Don Fried’s award-winning farce about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, Shakespeare, Inc. was premiered by the Coal Creek Community Theater at the Louisville Center for the Arts in Fried’s home state of Colorado this month, and is being performed by the Second Skin Theatre in London until March 21.
Shakespeare, Inc. won first-place in the full-length play category of the 2009 Rocky Mountain Theatre Association Festival Playwriting Competition and was selected as one of the winners of the Paragon Theater’s Trench New Play Development Competition. Time-Out London website said:
Hilarious, controversial and uncannily plausible, Second Skin Theatre break from their tradition of dark and intense theatre at The Rosie and take a wild romp throught Elizabethan England. Prize-winning American author, Don Fried, finally lifts the lid on who really wrote those immortal classics. Shakespeare will never be quite the same again…
The lights come up on what appears to be a scene from an Elizabethan play. When the hero pulls out a squirt gun and soaks the villain, we discover that the actors are taking part in a current day theatrical house-party in Wilton House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Pembroke. The participants are all descendants of William Shakespeare and other authors who are rumored to have had some part in writing Shakespeare’s works — Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Edward de Vere, Mary Sydney and William Stanley. Mary, the owner of the house shows Christopher a manuscript that she has found in her attic, which purports to be a true account of how Shakespeare’s works were written. . . .
SOS-NO: How did you come to write a farce about the Shakespeare authorship question?
First, let me make clear that I’m not a Shakespeare scholar. Or any other kind of scholar, for that matter. I’m a playwright, and as such, I’m always on the lookout for a great plot. That being understood, here’s how Shakespeare Inc. came to be written.
In December, 2007, I received as a present a copy of Bill Bryson’s new biography of William Shakespeare. The last chapter of the book deals with the authorship question, giving arguments for and against the works attributed to the Bard having been written by Shakespeare and only Shakespeare. I found myself unconvinced by the “for” arguments. With each point, I found myself saying, “No, there’s an explanation around that.” And “There’s an explanation for that, too.” Of course, the individual points of my quickly-developed theories didn’t fit particularly well together, and by the time I’d finished that last chapter, I realized that what I’d come up with was the plot of a reasonably complex farce.
“Too good of an opportunity to pass up,” I thought. So off I ran to the University of Colorado library, from which I emerged two months later with 40 pages of notes, a gigantic spreadsheet with names, dates, and events, and a ten-page play outline.
In doing the research and developing the plot for Shakespeare Inc. I had three goals in mind. First, while I have no illusions that what I was going to write would be what actually happened, I wanted it to be historically possible. I wanted Shakespeare scholars to say, “Very clever. Completely ridiculous, but very clever. And it makes a lot of things fit together that never worked before.”
Second, I wanted the play to be full of puns and funny references from Shakespeare’s works that the vast majority of theater-goers would recognize and enjoy. But, third, I also wanted it to be accessible and of interest to people with no background whatsoever in Shakespeare. Just a well-crafted, farcical tale of conspiracy, intrigue, jealousy and murder.
The plot, and the ways in which it mixes history and fantasy, are too complex to include here. But you can read a one-page synopsis of Shakespeare Inc. on my website. And you can email me at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>if you are interested in reading the script.
I completed the play in June, 2008. The script won two U.S. playwriting contests in 2009, and the play was produced in early 2010 in London and Colorado. Several Shakespeare scholars have read the script and seen the performances. So far, the consensus is that the play meets all three of my intended goals. If you decide to read the script, I hope you’ll agree.
SOS-NO: Do you have any plans for future productions of Shakespeare, Inc.?
At the moment, there are no specific plans for more productions of Shakespeare Inc., although I’m speaking with a couple of Shakespeare Festivals in the U.S. and with the company that is producing the current production in London. By the way, the London production one is at the Rosemary Branch in Islington and runs until March 21. The Colorado production runs for another two nights and closes on March 13.
SOS-NO: What else are you working on?
My career has been going amazingly well. I retired in 2006 to be a playwright after living for 30 years throughout Europe (including 19 years in the UK) and working in the Information Technology Industry. I’ve written 6 full-length plays and 6 short ones. So far, all of my plays except for the one I finished last month have been produced or are scheduled for production in the next few months.
Running concurrently with the productions of Shakespeare Inc. in London and Colorado is the world premiere of Postville, which is based on the true story about a group of Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn who come to a struggling small town in Iowa to re-open the shuttered meatpacking plant as a kosher facility. The locals think their problems are over, but a culture clash begins that turns the American melting pot in a pressure cooker that explodes. Literally! The response to that has been wonderful.
Next up are several gigs of Senior Moments, a series of short plays about people living in retirement homes, a production of a short play entitled “Young Mr. Hoover” as part of G-men in G-strings: the J. Edgar Hoover Chronicles, and a public reading of my latest play, Getting Betta, about an anthropomorphic computer program for assisting in the home. There are preliminary plans for a production in London within the next year of my farce, Present Future, which solves the age old problem of what to do with presents from friends and family that you absolutely hate (the presents, not the friends and family). Information about all my plays and productions is always kept up to date on my website Don Fried Writer.com.