I never liked Shakespeare. I despised watching Shakespeare. I had never seen a performance that wasn’t boring and confusing. It wasn’t until I went to graduate school and studied with Jed Diamond that I fell in love with it. (Fun And Random Fact: HVSF’s new Artistic Director Davis McCallum studied Shakespeare with Jed at The Shakespeare Lab way back in the day).
Unlocking Shakespeare’s text felt exactly like falling in love. Under Jed’s passionate expertise, the plays came alive in front of me and unfolded infinite insights about humans and the universe. There was language that could contain the biggest things I had ever felt, and language that filled me up with a keening love and fear and glory and sadness.
The first thing I do when I have an audition or a role is text analysis, and it’s my favorite part. I’m a school nerd, and I love digging through every inch of the text, snooping for themes and antithesis, looking up every word in the Lexicon because even the words you think you know may have an unexpected definition and open up a whole new layer of the character and play. I love consulting the First Folio to geek out on punctuation; I was lucky to take a First Folio technique class with Kate Buckley and will next write an entire blog post on that subject alone. I love the footnotes and prefaces in all the different editions; I love pulling out Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and looking at his dumb maps.
The big secret is: if you do your text analysis thoroughly enough, you don’t have to do hardly any acting at all. Well, maybe in the parts where you have to stab someone or stab yourself or what have you. But really – it’s already all there, in the rhythm and word choice. The writing is so good that all you have to do is speak the words and know what they mean, and you will tap into a river of human experience that is so complexly simple that both you and whoever is listening with an open heart will be brought together into one heartbeat.
We have some damn fine actors in this company – so come! Come with your open heart, and maybe you’ll fall in love with Shakespeare, too.
“FROG IN THE WELL”
I have never heard this term before. I have heard rumors that Russell Treyz, beloved director at HVSF who is helming this year’s production of The Liar, invented it. Here’s what a Frog in the Well rehearsal is:
You run scene one. You stop; you talk about it; you fix anything that looks bad or feels weird. You go back and run scene one and tack on scene two. Then you stop, and you work scene two. Then you run scene two and scene three together. And so on and so forth, until you’ve done the entire play.
A side note: Not only does Russ Treyz invent clever theater terms, he also gave me my first big professional job, playing Miranda in The Tempest at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in 2005. Russ is my favorite director to audition for because he is generous and positive in the audition room. Which is really nice, because my sense of humor is on the bizarre side; lots of directors do not think I am even a little bit funny, and I walk out of audition rooms feeling like a bunch of strangers just saw my underwear. But I always leave an audition with Russ feeling like a good actor, which any artist will tell you is money in the bank.
For my first blog post for HVSF, I will start by telling you two things that are both absolutely true:
Acting is easy.
Acting is the hardest thing anyone could ever do.
I came into rehearsals thinking that Two Gentlemen of Verona is a silly play. I told Eric* as much at my audition; the selection we were asked to prepare was Julia’s “O hateful hands” speech. In it, Julia chides herself for tearing up a love letter from Proteus, and then proceeds to fawn over each piece of the letter, alternately mooning over Proteus’ written name and flagellating herself. I hate that speech. I’ve hated that speech for as long as I can remember. It’s done at every thespian conference, monologue competition and school audition the world over, and it’s always done badly, in a way that makes you simultaneously hate and pity the actress performing it. It’s on every “Over-Performed Monologues You Should Never Ever Do” list.
And then there’s the end of the play: Julia watches Proteus, the love of her life, try to rape a woman who is betrothed to his best friend. The best friend stops the rape, but then says Proteus can still have his fiancé, which makes Julia faint. When she comes to, she agrees to marry Proteus, with not a single word said about anything. C’mon now, people.
But you know what? You are gonna come see this play, and you are gonna watch these events, and they are gonna make perfect sense, and we will all stand in awe of these characters’ infinite capacity for forgiveness. And you will be reminded that you have an unbelievable abundance of mercy within you. I know that’s what’s gonna happen, cuz that’s what is happening to me every day in the rehearsal room. And that is why acting is easy, and acting is the hardest thing anyone could ever do.
Cuz as it turns out, Two Gentlemen of Verona is NOT a silly play. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
* Eric Tucker, Director