As the 400th anniversary of the death of history’s greatest playwright nears, so begin the articles from every cultural nook and cranny holding themselves up to the light of his Elizabethan-made-ageless genius for comparison and tenuous relevancy. Here be one such musing on said muse.
All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women are merely players
As the pre-eminent master of the all absorbing tale and immersive storytelling, the communications industry has much to learn from Mister William Shakespeare.
Despite the cross-dressing anachronisms and the what-say-he language, Shakespeare’s relevancy remains anchored in the conserving of his folios as time capsules of culturally populist storytelling. Times change. The world moves on and the cross dressing has reversed.
The consumption of Shakespeare’s oeuvre has likewise changed with the times, as has the audience that consumes it. Yes, no inmate of British secondary education escapes without a mandatory giggle at Titania’s Bottom, but in reality The Bard has become the preserve of a self-appointed elite. Reduced to intellectualist braying and catapulted up the great class elevator as surely and conversely as Drake’s discovery of the potato has led inexorably to the chip.
Alas, this high-culture hijacking misses and abuses Shakespeare’s key originality and skill: knowing his audience and how to push their buttons with experience-led storytelling. Shakepeare and company built their legacy in an Elizabethan Southwark full of the great unwashed who didn’t know their iambic pentameter from their elbow.
London’s gentrification pandemic
Among the drinking, gambling, and whorehouses (most plot-inspiringly owned by the Bishop of Winchester) the torn-down timbers of an earlier theatre in Shoreditch were re-erected as the independent Globe; inadvertently spawning patient zero of London’s gentrification pandemic.
We can only make our stories memorable if we help our audiences experience them
The Globe was entertainment for the masses. For London’s uncouth who spent came to sneer at Emperors and behead Kings while eating, drinking, heckling, and doing as they please. Understanding that successful storytelling connects and involves the audience in the narrative, Shakespeare wrote plays to be performed with every interactive and immersive trick he could muster.
Falstaff’s acerbic asides and Puck’s canoodling commentary invited the audience to be as much a part of the production as the actors. And they loved it (just as we devour Frank Underwood’s defamatory fourth-wall breaking today).
Shakespeare saw beyond the stage to transform performance into experience by making each story unfold in the hearts and minds of the audience. The actors onstage being merely the conduit to connect his (often subversive) commentary with the masses through the medium of shared experience. He was the original immersive storyteller.
Back to our industry where some proponents express much distaste at the notion of us advertisers calling themselves storytellers.
In essence, I would agree. Taking The Bard’s lead we should not limit ourselves to being mere storytellers. Like him, we can only make our stories memorable if we help our audiences experience them.
All the world’s a stage
As people search for authentic, tangible, involving experiences, we’d do well to remember "all the world’s a stage. And all the men and women are merely players". We – like Shakespeare – must allow them to be part of the story. To play their part in its making. To connect with its meaning.
That’s immersive storytelling. That’s entertainment. That’s a memorable experience.
Thanks Will, happy birthday, we salute you.