Was It Good For Me?

Not such a long time ago I asked you how your education on Shakespeare was/is. I also posted the results of the online survey I created. There seems to be a split of people who had a good Shakespearience in school, and many who didn’t. The consensus seems to be “it depends on the teacher.”

Now it’s time for my story. I don’t think it’s a horribly fascinating story. I didn’t grow up idolizing Shakespeare, it just kind of happened. Somehow I seem to have a lot to write. So if you have nothing else to do, click to read

My first experience that I can remember with Shakespeare was in a theatre class in 7th grade. Groups were assigned different scenes to do, I played Snout in the first part of Act III, scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was a bit of a shy kid at the time, I didn’t like to have a lot of lines to memorize – too much work, and I was never too confident onstage. Later that year we briefly talked about Midsummer in English class and watched some of the 1935 film for some reason. I remember giggling at fifteen-year-old Mickey Rooney’s, um, interesting performance as Puck. I really don’t remember reading the play for class, but lots of Junior High wasn’t particularly memorable. The experience didn’t seem bad or good. Shakespeare was just another author, but I didn’t find myself horribly scared or confused.

Freshman year of high school we read Romeo & Juliet in English class. A lot of cold reading, assigning different people each day to read aloud in class. The teacher selected certain scenes of the play and we watched two or three different versions of the scene from different film versions of the play. At the end of the unit we were split up in groups and had to perform short scenes. Our group chose to do a western-theme scene. I played Romeo in II.6 for the first 20 lines of text or so, then we rotated different actors and continued. It wasn’t a big project. I only spoke Romeo’s 6 line speech that begins “Amen, amen! but come what sorrow can…” I had trouble memorizing, and I don’t think I knew exactly what I was saying. The class as a whole seemed to enjoy this unit in class. We all loved our teacher so we were never really bored with what he had us do.

The following year I was in the beginning acting class, and was assigned the scene between the two gravediggers in Hamlet. I played the first gravedigger, I had more lines this time! At this point I had taken a serious interest in theatre so I didn’t mind having all those lines. I really enjoyed myself, and the text. It’s all in prose and fairly straightforward… awesome. Instead of reading the play, I went to the library and found a video copy of Hamlet I could watch. “Gosh this is long,” I thought. I followed along with some of the text in my script while watching. I realized years later that I had seen the amazing Derek Jacobi. The performance is much more engaging to me now than it was then. The scene was picked as one of the best in the class. Whoohoo! The seeds of loving Shakespeare were being slowly planted.

That same year in English class we read Cyrano de Bergerac. The class quickly realized that I was the only one really able to read the classical text out loud while making sense (I knew not to stop at the end of every line!) So the class elected me to read the role of Cyrano every day. Poetic text just seemed to make sense of me. Junior year I even played the role in the full show onstage. How bout that?

Senior year we studied Macbeth, nothing really exciting here. Everyone took turns reading. People’s poor reading annoyed me, but I stopped caring about that class. We watched Roman Polanski’s film and then created our own project. Our group chose to make a video of Macbeth and Macduff’s fight. It was epic. Not really, but the class was impressed.

College is where it all took shape. I was largely indifferent to Shakespeare prior to that. I was just one of the people who thought, “He’s alright. I don’t get why everyone hates him though.” I took a Voice and Diction class in the theatre (my chosen field of study) and we did some work with reading poetry, a Shakespearean sonnet included. That same semester we were simultaneously doing a Shakespeare unit in acting class. By the end of the school year I had been aquainted with the idea that Shakespeare’s text is one big puzzle and all the text analysis work is fun research. The puzzle came together in rehearsal and then performance. Wow! Who knew one author’s work could involve so much work to be done by an actor and the results are more rewarding than any other playwright! My mind basically exploded.

Since then the amount of reading and research on the Bard seems to have grown exponentially every year. Every time I have a chance to perform in Shakespeare I’m giddly like a little schoolgirl. One day I was motivated to share some of my thoughts, research, and feelings online. Ta-da! The Bard Blog was created. And maybe all that is just the beginning…

What’s to come is still unsure.