Learning How To Tame The Shrew
William Shakespeare has found his way to the Wild West.
Field Cantey, a South Carolina native and very talented comedy writer and performer, plays Tranio. With the show wrapping up this weekend, Cantey took a few minutes out of his very busy schedule to tell us a little about this new take on a classic production.
Tell us a little about this updated adaptation.
Our Taming of the Shrew takes place in the American Wild West (Arizona, specifically, 1870s). The dialect and swagger of that time and place fit this text so well it's unbelievable. That is, unless you're our director who knew it'd work from the start. On top of that, we're challenging ourselves every night to beat our break-neck pace from the prior performance. It's fast and focused, with the priority always placed on the great fun of this show. It's one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies for a reason.
Who are you playing?
I am playing Tranio. He is the servant and best friend of Lucentio, the main suitor of the beautiful Bianca (younger sister to Kate, our Shrew). To help my lovestruck master, I have to impersonate him for most of the play while orchestrating as much confusion and chaos as possible, which is the best. This distracts the other suitors and gives Lucentio the chance to woo his One True Love. This is to free up Petruchio to win over Kate, since the girls' father will only let Bianca marry once Kate has found a husband. Tranio is having a ball toying with the upper class, even though he is frequently in over his head. So basically I'm pulling a Long Con in the name of True Love. What can beat that?
This is a familiar character to many audiences. How does that factor in when you're coming up with your version? Does it make it harder to be original or is it easier to have something to reference?
Having so many interpretations out there actually makes it easier to dive in and work towards something original. I can't say I used many reference points for Tranio, it was more fun to play around and build him through his interactions with these other deliriously enjoyable characters (he deals with most of them throughout the show). The biggest building blocks for me were figuring out his intelligence and self-awareness (or lacks thereof) while making sure they didn't get in the way of his loyalty and devotion to Lucentio. One of the most helpful things, if not the most, has been the guidance of our wonderful director, Christian Casper, who pointed us toward two tonal inspirations for this show: John Wayne and Blazing Saddles. With that license, it became a pure pleasure to flesh out Tranio.
This is your first Charlotte Shakespeare production. How has the experience been overall?
It was intimidating beyond all measure at first. But it's been a while since I've gotten to dig this deeply into a character, much less a character impersonating another character, so I've relished the chance to do that as much as I dreaded my first Shakespearean Memorization Challenge. But the intimidation quickly gave way to one of the best experiences I've ever had. Everyone, from Christian to Charlotte Shakespeare's artistic director Elise Wilkinson to our top-notch crew and this one-of-a-kind cast, has been so collaborative and encouraging. There were tough days a' plenty, but they pale in comparison to what this group of people has come together to accomplish. And before you light the campfire and kick me into it so I can't sing "Kumbaya," the most amazing thing is how all of that positivity and "in this together" attitude ran parallel to the deep professionalism and hard work pouring out of everyone involved. It was the best of both worlds: an environment in which I felt comfortable, but driven to keep pace with all of the talent and sweat that went into every aspect of this show.
What is your favorite part of the show?
Despite the sweat, there really is something — God help me — magical about performing out on The Green. And I don't just mean a crowd that's likely to bring wine. It's galvanized us as a group and connects us to the audience in a singular way. To be intertwined with the crowds (literally at several points) makes it so clear how connective and immersive theater can be. Especially with this show and our 'guns blazing' approach. You plop all of that down in the middle of a vibrant downtown and everyone wins. More than that, even, I love that our Taming of the Shrew involves the care needed to win over Shakespeare aficionados but makes sure every moment is entertaining and as funny as this text deserves. It's been special to see so many different types of people enjoy themselves so much.
Charlotte Shakespeare will return in Aug. 15-25 with MacBeth.
Editor's Note: The author of this piece, performs with Field Cantey and other members of the Charlotte Shakespeare's cast and crew in the Charlotte-based sketch comedy group Robot Johnson.