Behind The Shakespearean Jazz Show

The following entry was written by Sheldon Brown, class of 2014.

The cast of The Shakespearean Jazz Show

The cast of The Shakespearean Jazz Show

When I received an email from two Emerson students who were creating and composing The Shakespearean Jazz Show, I was intrigued. Their idea was to set some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and scenes to fresh, live, original jazz music. The creator, inspired by his home of New Orleans and his deep love for Shakespeare, imagined a piece that was not only innovative but that would open a new dialogue within the world of theatre, removing some of the stigma that Shakespeare is antiquated or only for the intellectual. The goal was to make some of the oldest works of theater easily accessible to all audiences.

Collaborating with Berklee College of Music, the cast of The Sheakespearean Jazz show came alive with dancers, singers, puppeteers, and musicians in a 14-member ensemble. We heard the pieces composed by Emerson student and composer Patrick and were blown away – they were robust and hip, and made everyone eager to launch the show. In just over a month, we fleshed out the performance, worked on songs, created dance bits, and brought Shakespeare to life.

We opened the show in Emerson’s Cabaret theater to a jam packed audience. The space was transformed with church pews, trinkets reminiscent of the Jazz Age and Preservation Hall, and music playing on old vinyl records before the performance. To the sounds of horns, drums, and a gospel melody of the piano (or sometimes a bossa nova beat), we performed songs from sonnets, soliloquies, and poetry.

Once the show ended at the Cabaret, we looked for other ways to keep it going. The Shakespearean Jazz Show opened for an ArtsEmerson production of Ameriville, a piece by a wonderful company called Universes. After that, we headed to New Orleans to perform in the Shakespeare Festival hosted by Tulane University. It was such a treat to visit the place that inspired the show! We’re excited to be presenting the Shakespearean Jazz Show in Emerson’s Paramount Center Mainstage theater this Thursday and Friday, and we can’t believe how this amazing Emerson and Berklee collaboration has taken off!

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