In his 35 year-long acting career Simon Fortin has died on stage hundreds of times. What feelings, stories, memories from his own life can an actor draw on to “die convincingly”? We learn to write and read, we learn to ride bicycles and play the piano, yet there is so to speak, no school to learn how to die. Or is there?

Fortin believes the theatre offers us a unique chance at death education. With his stage performance ...OR NOT TO BE, HOW SHAKESPEARE COULD CHANGE YOUR DEATH, New-York-based actor, playwright, and scholar, Fortin, animates Shakespeare’s death speeches and distills from them an art of dying befitting our times. In February 2020, he brings his raucous classroom of Shakespearian characters, from New York City to Sandton, Johannesburg.

During Shakespeare’s time, the Renaissance saw the emergence of devotional, religious manuals on how to die - known as the Ars Moriendi or Craft of Dying tradition, all of them, arid and dogmatic attempts at uniformizing a “good death.” Shakespeare ignored their prescriptions; instead, he chose to dramatize the adventure of dying by creating individuals who disobey, who settle accounts, who blame and mock, who laugh, and who die uniquely, in character, as no one else could.

Fortin attempts to emulate Shakespeare’s approach: never preaching nor prescribing, he brings to life some of the extraordinary death scenes Shakespeare wrote for his characters and by doing so allows us to witness the various shades of the dying experience: the pain, the pathos, the terror and the humor that attend the task of dying.

Shakespeare tells us that dying is always an action, an event, a task to accomplish. Fortin anatomizes this task by weaving stories from his own life with the dying voices of Lear, King John, Othello, Mercutio, Cleopatra, Richard II and others.

This evening of levity and profundity is an entertaining exploration of mortality. In his compelling, thought-provoking and often funny performance, Fortin blends scholarship, personal stories, films, songs, and death speeches, with the intuition that, regarding our ambivalent feelings about our finite existence, poetry may very well be the way to go; literally.


Auto and General Theatre on the Square

18th - 29th February


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