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5 Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis: The Joy of Making Fun of Shakespeare

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Welcome to our series of Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis! These mini-lessons about Don's process adapting How To Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play will help you create your own work both on screen and on stage.


I love Shakespeare. I honestly enjoy watching it; I even enjoy reading it. When I was teaching high school, I loved teaching it. I’ve directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream; I’ve taught Hamlet, Henry V, Macbeth, and one or two others I don’t even remember now.

I’ve adapted Titus Andronicus with My Little Ponies, I’ve adapted almost every major tragedy he ever wrote, and even tackled comedies like A Comedy of Errors (which is a mess) and histories like Henry IV, Part 1.

“I think the sweet spot for adapting Shakespeare… is in the tension between the reverence we have for the material and the absurdities of some of the action.”

— Don Zolidis

I think the sweet spot for adapting Shakespeare, at least as I’ve developed my craft, is in the tension between the reverence we have for the material and the absurdities of some of the action. I’m making fun not only of Shakespeare, but our Shakespeare-worship. The joke, in some ways, is on the audience. “You think this is the best writer in the history of the English language?! Well let me show you a few things he wrote!” I, of course, share that same reverence for Shakespeare as the audience, so I’m making fun of myself as well.

For this play, I wanted to highlight the goriest and silliest bits of his work. Once again, this is a satirical attack on people who regard Shakespeare as “culture” but turn up their noses at anything them deem too violent in contemporary culture. Well, I’ve got news for them. Guess who made all kinds of butt jokes in 1594?

“Whenever you adapt material, or even satirize or lampoon writing, you also have to gauge how familiar your audience might be with the source.”

— Don Zolidis

Whenever you adapt material, or even satirize or lampoon writing, you also have to gauge how familiar your audience might be with the source. This is going to vary from person to person, obviously, and with Shakespeare, it varies from play to play. I can assume most people are going to be familiar with Romeo and Juliet, but fewer people are going to know what’s going on in Antony and Cleopatra. As a result, I need to make different kinds of jokes for each play. When Paris and Tybalt show up in this show, for instance, I think it’s going to take the audience a second to remember who they are and what they’re doing there, but I figure they’ll eventually get it. With Charmian in Antony and Cleopatra, I’m going to assume nobody knows who that character is.

One other beauty of this approach is that I quote Shakespeare directly from ten different plays. It’s like doing a Shakespeare-monologue unit in some ways, with some of the most famous speeches repeated word for word. In this way, the play doubles as a stealth educational tool. Guess what? When we’re done, you’ll have learned Lady Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, or Henry V’s St. Crispin’s day speech. And laughed the whole time you did.


More Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis:


How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version) – Stage Partners

About the Play:

How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version)
By Don Zolidis

Some day it’s going to happen: You’re going to find yourself on stage, wearing tights, and saying things in iambic pentameter. Face it, you’re in a Shakespeare play, and that means it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to DIE. The Bard is out for blood, but this play is here to stop him! How could Romeo and Juliet survive? Julius Caesar? A nameless soldier in Henry the Fifth? What if King Lear had an emotional support llama and didn’t need to make terrible mistakes? Join us in discovering how a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays could’ve turned out differently! If only they listened...

One-act, 30-60 minutes. 10-50+ actors, gender flexible.



Don Zolidis holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Actor’s Studio Program at the New School University, where he studied under Romulus Linney. His plays have been seen at numerous theatres around the country, including The Purple Rose Theatre, The Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Phoenix Theatre, the Victory Theatre, Stage West, The Williamstown Theatre, and many others.

Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries. Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries.


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