Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit: Shakespeare As A Pop-Up Book Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company tell NPR's Scott Simon about their book, Pop-Up Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare's plays are kind of like Looney Tunes.

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit: Shakespeare As A Pop-Up Book

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit: Shakespeare As A Pop-Up Book

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Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company tell NPR's Scott Simon about their book, Pop-Up Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare's plays are kind of like Looney Tunes.


Shakespeare - and because this is NPR, we'll interrupt the flow of a sentence to tell you that he was an English dramatist who lived from 1564 to 1616 and is still considered by many academic sources to be a pre-eminent playwright - has been done every which way over the years - onstage, in parks, in drag, unexpurgated and highly condensed.

Two members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company have produced an especially dignified presentation, "Pop-Up Shakespeare." The pop-up part is drawn by Jennie Maizels. The so-called scholarly text is by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the RSC. They join us now. Austin is at the BBC in London, and Reed Martin is at KRCB in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

AUSTIN TICHENOR: Thank you, Scott.

REED MARTIN: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: First thing I want to do is thank you because our dog chews a lot of pop-up books, and she loved yours.


MARTIN: It's very tasty.

TICHENOR: Yeah, that's going on our website right now as high praise.

SIMON: What are you trying to achieve by popping up Shakespeare?

MARTIN: Well, Jennie Maizels, the artist, approached us. She had this idea to do a pop-up Shakespeare book.

SIMON: This is Reed speaking. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Yes. She had this idea to do "Pop-Up Shakespeare," and I think the point of it is - much like our stage shows - is Shakespeare's been put on a pedestal over the years. He's high culture. And in his time, he was popular culture and appealed to everybody. And we admire Shakespeare, but we think he's taken a little too seriously. And we wanted to spread the gospel of the Bard.

TICHENOR: You know, the plays are known, as a canon, as the complete works. And I started thinking - works, work - that sounds hard and serious. Let's call them what they are, plays. They're playful, and they're fun. And Jennie's drawings are so engaging. They really - they bring sort of the equivalent of what we do onstage onto the pages of a book. They're colorful, and they're inviting. And they invite the reader really of any age to sort of dive in and participate.

SIMON: You have every play in here, too. Don't you?

TICHENOR: We do, even the lost one.

MARTIN: We don't "The Odd Couple." We left out "The Odd Couple."

SIMON: (Laughter).

TICHENOR: That's true.

MARTIN: But that's the only one we left out.

SIMON: That was the working title of "Romeo And Juliet." Or was it "Titus Andronicus" was going to be "The Odd Couple"? I'm trying to remember.

MARTIN: Yes is the answer, yes.

TICHENOR: "The Two Odd Couple Of Verona," the working title.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: We hope it reads like - the way the classic "Looney Tunes" play, is that a pop-up book - you think it's for kids, like "Looney Tunes," Bugs Bunny. But you go back and you watch it as an adult, and there's all kinds of things in there that the kids maybe get or maybe they don't but the adults appreciate. So the more you know about Shakespeare, I think the more you'd enjoy the book.

SIMON: My favorite, hardly a comedy, is "Julius Caesar." And I must say, it was hard to find the pop-up of Julius Caesar.

TICHENOR: It's hidden around the back.

MARTIN: Because he's stabbed and he falls down.

TICHENOR: Because Julius Caesar is stabbed in the back, we put his plot synopsis on the back. This is a full 360 immersive.

SIMON: Seriously, is that why you did it?

TICHENOR: Yeah, yeah.

SIMON: All right, OK. All right.


MARTIN: That's our story, and we're sticking with it.

TICHENOR: That's right.

SIMON: But you gentlemen in the pop-up advance the idea that Julius Caesar is not in the play enough to merit having the play named after him.

TICHENOR: No, it's really sort of a bait and switch. It's called "Julius Caesar," but it's really about Brutus and Cassius and their struggles, although Caesar does appear as a ghost, hence the phrase from the old "Superman" show, great Caesar's ghost.


SIMON: Is that really - oh, never mind if it's true or not. OK.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TICHENOR: Scott, if you're going to ask us whether everything is true, we're going to be here a very long time.

SIMON: About to say - I don't mean to put you on the spot.


SIMON: I don't want people to think this is just for fun because there's a lot of scholarly information in here. For example, under words Shakespeare may have invented, you mentioned more than a dozen, including lonely, gossip, zany - but puking?

MARTIN: Yeah. And after people look at the book, they will experience it.

SIMON: (Laughter) I wish you hadn't said that. I'm sorry. I had no idea that was a Shakespearean word, though.


MARTIN: Well, we had a...

TICHENOR: ...Mewling and puking. Babies, right?

MARTIN: Yes. Dr. Peter Holland vetted the book for us. He's a very famous Shakespearean scholar. And we had to word that very carefully because people don't really know if Shakespeare invented them; maybe it's the first example in history where that's written down. So that was an interesting process, too.

SIMON: He played with language a lot. Didn't he?

MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

TICHENOR: He did. He took nouns and made them into verbs. And he wasn't precious about language, you know. He was very adventurous, and that's what I think is so fun about Shakespeare. And I think why kids kind of are attracted to him - because he's playing with language in the way that kids are learning language. And yeah, it's fun to discover all the words that he has - I don't know - not invented but maybe popularized.

SIMON: Is the audience for this book youngsters or pompous adults who just want to sound better-informed?




TICHENOR: We hope that it's a book that's inviting and attractive but also has enough in it so no matter how deep of a dive you want to make, there is something in "Pop-Up Shakespeare" for you.

SIMON: Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company - their book, book "Pop-Up Shakespeare."

Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

TICHENOR: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks a lot, Scott.

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