Though a considerable number of Shakespeare films were made during the silent era, performing a wordless Shakespeare play has generally been unthinkable since. Shakespeare was a poet. He’s remembered for his use of the English language, his plots taken mostly from other myths. And yet, Prism Movement Theatre is performing Lear at Theatre Three’s downstairs space through November 19. Without words.
Movement theatre incorporates elements of dance and clowning to tell a story completely, in effort to convey genuine emotion often obscured by verbose translations. Historically, Prism has adapted the likes of Persephone and Midas. Though Shakespeare’s play is adapted from a medieval legend, it’s still about two thousand years more recent than anything else in Prism’s wheelhouse, putting them in unfamiliar territory explored by very few before.
“The Greek stories are just known. Shakespeare’s known for his language,” Prism co-founder Katy Tye explains to me.
The writer/choregrapher paused during a workshop session with director and co-founder Jeffrey Colangelo to make a case for taking the words out of the Bard’s mouth.
“When I started doing Shakespeare I realized how physical it was…I think people get lost in the language of Shakespeare but they don’t see the physicality. I think that’s what this season is for us, is us trying to tell those great stories, and show them that yeah, they’re wonderful stories and they don’t need quite the flowery language,” Tye says.
“You research Midas, his entire story can be summed up in a paragraph…I think the challenge with this one is instead of building something new off of a tiny bit, it’s been trying to follow and edit the crazy twists and turns…and how to turn that into one cohesive story without words. There’s so much to pull from now that we’re trying to pear it down into its simplest essence,” Colangelo adds.
Prism shows are usually centered around one visual or structural element. Paper as setting and props in Galatea, 360-degree movement in Animal vs. Machine, and shadow puppetry in Persephone are the most memorable examples. However, given the source material, Lear’s central element becomes the absence of language. Appropriate, given King Lear’s themes of emptiness, absence, and nothingness.
“The central thing that we’re focusing on is utilizing a lot of dance as part of the language,” Colangelo explains.
The Prism cofounders, who also lead Shakespeare at the Bar and too many individual side projects to count, started collaborating in 2013. Their inaugural show, Galatea, debuted the following spring. Like many great partnerships, Colangelo and Tye’s began out of spite.
“We got kicked off the same project, and I said ‘You know what? Let’s make a show together,’” Colangelo tells me.
“It was just a big middle finger to a lot of people,” Tye pipes in,
From that small act of pettiness came nine different wordless productions and 176 total performances since Prism’s founding, depicting a journey into Hell, a mixed martial arts battle royale, the dawn of civilization.
Prism’s Shakespeare experiment will not stop with Lear. Tye and Colangelo hinted at their next project: a take on The Tempest, still in the early stages of development. They hope to perform it at the end of Prism’s season.
“It’s gonna be, I think, sort of a one man show of Prospero with puppets. Unfortunately I think it’ll be kind of depressing,” Tye tells me, even though I can’t remember a happy ending to any of their shows.
“I think Prospero’s kind of going crazy on an island. The thing that made me think of it was Wilson from Castaway, if he was just on an island and he reconstructed all these puppets and he’s playing out how his life fell apart. That’s all we have right now. That should be fun, we’ll see.”
I have been a fan and supporter of Prism Movement Theatre since I somehow stumbled my way into a performance of Galatea in the spring of 2014. Full disclosure: the experience sparked my interest in Dallas theatre and led me to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for their 2016 show Midas.