IF presents Shakespeare’s *Antony and Cleopatra*, April 24

On Monday, April 24th at 7:30pm at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center, Improbable Fictions will present Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Pre-show music begins at 7:10pm. As always, IF events are free and open to the public.

The Facebook Event


(The IF event will not star Sara Bernhardt as Cleopatra. Apologies.)

Antony and Cleopatra program 2, 2017

IF in March

We’ve got two staged readings this month: Machiavelli’s Mandrake on March 10th, directed by Jacob Crawford, and Aristophanes’ Women at the Assembly on March 25th, directed by Prof. Steve Burch of UA’s Dept. of Theatre and Dance and held in conjunction with the Dept. of Modern Languages & Classics conference “Women, Democracy, and the Ideology of Exclusion.” Both shows will take place at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (620 Greensboro Ave). Stay tuned to our Facebook page for details! And don’t forget Strode’s next Shakespeare in Film offering on March 23rd, Trevor Nunn’s 1996 Twelfth Night.

Mandrake poster copy.png

Women of the Assembly copy


Fall Shakes Events, 2014

There’s an abundance of Shakespeare in Tuscaloosa this fall! Here are some of the offerings.



This fall, Improbable Fictions will be hosting a series of one-hour workshops on Shakespeare in performance. Our first event will be this coming Thursday, September 11th at 7:30, when Mark Hughes Cobb will lead a workshop entitled “Rude Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing and Outdoor Performance.” Mark will discuss the history of the Rude Mechanicals, a Tuscaloosa Shakespeare troupe, and will break down key skills actors and directors use when preparing Shakespeare’s plays for a contemporary outdoor setting. Audience participation will be encouraged.

Later workshops include: September 25th: An Introduction to Shakespearean Acting, led by Prof. Seth Panitch; October 16th: First Folio Techniques, led by Nic Barilar; and October 23rd: Speak the Speech, led by Prof. Steve Burch.

All workshops will be held downtown at the Paul R. Jones Art Gallery, 2308 6th Street, Tuscaloosa at 7:30pm each evening. These events are free and open to the public, and are sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama.


Shakespeare Film Posters jpg

This year the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies begins a Shakespeare on Film series at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. All films are free and open to the public. We’ve scheduled a range of films, some you’ve no doubt seen and loved, others you’ve not. We offer a teen Taming in Ten Things About You, which stars Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and we offer an African American Taming in Deliver Us From Eva! We offer the unnerving noir of The Bad Sleep Well, in which a young Japanese executive tracks down his father’s killer; we balance that Hamlet with To Be or Not to Be, a serious comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, shot during World War II. We offer song and dance in West Side Story and Love’s Labor’s Lost. We offer Robby the Robot and film’s first $1,000,000 budget in Forbidden Planet. Inspiration is offered for a lot less; in Shakespeare Behind Bars, one can appreciate the efforts of theater professionals working with inmates as they try to change their lives. Please enjoy for the first time or again! 

Here is the line-up:

* September 15, 2014: Strode Film SeriesTen Things I Hate About You
* October 13, 2014: Strode Film Series – Shakespeare Behind Bars
* November 4, 2014: Strode Film Series – The Bad Sleep Well
* December 16, 2014: Strode Film Series – To Be Or Not to Be
* January 19, 2015: Strode Film Series – West Side Story
* February 16, 2015: Strode Film Series – Deliver Us From Eva
* March 11, 2015: Strode Film Series – Forbidden Planet
* April 27, 2015: Strode Film Series – Love’s Labour’s Lost

All films start at 7:30pm, and are free and open to the public.

Staged Readings:

Improbable Fictions will present two staged readings this semester: Richard III on Wed, Oct 1st, directed by Nic Helms, and As You Like It on Thurs. Dec 4th, directed by Deborah Parker.  Both staged readings will be held in the Dinah Washington black box theatre at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center. Shows start at 7:30pm, with pre-show music at 7:00pm. Free and open to the public.

On Stage:

The University of Alabama’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted and directed by Seth Panitch, from November 18-23. The play is set in 1920s New Orleans, and will involve elements of jazz and voodoo. Tickets can be purchased online or at UATD’s box office on campus.

Spring 2014 in Review: Comedy of Errors, audio and text

The spring semester is winding down, and it’s time for me to recap IF’s recent work. February’s reading of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Deborah Parker, was a complete success: great performances, great adaptation, great audience. February’s snowpocalypse and subsequent school cancelations forced us to move the show back by two weeks, however, and also forced us to push back the performance date for Steve Burch’s A Tiger’s Heart, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy. IF ran several cold read workshops to assist with the adaptation process, but there just wasn’t enough time in this snow-laden semester to bring the material to a satisfying performance. We decided to postpone A Tiger’s Heart to a future semester, TBA. Blame the snow!


Many of IF’s regular readers are graduating this semester. Congrats especially to Joey Gamble, Adella Smith, and Amber Smith, who have worked with IF for the past four years. Needless to say, these seniors were swamped this April, so we tried a new format for our staged reading of Comedy of Errors: no rehearsals, complete improvisation. The script was cut, cast, and distributed before the show, but wasn’t put on its feet until the night of April 18th. It proved to be an excellent experiment by my lights, especially for a comedy concerned with error. The audience’s laughter seemed to come not only from Shakespeare’s humor but also from the enthusiasm of the actors as they tackled the material, making mistakes but sticking doggedly to the play in the process. It’s not an approach that would work for every play, but it’s something we may return to occasionally. You can hear the results here:

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, adapted by Nic Helms

And now, announcements! The fall 2014 season is still very much in flux. Right now I have my heart set on two shows: Shakespeare’s Richard III and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. More to come when I know things for certain.

Here are two Rude Mechanicals shows you can definitely put on your calendars: Julius Caesar, directed by Steve Burch, May 28-31 in Mars Spring Park; Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Mark Cobb, June 25-28 in Mars Spring Park.

As always, if you’re interested in being involved in IF or the Rude Mechs, reach out to us via blog, Facebook, or email and we’ll be sure to get you involved.


Mark Me

Staging Hamlet for Improbable Fictions posed a problem: how do you depict the ghost of Hamlet’s father?  Special effects often fall flat at this moment: various combinations of white sheets, eerie green lights, and zombie makeup.  And certainly, the special effects budget of an IF production totals about $0.00.  I trust our audiences to have a lot of imagination: our actors carry their scripts around onstage, after all, and it’s improbable (if not impossible) for an audience member to forget that theatricality unless they let themselves become invested in the show.  Even so, King Hamlet’s ghost needs to be a bit terrifying, and while I could have asked our Ghost (Steve Burch) to simply step onstage and “play dead,” letting the audience imagine the rest, terror needs to be more visceral.  The supernatural demands to walk the stage.

With that in mind, I set out to hack the opening act of Hamlet to bits.  Marcellus and Bernardo disappear from the text.  Instead, the play opens with the meeting of Hamlet (David Bolus) and Horatio (Amber Gibson).  Hamlet soon asks Horatio for a speech:  “We’ll have a speech straight: come, give us a taste of your quality; come, a passionate speech” (a line taken from Hamlet’s later dialogue to the First Player).  Hamlet leads Horatio over to a tape recorder; Horatio tentatively begins the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from the 1st Quarto of Hamlet (known as the “bad quarto”).   When Horatio’s memory falters, Hamlet picks up the train of thought as a dialogue:

HAMLET records the speech on a tape-recorder.
To be, or not to be--
Aye, there's the point.
To Die, to sleep...
Is that all?
Aye, all.
No, to sleep, to dream--
Aye, mary, there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever retur'nd,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Whol'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant's reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin--
Who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Aye, that. O, this conscience makes cowards of us all.

Hamlet stops the recording, and Claudius strides onstage with his opening monologue.

In a later scene, Hamlet decides to listen to the recording.  However, the supernatural decides to step in.  The audio track below is what Hamlet hears from the tape recorder (sound design courtesy of the fantastic Jerrell Bowden).  During the performance, Hamlet cradled the tape recorder and carried it into the center aisle of Farrah Hall 214: the Ghost’s voice quite literally walked amidst the audience.

(click to listen >>>>)  (<<<< click to listen)


Since we didn’t get Hamlet’s responses on tape, I’ve included a portion of the script below.  You’ll probably want to open the audio file in a new tab.

Enter HAMLET. Hamlet listens to tape-recorder.
To be, or not to be--
Aye, there's the point.
To Die, to sleep...
Is that all?
Aye, all.
No, to sleep, to dream--
Aye, mary, there it goes,
For in that dream of death...
Mark me.
I will.
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
Alas, poor ghost!
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
Speak; I am bound to hear.
So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
I am thy father's spirit. List, list, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love--
O God!
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.
O my prophetic soul!
My uncle!
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,--
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once!
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.