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TUG OF WAR: Foreign Fire

In launching a cycle of plays grounded in English history, Shakespeare was able to show his audiences the blood-soaked story of their own becoming, the history of their creation as a nation. (From an American vantage, it would be as though a present-day playwright were to track our history from Jamestown to World War II, focusing most intently on the span stretching from the Revolutionary through the Civil Wars.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater Presents Barbara Gaines' TUG OF WAR This Spring
May 2016

On the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's legacy in 2016, Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) prepares to begin an epic theatrical endeavor-Artistic Director Barbara Gaines' Tug of War, which distills six Shakespeare histories into two action-packed dramas. Adapted and directed by Gaines as the Theater's centerpiece of the yearlong Shakespeare 400 Chicago festival, the Tug of War saga traces the injustice and intrigues of war from the perspectives of both kings and common soldiers through two, six-hour marathon productions--Foreign Fire (Edward III, Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1) in the spring and Civil Strife (Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III) in the fall. Featuring some of Chicago's most celebrated actors, the dynamic ensemble cast of 19 performs over 100 characters throughout the electrifying drama. The musicality of Shakespeare's text is complemented with live music performances ranging from Bach and the blues, to contemporary pop and folk anthems. Songs from P!nk, Pete Townshend and Tim Buckley are accompanied onstage by a band of ensemble members on electric guitar, cello, keyboard, ukulele and percussion. Tug of War: Foreign Fire debuts on the Courtyard Theater stage for a limited run of only 18 performances, May 12-June 12, 2016.

In the spirit of addictive epic sagas, like Scandal and House of Cards, Tug of War encompasses multiple episodes of Shakespeare's stories for a live binge-watching experience. Each six-hour theatrical event is punctuated with several short intermissions and an extended meal break, during which pre-ordered meal and snack options are available.

"Celebrating Shakespeare's legacy, 400 years since his death in 1616, I set out to honor his history plays," said director Barbara Gaines, "to honor the men and women in his plays, in his world and in our world who serve their country. The history of mankind and its relationship to war is, at its core, cyclical-and in that larger picture sits our Tug of War."

A significant distinguishing element of this history cycle is that Gaines chose to begin with Edward III, only recently attributed by scholars in part to Shakespeare. As the father of the York and Lancaster branches, King Edward III's struggle for domination over his arch rival France launches the Hundred Years Wars and the War of the Roses. Tug of War: Foreign Fire continues with Henry V, in which Prince Hal sets aside his wild ways to become a revered king and France's fearsome enemy. The marathon performance concludes with Henry VI, Part I. With the French territories lost again, the naïve Henry VI charges into the fray, taking on a country and its king who have fallen under the spell of Joan of Arc.

The Tug of War acting company takes on over 100 roles ranging from kings to commoners and spanning over a century of British history throughout the action-packed saga. Featuring some of Chicago's most celebrated actors and many Chicago Shakespeare veteran favorites, the ensemble boasts a remarkable 137 previous CST credits among them. The Tug of War: Foreign Fire company includes returning Chicago Shakespeare performers Karen Aldridge, David Darlow, Matt Deitchman (also the production's Music Director),Jed Feder, Neil Friedman, Kevin Gudahl, Heidi Kettenring, Michael Aaron Lindner,James Newcomb, Barbara Robertson, Steven Sutcliffe, Alex Weisman and Larry Yando. Making their Chicago Shakespeare debuts are Shanna Jones, Daniel Kyri,Freddie Stevenson, John Tufts, Tahirah Whittington and Dominque Worsley.

Creating the visual world of Tug of War is Scenic Designer Scott Davis, Costume DesignerSusan Mickey and Lighting Designer Anthony Pearson. Davis has designed over twenty productions at Chicago Shakespeare, including Ride the Cyclone, Pericles and Road Show. The Tug of War set is open with multiple levels of performance space, becoming a playground on which the artists can inhabit a number of diverse settings. Mickey's costume designs have been seen recently at CST in Sense and Sensibility, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cyrano de Bergerac and The School for Lies, for which she won the Jeff Award. Lighting Designer Anthony Pearson makes his Chicago Shakespeare debut; his work has previously been seen on Broadway in Tuck Everlasting, On Your Feet, An American in Paris, Pippin and Kinky Boots (Associate Designer). Seven-time Jeff Award-winner Lindsay Jones serves as the production's Sound Designer and also creates Original Music and Musical Arrangements for the piece, working within the wide range of musical styles and performance central to Gaines' vision. Chicago Shakespeare's resident Jeff Award-winning Wig and Make-up Designer Melissa Veal returns after designing over 95 CST productions. Tug of War: Foreign Fire boasts a notable line-up of over fifty wigs and hair pieces-many of which have been built especially for the production.

Rounding out the creative team is Music Director Matt Deitchman, Assistant Director Geoff Button, Fight Choreographer Matt Hawkins, Movement Director Harrison McEldowney, Dialect Coach Eve Breneman and Verse Coach Larry Yando. Scholar Stuart Sherman, Professor of English at Fordham University and currently Bain-Swiggett Visiting Professor of Poetry at Princeton, serves as the Scholar-in-Residence for the project.

TUG OF WAR: Foreign Fire
adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
May/June 2016

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These histories have been living inside me for a very, very long time.

Tug of War serves as a metaphor of war, of all our wars. Of Troy, Saigon, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Somme, Kabul. Of foreign wars and civil wars, Tug of War is, for me, the history of civilization. It's chilling to watch as history repeats itself, the repetition of themes, of human behavior, of selfish mistakes.

Shakespeare weaves a counterpoint between the voices of commoners and royals. In the tension between the common soldiers who often speak in prose, and the royals who speak in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare composes an opera. I imagined Tug of War as a musical history cycle, a tapestry between the music and the language, between the actors and the musicians. In their simplicity and humanity, the songs you will hear are written and performed to touch us, to rally us towards a cause, to comfort us.

Tug of War' first day this spring, Foreign Fire, is suffused with ghosts. The ghosts of the dead echo moments of their lives and together become a convocation among the living, because war is always haunted in this way. In the fall, Tug of War: Civil Strife is suffused in blood. The annihilation of Britain's proud conquest of France starts the quarrel between cousins and tips the scale into civil war. Foreign war becomes civil war.

In these histories, family and nation are irrevocably interwined: what happens to one happens to the other. There's no way ever to separate them. They're all cousins-even the French are cousins to these English. They all have fundamentally the same last name, Plantagenet. And they hate and cherish each other for reasons that have an enormous amount to do with the personal. The personal is political, the political is personal. Jockeying for power is what happens at every family dinner table-except that the power struggles at the dinner tables of these dysfunctional families can tear apart entire nations in their wake.

We will see that parabola of war and peace, of why wars begin and begin again. And again. We will see the fall towards war, the collapse of moral integrity into war, and the striving for peace, again and again and again. And one will wonder, Why don't we learn from our history?

Theater is inherently a rebellious art form. Shakespeare wrote histories because he lived in dangerous times, and so he placed these war plays safely back in time. Shakespeare hid in his histories with "Once upon a time, a long time ago..."--and he got away with it. If Shakespeare were writing now, politicians would despise him. He wielded the weapons of language. Language was his weapon. Theater renders visual what Shakespeare gave us in his words. Creativity is the enemy of force; art, I hope, is in the end the strongest force of all.

Barbara Gaines
Artistic Director
Carl and Marilynn Thoma Endowed Chair

Excerpt from TUG OF WAR: Foreign Fire program essay by Stuart Sherman, who served as Scholar-in-Residence on Tug of War.
Sherman is a Professor of English at Fordham University and is the author of Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries, and English Diurnal Form, 1660-1785

The plays record a more local cluster of tugs also, exerted on and in and by the playwright who crafted them. No one can say for certain what impulses and circumstances pulled William Shakespeare, somewhere in his middle twenties, into the vortex of the London theater. It's a little easier to guess what prompted him at the very start of his career to embark on a series of plays about English history. A few years earlier, Christopher Marlowe had scored the theater's most formidable hit with his two-part Tamburlaine, a pair of epic plays portraying the Muslim emperor Timur the Lame, whose rise and fall transpire within an ever-expanding slaughterhouse where death attains perpetual dominion.

In launching a cycle of plays grounded in English history, Shakespeare was making an audacious bid to outgo his mighty predecessor. The tactic allowed him to write closer to home, and closer in time; it enabled him to show his audiences the blood-soaked story of their own becoming, the history of their creation as a nation. (From an American vantage, it would be as though a present-day playwright were to track our history from Jamestown to World War II, focusing most intently on the span stretching from the Revolutionary through the Civil Wars; Francis Ford Coppola and Tony Kushner have each claimed Shakespeare as precedent for their own history cycles, The Godfather and Angels in America.)  

In the end, Shakespeare out-cycled Marlowe fivefold; he wrote or collaborated on eleven plays named for English kings. (Marlowe soon enough paid him the compliment of imitation, in a play called Edward II.) And because he continued to write them (not always in chronological order) from the beginning through the end of his two decades in theater, they came to constitute his most capacious laboratory, the place where he first discovered and most persistently developed his own art.