But Philadelphia audiences are still buzzing about his performance of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece. PAC’s production received some of the most outstanding reviews of the 2014 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and was voted by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Toby Zinman as the best performance. The poem is based on the Roman tale of Lucretia (around 508 BCE), a figure most historians believe existed. Lucretia’s rape led to the overthrow of the Roman monarchy and has inspired many writers and artists over the centuries.
Henrik Eger talked to Hodge about his acclaimed production, which he will take on the road, starting with the Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY, November 7-9, 2014; philartistscollective.org, bridgest.org.
Henrik Eger: Many people today have trouble with Elizabethan English.
Dan Hodge: There is a common misunderstanding that leads the average person to believe that Shakespeare is confusing or impossible to understand, and I find this very unfortunate. The works can be and should be challenging, yes, but with a little effort, they yield immense dividends.
A solid chunk of Shakespeare’s writing can be like a multi-course meal. The layers of meaning keep unfolding and one can see how a simple literary allusion can give rise to an immense and complex set of emotional and intellectual possibilities.
The more one speaks the language, the more one learns about how he was trying to communicate. Often, the sound of a word, or a particular grouping of words, can give you an immediate window into the human element.
HE: How did your preparations influence your performance?
DH: Whenever I work on a speech within a classical play, I ask myself the question, why is this a speech? What is the thing you need from the listener that you are not getting? Lucrece covers the details of the event itself pretty succinctly but goes on for several more stanzas trying to justify herself in this circumstance.
Suddenly, I saw her as someone who had survived this horrible event standing in a room of men who were not immediately convinced. In that moment, there was a crystallization of victim-blaming, and it was horrifying
DH: While The Rape of Lucrece was not necessarily written to be spoken publicly, the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s meticulous aural construction are readily evident. The trick is taking something that would likely intimidate the average person sitting in a theatre and guide them through it in a way that is clear and engaging. Teach an audience how to hear what you want to say, and often they will come for the ride.
HE: Unfortunately, sexual violence occurs around the world on a daily basis throughout history—not only during wars. Your performance was very physical and showed us both the act of rape and the victim’s experience. How did you prepare for these wide-ranging actions?
DH: I knew I wanted the act itself to take place in darkness, as suggested by the poem. The question was how to impress upon an audience how violent and desperate the physicality leading up to [the rape] was to serve as the proper springboard for the audience’s imagination.
HE: Your performance was so intense that you perspired profusely.
DH: It certainly wasn’t helped by the heat wave we got on our opening weekend! It’s been remarkably pleasant all summer, and then we get 90 degree temperatures for the first few performances in a space devoid of air conditioning. That was a real bummer.
But I find there are certain parts of this piece that always get my heat up. Once Tarquin enters Lucrece’s bedchamber, I could perform in a meat locker and still work up a sweat. Sweat is also very human. It ended up becoming part of the construction of the evening. At the beginning of the performance, I am very put together—but by the end, I am rumpled and drenched in sweat with my wild hair. In this way, you not only see the toll that the events take within the story, but the cost of being the one who tells it.
HE: As recently as this month, Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia student, was sexually assaulted in her dorm room. Partially in protest of the university’s dismissal of her case, and partially as performance art, she carries a mattress around campus at all times. This is part of her senior thesis, titled Carry the Weight. I was disturbed by this scenario and devastated by Tarquin’s verdict “the fault is thine”—an ancient form of victim-blaming. How do you connect to this student and her piece?
I recently read that there were a number of other students who have joined this young woman [to help her] carry the mattress in a show of solidarity. While it cheers me to know that she is not wholly alone, I wonder what weight it carries with the administration and whether it will give rise to substantial action.
I thought about this particular news story every night when I reached the end of the play. What should the punishment be? That is the question I try to leave the audience with at the end of each performance.
HE: The overview of the PAC mission states, “We do not go to a Shakespeare play to learn about Shakespeare. We go to learn about ourselves.” The same applies to The Rape of Lucrece. I left the theatre thrilled by your performance, but also deep in thought about the darker side of man. Thank you, Dan Hodge.