If there’s something that I believe it is that there is no point in doing a Shakespeare, or any other classic for that matter, if you don’t do it for your own time. A 400 year old museum piece is fascinating but we do theatre because we want to move an audience. An audience will only be moved if they can find something to identify with. That’s what makes a classic a classic; it’s ability to be rediscovered for every time and culture.
My love for this Bard of Avon began way back in high school. Our director chose these plays because they were convenient for a large cast to have equal stage time and challenges, but it also sparked something unexpected in me. I thought the translations crude and fell in love with the far more faceted originals. Suddenly this Bard wasn’t just something we groaned about in far too many classes but a writer whose works are still alive and well in present age and I wanted to know why that was.
I fell in love with his plays and his stories, the language he used and its rhythm. How the big words hummed along the pulse, how often it would culminate in a brilliant thought like something from the clouds. Now that sounds pretty on paper and in theory but doing it in real life proved to be somewhat of a challenge.. Reading his plays is like reading sheet music, you know how to but never why. Yet I strangely found these texts many couldn’t fathom like natural speech. Musical, physical and easy to remember, the format keeping the text on a leash to keep the pace, the time and emotion in check. It was fascinating.
My masters at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland gave me the opportunity to do a one month residency at the Globe Theatre in London. A dream come true. I walked out on that stage an apparently naive actress and walked off changed and matured. I found that if you do it just right that space is so easy to work, easier than anything I had ever come across. But if you are not bold about it or on top of it at all times, if you hesitate for just one singular moment – the language and the Globe itself will try to eat you. Seriously.
That’s pretty much how it went down.
But you know, keep on trying. There is the reason why we still do his plays, such infinite ways to say the same line. An acting teacher of mine once referred to Shakespeare as a bottle of wine – the bottle is essential but the content is what’s important. And as with wine, the content comes in infinite flavors.
You may wonder now What’s her favorite scene? Well, that’s a question and a half and to be honest I tend to answer differently every time. But I can tell you my answer for today:
I adore bits and pieces and sections in all his plays but would it surprise you if I said that my favorite scene as a whole has to be act V, scene I of Richard II?
On the paper, when you read it, it’s about a tender goodbye between two lovers as the villain and his guards stand watch over them. It has an incredible amount of layers to it. On the one hand you have the King and the Queen; two strong, eloquent individuals who would never weep in public. And as they meet for the first time in this scene they have to face the fact that they are not these people anymore. Isabel expresses this a little bit more ferociously blunt than Richard. And in their final moments they are a man and a young woman, humans with emotions, adoring lovers who know that their time is up. They weep in public, they kiss in public, they forget Northumberland and the guards and become their private selves. She’s trying to coax some resilience out of him and he’s trying to reassure her and give her strength. In the end the scene sees the king and queen wearing their hearts on their sleeves but nevertheless remaining the king and queen – the winners. Whenever I read it or do it I always end up crying, something that not even Romeo and Juliet has managed yet.
The Bard gave me passion for the craft as both an actress and a writer, he gave me curiosity and inspired my love for this language – to shape it into strings of words which on their own don’t amount to much but together can create magic beyond our wildest dreams. If we let a little boldness reign instead of our fears.
His were the first stories I brought to life on stage so many suns ago and I dream to tell his stories for many years to come.
So it’s time to take a bow, and I will leave you with this: A little something I wrote for, and of course inspired by, Bill Shakespeare.
If all the world’s a stage
Then let it light my way
Not with a brief candle but with roaring flames
Dispel the wintry nights
And pierce that Hollow Crown and take me
Oh take me to that undiscovered country
Where words become, they become immortal
And my pen, my pen
My pen is the world
It is everything I have
Everything I ever loved
So take me, take me and my broken words
Take my stories and listen to my cause
Cause the pen, my pen
That pen is mightier than any weapons that will make you harm