Kevin Kline's Shakespeare Sessions

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"Shakespeare Sessions" with Kevin Kline, the acclaimed documentary which first aired on PBS, is coming to DVD.

"Shakespeare Sessions" with Kevin Kline and “the world’s most famous English teacher,” John Barton, from the producers who brought you the acclaimed "Working Shakespeare" series.

Release on November 17

Two founders of the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Barton and Sir Peter Hall, both legendary directors of the classics, traveled to New York City to work with an all-star American cast, including Kevin Kline, David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier"), Cynthia Nixon ("Sex in the City"), Liev Schreiber ("The Omen") and Charles S. Dutton ("Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom") on what has traditionally been viewed as a British protectorate: Shakespeare’s Stage.

“It is very hard today to make an audience listen to and understand Shakespeare,” Barton instructs his celebrated class. Barton proceeds to do just that, adroitly breaking down Shakespeare’s seemingly impenetrable language, analyzing the emotional syntax of each scene (including highlights from "Hamlet," "Henry V," "Othello," "Merchant of Venice" and "Much Ado About Nothing"), and focusing actors on the practical performance clues Shakespeare has embedded in his plays.

"Shakespeare Sessions," a film by Oscar-nominated director Oren Jacoby, reveals a rare behind-the-scenes analysis of how Shakespeare’s plays actually work on stage and on the page. Barton’s hands-on, gloves-off, intellectual approach is an ideal companion to the visceral liberation and vocal experiments of Cicely Berry’s "Working Shakespeare," the Working Arts Library’s first release in July, hosted by Jeremy Irons. Indeed Barton and Berry have been complementing each other’s text and voice work on the same RSC productions for over 30 years.

"Shakespeare Sessions" records these intimate workshops as Barton combines scholarship with stagecraft, drawing out an actor’s own textual speculations in performance, sometimes through a lively examination of a single word. Barton, whose renowned Shakespeare television workshops have made him perhaps the world’s most famous English teacher, inspires his students to a pragmatic state of courage based on knowledge of the text. In his early days, he served as a fight director, and here he thrusts and parries with his students, maneuvering them into a comfortable engagement with Shakespeare’s language. Words are no blunt instruments in Barton’s capable hands, and in this historic revelation of an actor’s process, his students learn to wield words with a new respect for their power.

"Shakespeare Sessions" isn’t an English and Drama department special. Law schools should also take note: The film, which first aired on PBS, features Alan Dershowitz, litigator supreme on the American courtroom scene, who flew in to witness Barton interrogating the text of Merchant of Venice and to take a run at a speech or two himself. It is, after all, the argument behind the language that must engage audience and reader alike.

Dustin Hoffman appears in rehearsal with Peter Hall for their Broadway production of "Merchant of Venice." Other actors in the 60-minute film, produced by Denver Center’s Dirk Olson and Brockman Seawell, include Patrick Stewart, Harriet Walter, Janet Suzman, Lynn Collins, Peter Francis James and Mia Tagano.

The Christian Science Monitor dubbed Berry’s "Working Shakespeare" “a blockbuster, entertaining as well as educational, great fun to watch, with wonderful insights into one of the greatest poets of the English language. Grade: A.” Library Journal awarded the five-part series a “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED” rating, declaring it “awe-inspiring and captivating .... Experience Shakespeare as it was/is intended by transforming mere words into vivid, thought-provoking, emotions.” “This is an exceptional series in a single package -- one that is direly needed," declares Teacher Librarian, “... practical and filled with useful ideas, exercises and methods that achieve results.” “This intensive workshop is an invaluable resource.... Berry’s exercises give teens and teachers a concrete approach to Shakespeare’s works,” concludes Booklist. “A Bard-Tastic collection,” exults Entertainment Weekly, “which gives voice to Shakespeare’s most beloved and widely known speeches and sonnets.” The Chicago Sun-Times invites all to the playhouse: “The series has much to offer any theater-goer who wants a real understanding of the plays.”

You are encouraged to preview "Shakespeare Sessions" and "Working Shakespeare" at Photo stills and video clips are available to illustrate reviews and features. (For media contemplating a review who require a complete DVD sample, please contact Kay Radtke.)

Visitors making a purchase of $150 or more at the Working Arts site shall, for a limited time, receive free the 2-DVD set "Uta Hagen’s Acting Class!"

The Working Arts Library is helmed by Applause Books founder and Publisher Emeritus, Glenn Young.


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