The Genesis of 10-Minute Shakespeare


Dr. Joem Antonio

Many things factored in the creation and development of 10-Minute Shakespeare.

First mix was my exposure to Tom Stoppard's 15-Minute Hamlet, my love for theatre, and my first opportunity to teach Shakespeare. At that time, I felt that if one understood the Shakespearean text well enough, one could isolate the key plot, scenes, lines, and phrases without having to alter any of the text to contemporary English. It was the ultimate challenge for a college student to do such an abridgement. At least, at the time. Only someone willing enough to immerse themselves in the text well enough to understand it can do the task; that was the theory. I tried a bold move in class: the first to reduce Julius Caesar to 15 minutes would get top marks. Many tried. One succeeded: David Rosario. His classmates celebrated by mounting the play.

It was after that when I got exposed to 10-Minute plays. Can Shakespeare be reduced to 10 minutes? I offered the challenge to my next batch of students: this time, I wanted a 10-Minute Macbeth. One of my students said that it's impossible. Was it? I ended up abridging it to make sure. Success.

A rendition of Mio Borromeo's 10-Minute Romeo and Juliet (January 2015)

The following year, two people succeeded in abridging Romeo and Juliet: Mio Borromeo and Max Arcenas. Of course, only one got the top marks for submitting a few hours earlier; but it's a technicality. Both versions worked. Furthermore, their abridgments opened insights about the 10-Minute abridgments: while there are many ways to do it wrong, there is no single way to do it right. There are no definitive abridgments, but each well-crafted abridgment will highlight a thematic layer present in the original material. The thematic thread, then, becomes vital to abridging.

Soon after, Roxy Cortez abridged King Lear. In the same semester, I had my students stage the Macbeth and R & J abridgments. These two moments developed further insight to the craft. The abridgments, of course, should remain not only stageable but also open to various interpretations when performed. Second is to be a lot more aware of the story told through the non-speaking characters in the scene. This second point is obvious during performance, but easily overlooked when merely read.

A rendition of Roxy Cortez' 10-Minute King Lear (January 2015)

What began as a mere test for comprehension became a new approach to learning Shakespeare. As I grew up as a student learning about Shakespeare, the alternatives to the full text was either a summary or an excerpt. Both are good approaches as one learns Shakespeare's genius with the language and story. However, the 10-Minute Shakespeare highlighted something else: Shakespeare's theatrical imagination. As the students prepared for their performances, they struggled with Shakespeare's theatrical demands: swordfights, murders, eye gouging, typhoons, and the like. Blocking, costumes, and props suddenly became crucial points for consideration. Students would plan their performances to either highlight a theme, make the play relevant to the times, parody the script, or even appropriate it to a point of their liking; and none of the students deviate from the original text for the sake of convenience. Of course, there have been other Shakespeare abridgments, but I am still looking for other 10-Minute variants. The charm and utility of a 10-Minute Shakespearean play is that it's feasible for students to mount, despite having other subjects to consider. Furthermore, they get a bonus: they get Shakespeare's language, stories, and theatricality in a single activity—an immersive activity at that.

As I write this, I realize that I can go on indefinitely talking about the different adventures I've had with my students when it comes to Shakespeare. I'll just skim through what has already happened in broad strokes. At the time of writing, two years since I have had my students mount the plays, I have organized 12 sections' worth of students staging the abridgments, 8 abridged scripts, and another 4 sections on their way to their 10-Minute Shakespeare adventure. A spin off has already been developed: the Shoestring Shakespeare variant, where the 10-minute plays can be staged by a minimal number of actors. I am slowly developing a system to teach Shakespeare this way and am on a constant rhythm in refining this system. It is taxing, but when the students show me their output, I can't help but be excited for the next batch. "Once more into the breach!"