01
May
07

Full Circle

Last night, Brian Gill and I conducted an educational event for the company. A group of women who get together regularly to explore various issues in depth wanted to have a bit of an introduction to and experience with Shakespeare. Since both Brian and I have taught before, Marcy Kearns, our Education director, contacted us about the possibility of doing this workshop.*

Going in, we weren’t sure what to expect. We had prepared to do a bit of introduction, some Q&A, and then do some work on our feet, warming up with some Shakespearean insults (Whoreson, beetle-headed, flap-eared knave!), moving into the grand insult scene from 1 Henry 4, and then if there was time, taking volunteers to look at a scene from next season’s Twelfth Night. As is often the case, things change. After a little introduction to Shakespeare’s theater, we took a little look at the insults, and found that while the ladies were game, they weren’t excited by the idea of actually having to say some lines out loud. So we let the insults begin an extended conversation about Shakespeare, and how the work was never intended to be read, rather played, and just how fun it is to play it. To put the words in your mouth and feel them do their work on your body, and allow that to help you tell a story.

So then, we told some stories from our different experiences with doing Shakespeare — Brian having worked at the rebuilt Globe in London, and myself having worked with Gorilla Rep on the streets of New York City. And surprisingly, our themes were not unlike. Audience members finding ways into Shakespeare based on their own cultural experience, and based on the human connection they made with the actors. I remembered how important it is to acknowledge with a Shakespeare play that the actors and audience are in the same room (or outdoor theater, or park, or street corner, as the case may be) and that that connection between audience and actor is what makes the play happen. We can’t do it by ourselves, and even if we could, why?

It was lovely to see these ladies, most of whom had a slightly antagonistic relationship with our playwright, perk up as the evening went on, and become interested in a new relationship with these plays. We were reclaiming them from the dusty textbooks of youth, and putting them in their rightful place as entertainments. And as that happened, I realized that the whole reason I act in these plays is because I had a similar experience in high school. I had always wanted to be an actor,** and in the eighth grade I played Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, and enjoyed it, but I didn’t really have much of a focus as far as style or genre was concerned. Enter A. Jeffrey Schoenburg,*** who was an alum of my high school, and came back to direct a Renaissance themed show with the Chamber Singers. As a member of the concert choir, I was relegated to playing a servant, but I learned so much from Jeff about the Elizabethans that I wanted more. That spring, he taught a Saturday Shakespeare workshop as a preparation for a community theater production of The Winter’s Tale he would direct that summer. This is where I got hooked. His enthusiasm and passion really shone through, and he really became a mentor to me. I was cast in that production of Winter’s Tale, did the next year’s madrigal event with choir, and was cast in the fall play as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a role I have returned to more than once). Over the next couple of years, as Jeff was unable to return to direct for the choir, I took the helm and wrote and directed the madrigal events. In drama class I tried as often as possible to choose Shakespeare scenes and monologues to work on. And eventually, I went to Juilliard to continue my training as an actor of classical theater. Do I owe it all to him? No, but he fanned the spark, and that was enough.

So, as the gig last night ended, and the ladies were thanking us for opening their eyes and ears to Shakespeare, and getting excited about seeing 1 Henry 4 (and seasons beyond), I realized that perhaps, just perhaps, Brian and I, through our enthusiasm and passion and silly stories and expertise, had fanned a spark.

 

-SMITE-

*I’ve done a number of workshops for Milwaukee Shakes before, mainly for schoolchildren, and one or two for colleges. I’ve also done my fair share of teaching Shakespeare for actors. This was my first workshop like this, with a group of non-actors, non-students.

** Mr. Darling in Peter Pan in the third grade laid the foundation. Fagin in Oliver the following year cemented it.

*** Jeff was on staff for the people who run the Renaissance Faires in California, New York, and here in Wisconsin. It turns out that T. Stacy Hicks (I wonder now if that’s a RenFaire thing, the first initial) was also on staff there and knew Jeff, back in the day. It all comes full circle.

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