Think for yourself. That is what we are told in school, or at least, so we think. However, Shakespeare Crackpot, a one-man show written by and starring Dr. Keir Cutler who focuses on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, challenges that theory. Are we a generation taught to think for ourselves? Or is our education system a hierarchy of “repeat what I say, and you shall succeed?”
In his 60-minute performance, Cutler uses humor, basic lighting and years of research to drive home the point that thinking outside the box can be academically dangerous. He uses the Shakespeare Authorship Question, an academic theory that the works of William Shakespeare were not actually written by the man from Stratford, as his example for this.
Cutler questions why the "divine William" is so untouchable – this is a topic seen as taboo in academic circles. Why are students forbidden to address this question? Is it out of fear of absolute academic suicide?
The stage is set with a magnificent bust of Shakespeare on a table covered by books. Classical music plays softly in the background when Cutler struts on stage, smiling. He first addresses the orthodox Stratfordian claim that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works of Shakespeare. He reminds us that his professors stated this as fact, and that there is no evidence to prove otherwise.
Cutler then provides the audience with a slew of books refuting that fact while driving home the point, "Why do I have a PhD in theatre and was never told any of this?" He uses his own parent's history as a wonderful example of what you can achieve when you think outside of the box.
The entire performance is a reminder that challenging academic authority is not always a negative, and that students should feel free to do so without repercussion. The professors may be experts in the field, but they are not the law that governs it.
The performance, at times, feels more like a lecture than a piece of theatre, which could turn some theatregoers off. And yet, Cutler still manages to captivate your imagination, and entertain with his booming voice and wonderful facial expressions.
Cutler presents both arguments equally. He does not deny that the man from Stratford is the author of his own works, but instead argues for free, open academic thought on the issue, which is something that all academics should be encouraged to partake in.
Using his academic background and years of research on this specific topic, Cutler does what all university professors should do: insist that we do our research, and, most of all, think for ourselves.
Shakespeare Crackpot is running at the Toronto Fringe Festival until July 9 at the Robert Gill Theatre.