, a particular economic demographic. This is an exposure to Shakespeare’s plot using intricate language. If they can get through this and realize, well, rap and Shakespeare are really not that far apart, then maybe they’ll come to see “Troilus and Cressida” or “Taming of the Shrew.”

One of the things I really like, too, is when I see older people come in and for the first 15 minutes of the show they’re like, should I leave? Then at the end of the show I see 60-, 70-, 80-year-old people with their hands in the air with smiles on their face. The hip hop is just a minor part of what the play is in a way. They can get to the language, they can get to the fun, they can get to the characters, they can get to the comedy of it. That’s amazing to me—to see old people and young people enjoying the exact same thing and having the exact same responses. I wish there was more stuff like that just generally in the world that allowed people to see the audience as a community, that we’re more alike than we are unalike.

Notorious B.A.R.D.
William Marsh
Michael Borrelli and Christian Jacobs star in Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's production of "Bombitty of Errors" through Labor Day at Boscobel in Garrison.

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