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Songs From an Old World

by Jessica Schiermeister, Dramaturg

Sweet Tea Shakespeare is known for simple yet magical productions of Shakespeare’s plays and other remarkable works that use Shakespeare’s own staging conditions. Our musical Songs for a New World, opening January 25, does not have any specific ties to Shakespeare’s works but is Shakespearean in the way that it is musical.

In Shakespeare’s time, plays were bookended by music. Each performance would begin with preshow musical entertainment and end the same way, sometimes with an accompanying jig (a special music-comic dance) to send the audience on their way. The custom of the time was to include at least one song within the show itself, except for the tragedies, which typically only featured the sounds of flourishes or trumpets. Shakespeare changed that, however, by including songs in Othello, Hamlet, and King Lear. Main characters almost never sing, unless in disguise or a diminished mental state. The singers you find in Shakespeare’s works are the fools, the clowns, the rogues, or other minor characters.

A theatrical experience in Shakespeare’s time was more than quietly watching the performance of a play. Audiences could expect to encounter music and dancing in addition to the acting happening in front of them and experience all of this within an environment of boisterousness. Plays performed by companies at outdoor playhouses (such as The Globe) and indoor playhouses (such as The Blackfriars) had less music, perhaps only one boy actor who could sing or play an instrument in addition to the clowns who would also sing. The end jig was a specialty of comic performers Richard Tarlton and Will Kempe. Plays performed at court were more lavish than those performed for the general public and featured more spectacle, more performers, and more musicians (presumably professional ones).

STS is also known for our house band, The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, or WoCo, who provide preshow and intermission music, as well as music throughout the shows when necessary. WoCo is, in my opinion, one of the most unique aspects of STS. This is a theatre company that really focuses on music in every production, even when there is little music called for in the text itself. Songs for a New World is a wonderful display of STS’s musical skills, and I hope you are able to join us for such a special theatre experience.

Get tickets for Songs For a New World at

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare