I used to be afraid of Shakespeare. Not the person (I ain’t afraid of no ghost!), but the text. As a Theatre Arts Directing major, this could have been a problem. My first real interaction with The Bard was in my first college play in 2006, as a supporting role in MacBeth at my junior college alma mater, Diablo Valley College.
Last summer, thanks to my writing professor, Craig Fleming, I caught wind about an internship with the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. In the last year, I have become intimately familiar with Shakespearean works, and it is entirely due to my involvement with the dramatic and educational resources here in Long Beach.
A directing internship with Educational Director Cynthia Santos-DeCure allowed me the opportunity to work with their Summer Drama Camps where children as young as four years old were working with Shakespeare. Really. Pre-K through high school students went through three-week sessions learning how to speak these 500-year-old verses. This semester, I was given the opportunity to be the assistant director for John Farmanesh-Bocca, director of the University Players’ recent production, Gentlemen Redux, a spin on Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.
I was also given an opportunity to act in the production. The intensive Shakespeare training I received was absolutely eye-opening (or should I say “ear-opening”), and I can honestly say I’m now comfortable with (and more importantly, no longer scared of) Shakespeare.
Yes, his words are considered a “heightened language.” Yes, it’s easy to get lost when watching a Shakespeare play without prior knowledge of the story. Most importantly, yes, it’s a language, and as with any other language, to understand it you have to listen. Really listen. Similar to the concept of “the man who knew too little,” there are enough words in “Olde English” that allow us Americans to hook into it, but smatterings of thou’s thine’s and ye’s to confuse us all. This is where the actors help the audience members. If both actors and audiences meet in the middle, Shakespeare can truly be enjoyed by all as poetic, bawdy, and accessible. The meter of his text is truly musical. The incorporation of prose in between is deafening. The actor that knows how to make the text sing is a theatrical maestro.
Thank you, Craig, for sending me Shakespeare’s way. Thank you, John, for teaching me to sing. Thank you, Shakespeare, for writing these words. Thank you, Long Beach, for bringing this all together for me.