BSF dismantles barriers to understanding and enjoying Shakespeare by unpacking his works in a way that is deeply rooted in the text and that connects to the lives and experiences of our communities.
Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF) produces five shows each year at the Great Hall at St. Mary’s in Hampden. We also continue to expand our outreach into the community, offering education programs for local students, and lectures and workshops for people of all ages. BSF is a proud member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, the Hampden Village Merchants Association, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.
BSF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
It is the objective of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory to recreate, as closely as is possible, the staging conditions, spirit, and atmosphere created by Shakespeare’s theatre company during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
Shakespeare’s plays are written primarily in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), but he also wrote in other verse forms and in prose as well. Shakespeare had reasons for choosing the form in which he wrote, and we wish to honor those choices and make them clear to the audience by speaking them differently. Our company spends a great deal of time in analyzing Shakespeare’s text and determining how the form helps to convey the content.
It is our goal to make Shakespeare’s works more easily comprehensible to the modern ear. In order to do this, we work hard to plumb the depths of these plays so we can present every word with clarity and precision. Our actors engage in intense text work that includes careful analysis of the diction and the rhetorical devices that were integral components of Shakespeare’s composition. In this way, we help the audience understand and enjoy these masterpieces as they were written, without ever “dumbing it down.”
Whether in the outdoor Globe Theatre or in the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, the lights were always on during a play in Shakespeare’s time. Actors and audience could see one another and frequently interacted (see below). The “fourth wall” and proscenium arch present in most theatres today did not exist. That’s why house lights are up in our indoor venues throughout the show.
People should not feel they are AT a play – they should feel that they are INa play. Many speeches and comments in Shakespeare’s plays were spoken directly to the audience in general or to specific audience members. With actors and audience all sharing the same light, there are many opportunities for this. Whether it is the funeral oration of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar or the wedding in Much Ado About Nothing, the audience should feel like a part of the scene.
Each season BSF produces one show in the Original Pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time – what better way to recreate the staging conditions of Shakespeare’s time than to recreate the language that would have been spoken at that time? The OP accent is easily understandable to today’s audiences, but it strips back 400 years of slight changes to uncover the original rhymes, rhythms, puns, and meanings that Shakespeare intended. BSF has staged the first-ever modern OP production of The Merchant of Venice and The Winter's Tale
Very few set pieces seemed to have been used for a typical production in Shakespeare’s time – the theatre itself was the set, and audiences were expected to use their imaginations. We think that is a good thing; it puts the focus on the language, the acting, and the story. Therefore, we also keep sets to a minimum, using only what actors can carry on and off with them.
Whereas the sets were meager, costumes were often elaborate and colorful. Costumes were also important in order for an audience to immediately identify a character type or to differentiate between characters that are doubled. However, the costumes used in that time were often a mixture of historically inaccurate styles; for example, a typical play such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have some actors dressed in Greek garb and others dressed in the clothes of a typical Englishman.
Doubling parts (more than one part played by one actor) was a feature of theatre companies in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Without doubling, many of Shakespeare’s plays would require a cast of over 30 actors!
In Shakespeare's time, all the roles on professional stages in England were performed by men. Evidence indicates that most of Shakespeare’s most famous female roles, such as Juliet and Cleopatra, were played by young boys. If gender-fluid casting was the norm then, we want to offer all our actors the opportunity to play all the roles today. After all, it’s only fair, isn’t it?
Shakespeare’s plays are filled with music, and we also want our productions to include musical entertainment. That is not to say that we have to use the songs that Shakespeare did. For the songs that appear in the world of the play, we stick to what Shakespeare gave us, but since he used the popular music of his time, we use the music of our time in our pre-show and interludes. You may hear the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, Taylor Swift, Johnny Cash, or Beyoncé.
In the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare does make reference to the play being the “two hours’ traffic of our stage.” Does this mean that the average play ran two hours? Hard to believe if you think about Hamlet. However, BSF believes that our productions must be FUN and FAST to keep the audience engaged, so we employ quick pacing and a continuous flow of action to keep the performance of our plays as close to two hours as is possible.