Optimist Theatre’s Sonnet Slam
When I was eight years old, my mother took me to a garage sale. In and of itself, the occurrence was commonplace; back then, we rummaged with religious fervor at least three times a week. On one fateful Sunday, I walked away with a priceless treasure that forever changed my understanding of literature: a hardbound copy of the complete works of Shakespeare.
The book cost a mere 25 cents, but it was a wise investment on my mother’s part. It became a constant companion through the heat of that summer, and remained dear well into my high school years.
The plays were too dense for my eight-year-old mind, so I was left with the sonnets. These compact verses were the literary sticks of dynamite with which Shakey—my loving nickname for the Bard—taught me the rules of engagement for love, betrayal, and tradition. Shakespeare became a gateway drug to philosophy, poetry, and complicated prose.
Imagine my surprise when I heard about Optimist Theatre’s Sound and Fury Sonnet Slam.
The slam, held last night at Transfer, was a fundraiser for the upcoming third season of Shakespeare in the Park, a free program that exposes people of all ages to the works of Shakespeare with a full cast of local professional actors. This year’s production of Macbeth will run two or three weeks, depending on the funds the company is able to raise.
For the uninitiated, a sonnet is a structured 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter, comprised of alternately rhyming couplets (visually, that’s ABAB / CDCD / EFEF / GG). According to one of the company members, a good sonnet also has a shift in the third quatrain. According to me, sonnets performed by Optimist Theatre and their supporters will likely change your mind about sonnets and Shakespeare in general for that matter.
Transfer’s intimate space beautifully showcased the air of lavish eccentricity produced when actors and writers come together. The slam was comprised of three sets of poetry, five to six slots in each. Only three would be pre-cast, while the other spaces were left to be filled by the audience. To facilitate the process for those who had not come prepared, Optimist Theatre provided us with “Mad (Lib) About You, aka DIY Sonnet.” Only the owner of Transfer, Russell Rossetto, took them up on this opportunity.
Respectable men bellowed of triumphs in love and loss, witty women took the stage with hilarious stabs at conventional sonnets. The f-bomb was hurled about with great dignity, as profanity is a natural part of the real Shakespearean experience. Many read their favorites while others opted to present their own works. There was no shortage of provocative sexuality disguised in metaphor—we blushed at the mention of roses or any seemingly harmless word necklace; many chuckled knowingly.
But of all the sonnets presented, one stuck with me. Surprisingly, it was not about sex or God, but about the struggle of the stutterer. Sonnets are classically synonymous with sex, spirituality and the mixture of the sacred and profane, but adding an element of everyday pain gives current context to this ancient form, and paints a swell picture of the importance of community access to theatre, too.
If you missed the Sonnet Slam, there’s still time to support local Shakespearean theater. Take your friends and family to see Optimist Theatre’s outdoor performance of Macbeth at Alverno College on June 24th. The company will also perform the play during this year’s Shakespeare in the Park. For more info, visit http://www.optimisttheatre.org/
TCD Social Media Specialist Lucky Tomaszek was there to live-tweet the #transferslam. Below is a Storify-ed account of the night. Follow ThirdCoast Digest on Twitter at @TCDigest.
[<a href=”http://storify.com/tcdigest/the-optimist-theatre-sonnet-slam-at-transfer-pizze” target=”_blank”>View the story “The Optimist Theatre Sonnet Slam at Transfer Pizzeria” on Storify</a>]