King Lear


The new world premiere of a centuries-old play will allow Bloomington audiences to experience the language of King Lear as Shakespeare intended. In May, Indiana University Theatre will present The King Lear Project, an adaptation using original pronunciation (OP).

“Our audiences will hear what Lear’s first audiences heard,” says the play’s producer and director, Murray McGibbon, an associate professor of acting and directing at IU. McGibbon spent 2 1/2 years on the adaptation of Shakespeare’s 1606 play.

“OP is rich and guttural. It issues from the entire body, anchored in the pit of the stomach; it’s not all in the mouth as we speak,” McGibbon says. “But it’s immediately understandable. It combines Irish, Scottish, and U.S. East Coast accents — recognizable pronunciations.”

McGibbon explains that OP’s “prove” rhymes with our “love,” “Shakespeare” sounds like “Shockspur,” and r’s close off final vowels. He adds that OP helps today’s audiences hear more of Shakespeare’s rhymes and appreciate his puns.

In researching OP, McGibbon worked with David Crystal, a linguist and expert on the evolution of English, who coached actors in OP at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2004 and 2005 and elsewhere since.

McGibbon explains the play will be staged in the round to emphasize its tragic elements. “People will be two feet from the actors, and the evil, destruction, and suffering in Lear,” he says. For the same reason, the adaptation is set in a post-apocalyptic world of rubble and debris.

“The juxtaposition of a past language and a future take attracted me as an artist,” McGibbon says. “I want people to have a powerful theatrical experience.”

The play, to be performed May 5–8 at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre, is funded by a grant from IU’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program, endowed by Lilly Endowment’s Excellence in Indiana Initiative.

Before coming to IU in 1996, McGibbon was artistic director of drama for six years at the Playhouse Company in Durban, South Africa, and won South Africa’s highest theatrical award, the Naledi (formerly Vita), six times. Last summer, McGibbon directed Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in New York City and earned a TimesLedger Queens Kudos nomination for outstanding director.

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