Sunday, April 22, 2012

"And what did Shakespeare ever do for me?" she asked.

Alas, as I am neither scholar nor poet, I cannot write an ode on what’s owed to William Shakespeare.  Since I cannot provide an “O,” I’ll provide a few 1's.

First 1st:  My first paying job as an actor was playing Shakespeare across 40 or so states; oddly enough (to me), I was cast as Luciana, the mild sister in The Comedy of Errors.  As first jobs go, it was thrilling, it was swell, frustrating, exhausting, and provided fodder for many a dinner conversation.  The play had been cut to run an optimal one hour ten minutes to fit into an ever-so-slightly expanded assembly period in junior and senior high schools.  Actors played multiple roles, which is fun, so long as the script doesn’t have an actor as character “A” say he was present to hear a statement, when in fact it was the actor’s other character, “B,” who’d been in that scene to hear it.  See? 

Second 1st: The first time I played a man.  The Riverside Shakespeare Academy’s production of Richard II was up and running after two weeks of rehearsal.  The casting was gender-blind, and my Richard was not androgynous — such has never been my body type.  Playing Richard was a terrifying challenge that allowed me to soar on the wings of my perfectly reasonable terror and become Richard for sixteen performances.  Sheer joy.

Third 1st:  My friend Horvendile and I directed a bunch of talented women in an all-female staged reading of Julius Caesar.  You’d be amazed how different all those overly familiar speeches become from a woman’s point of view, in a woman’s voice.  A fascinating experience.

As I said, I’m no scholar, so talking about the Bard is, perforce, personal for me.  Shakespeare has gotten me through a lot.  When struggling to memorize a soliloquy on the subway, a person can ignore a lot of unpleasantness around her.  Boring temp assignments fly by, when the opportunity is there to type a monologue into the computer to test my memory.  When I read one back, I knew just how many beats my memory had misplaced.  On a different temp assignment, I worked reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (remember when the business day ended at 5?) for a few months.  I had the opportunity to read through the entire canon.  Twice.
© 2012 Shakespeare by the Sea Festival – St. John’s

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you’ll note I see a lot of Shakespearean theatre.  Men playing women, women playing men, men playing everybody, it doesn't matter to me, as long as the play's the thing.  I've even seen Shakespeare in Swedish, Japanese, and Portuguese, where no one noticeably  mangles the verse.  The Bard of Avon has given me many gifts in my lifetime, on and off the stage.  The only gifts I can give in return are to celebrate his birthday and acknowledge that this son of a glover (and minor politician) from Stratford could and indeed did write those plays and poems.  William Shakespeare, son of John, was the greatest playwright/poet in the English language.  Really –— can you read, write, and speak Latin?  His grammar school education taught him that, and rhetoric, and logic.  He proved himself a man of the people, not of the elite who deny him. If you don't believe me, how about a scholar, Jonathan Bate, in an interview with PBS Frontline.

Will earned a coat of arms for his father and family, with the saying, “Non Sans Droict” (translated as “Not without Right”).  Certainly father John and son William Shakespeare deserved the right to sign themselves as “Gentlemen.”  Damn right. 

Happy Birthday Shakespeare.  And thanks.

~ Molly Matera, signing off.  Time to start from the beginning and read through all the Works again.  Or pop a Playing Shakespeare DVD into the machine….

This post is part of today's Happy Birthday Shakespeare Project.  Click on the link and keep the celebration going.

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