Monday, November 17, 2008

Jillian Raye and the Bard: The Vitality of the Public Domain

So, my family recently lost a friend, Jillian Raye.
I'd keep my remorse to myself, but Jillian had a special relationship with William Shakespeare, and that relationship is emblematic of why copyright's public domain matters and how it maintains its vitality in our cultural life.

When we lived in Takoma Park, Maryland, Jillian, her husband, David Minton, and their daughter, Imogen Minton, moved into our neighborhood and changed it forever.
Jillian founded Lumina Studio in their home as a community youth theater to stage primarily Shakespeare's plays. Jillian and David trained as Shakespearian actors and met onstage and off in a production in Dallas, Texas.

Jillian built her casts from the community, and the ages ranged from young children to middle-aged adults, with young teens as the principal actors. My daughters had their first stage experience as fairies in Midsummer Night's Dream, which we subsequently staged outdoors on a midsummer night. Jillian's vision for the show required that all the lights be turned off near the end of the show so that these three-to-five-year-old fairies could flit about the stage with lit candles. Jillian's will overcame parental objections, and the result was pure magic.

For each show, Jillian developed a highly distinctive but adaptable vision, and she drove hard to realize it. Her visions were animated by her deep understanding and personal relationship with Shakespeare's works. The kids in the cast would begin rehearsals for each show as usual middle and elementary schools would for any after-school activity. But, Jillian would quickly impress upon them that this was serious fun. She worked with the actors to understand their characters and the context for the action.
In the course of these interactions, she breathed life into the Bard's alien language and demanded that the actors make it their own. And, they did. I can still distinctly hear the young actress playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, as she stalked the stage, poised for the fight, and spat out:


Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?

What wouldst thou have with me?

Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine
lives; that I mean to make bold withal, and as you shall use me hereafter, dry beat the rest of the eight. Will you pluck your sword out of his pitcher by the ears? make haste, lest mine be about your ears ere it be out.

I am for you.

Jillian could stage the shows as she envisioned and as she wished because the works of William Shakespeare are in copyright's public domain. She could not legally have applied her prodigious talents to the works of playwrights whose works were still under copyright without a license. And, those licenses often are quite expensive or not available at all.

So, the fundamental policy that copyrights must expire was necessary for a unique institution like Lumina Studio to exist and to grow. And, those who care about this policy need to document how creative individuals like Jillian Raye keep works in copyright's public domain alive and relevant.
While her family mourns, her community has institutionalized her vision and will carry on staging plays and making magic. Perhaps Jillian has joined Oberon and Titania in the kingdom of Shadows and Fairies. It's hard to say, but I know that we will miss her.

With this field-dew consecrate,
Every fairy take his gait;
And each several chamber bless,
Through this palace, with sweet peace;
And the owner of it blest
Ever shall in safety rest.
Trip away; make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.

(Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V)

Goodbye Jillian.

1 comment:

Margaret Martin said...

Thank you for the beautiful and accurate description of the amazing Jillian. No one will understand her magic unless they were lucky enough to see one of her productions. Jillian Raye enjoyed life to the fullest, and we who knew and loved her are the luckiest of all.