Shakespeare to Rock’n Roll at No Square Theatre
As the lead singer-guitarist of a popular Laguna Beach rock band, Jason Feddy felt upstaged when he learned his wasn’t the only act hired for a private party. Turns out the host also brought in a master of ceremonies whose shtick is turning William Shakespeare’s monologues into stand-up performance.
John “Jake” Gardiner, the performance poet, actor and teacher who could have become Feddy’s nemesis, held his audience spellbound with monologues from “Hamlet” and other hits from the Bard’s canon. Feddy, who took a single semester of college English and lacked any previous interest in Shakespeare, admits to becoming intrigued as well.
“All of a sudden I thought of the music in Shakespeare, of poems that had been sung and played on lutes and period instruments but whose melodies we could only imagine now,” recalled Feddy during a rehearsal this week. “Perhaps one could set them to music.”
He has done just that and the public can see the results of that chance encounter, a plot twist that the Elizabethan playwright might pen himself.
Subsequent meetings with Gardiner resulted in “Shakespeare’s Fool,” involving Feddy, bass player David J. Carpenter, drummer Bryan Head and Gardiner performing at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 3 and 10 at the No Square Theatre, 384 Legion Street.
While Feddy sets sonnets to somewhat bluesy music, Gardiner recites monologues, stretching and forming Shakespeare’s script to fit modern ears and sensibilities. For example, reminding audiences that human nature has changed nary a bit, he transposes “To Be or Not to Be,” from Hamlet’s castle into the lair of the Godfather and his consigliore.
In an age when anything in the public domain is recast, rewritten, repurposed and refilmed, fools have indeed seized the crown of kings, tweaking work popular with 16th century audiences that still works in modern dress.
“I thought setting Shakespeare to music was wonderful,” said Robert Cohen, a UCI drama professor and local resident, who pointed out that the playwright’s comedies are filled with songs. “We have notations of songs in Shakespeare manuscripts but no one knows what they really sounded like then. Now there seems to be a new musical version of Shakespeare every year.”
Performances of Shakespeare are heard in every modern language, from Czech to Chinese. “I have taught Shakespeare in China, in Russia, in Sweden. Unlike other legendary playwrights such as Sophocles, Molière, or Miller, he has no specialty. He has written everything. He is universal.”
When not on stage, Gardiner, 64, teaches drama, poetry and Shakespeare at UC Irvine’s Gifted Students Academy during summers. He co-led the Laguna Beach Poets Workshop and over the years was cast in roughly 40 Shakespeare productions as characters ranging from Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew” to Macduff in “MacBeth.”
The “Shakespeare’s Fool” ensemble performed during last year’s Sunset Serenade series on Main Beach to acclaim that still surprises Feddy. “The music and lines spoke to people; there’s something there for just about anyone once they really get into it,” he said. “We don’t do fake British accents,” quipped the native of Leeds, England.
Indeed, as one listens to Feddy, 45, intoning “O Mistress Mine,” the “Twelfth Night” poem becomes as accessible as rap. It’s about seduction and none too subtle at that. On the other hand, “Sigh No More, Ladies” from “Much Ado About Nothing” unabashedly tells women that men are louts, a 16th century version of “Stand by Your Man” from a male perspective.
The “Shakespeare’s Fool” program calls for 10 songs and 10 speeches and runs just under two hours. “Shakespeare’s words are hard to read but everyone should come to the show and hear us sing them,” said Feddy, whose rendition of “Queen of Queens” from “Love’s Labours Lost” can be heard on www.shakespearesfool.com
Actress Ava Burton, Feddy’s wife, will give voice to Shakespearean characters Olivia, Desdemona, Kate and others. “We rather keep it shorter and have people ask for more than bore them out of their seats,” said Gardiner.
Meanwhile, Feddy sums up the group’s mission thus: “We are not the first musicians to have a crack at Shakespeare. We’re just the coolest.”
Tickets are $20 and available at www.nosquare.org