On Acting Shakespeare

midsummerfairies

This afternoon was our last performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” so I wanted to take a second to reflect on this whole experience. 

This was my first real opportunity to act in any capacity in two years – the last time I was on stage, it was during my three weeks at Shakespeare’s Globe in London back in 2012. And even that was a non-audition show – we put on “The Taming of the Shrew,” but everyone was cast as a character. In “Midsummer,” I earned my spot as the First Fairy, which made me so, so, so, so proud.

So this was really my first chance to be in a fully costumed, fully staged Shakespearean production. I’ve been in musicals before, but I’ve never had a speaking role larger than two or three lines. In “Midsummer,” I had a whole scene! And a song! It was exhilarating. My practice speaking in front of a classroom full of students has definitely helped me get over much of my stage fright. I always remember my legs shaking and my voice quivering before – but I had no such problems in this show. I guess practice really does work. But more than just realizing that I’m over my stage fright, a few things struck me during this summer experience: 

1. I finally got to put my Globe knowledge and practice to good use. I spent three weeks studying how to properly speak, walk, breathe, act, etc., and at the time I thought, “WOW, this is amazing, but I’ll never need to use this practical stuff because I’m not a theatre major.” I was mostly interested in the historical and literary aspects of Shakespearean study, and the acting was more  of a fun adventure. But because I was cast in this show, I got to showcase my skills. I spoke from the diaphragm and projected my voice; I determined which of the “directions” my character would act in; I focused on the meanings inherent in the sounds of each of the words I spoke. To be quite honest, I pulled off a great performance, and it was thanks to my experience in London ages ago. 

2. I really got to flesh out my character. In shows before, I was always just a secretary (“How to Succeed”), or a townsperson (“Sweeney Todd”), or essentially, a people-prop. Even in “Taming,” I knew I was Petruchio – but I didn’t get to fully develop him as my own character, because so much of my time was spent just practicing my lines and my blocking. But in “Midsummer,” I got to figure out exactly what kind of fairy I was. I was the First Fairy, Titania’s right-hand. I was clearly proud of holding such a high position, even though the hard work exhausted me. I felt like a loving older sister who needed to guide and protect the other, lesser fairies. But if any of them crossed me – oh no. They would not steal my thunder and live to tell the tale. (Actually, the second fairy and I did a lot with our physical acting to play up a rivalry between us – which we could do even without any lines written in. It was great.) I fully developed how the First Fairy would react to everything – and I’ve never felt more in tune with my character. 

3. I experienced the theatrical community within the cast. I don’t have a lot of friends in town, since most of my close friends went to my university but don’t live where I currently do. But I’ve grown to know my fellow cast members so well over these past few months that I feel like I have a community to depend on. Creating something so special together really tied us in a bond that won’t end tonight with the closing of the show. I have a different relationship with every single person in the cast – and especially with my fairies and the Pucks. Hopefully, we’ll get to be together again for the show next summer, and also throughout the year just as friends. But our inside jokes and our shared laughter (and shared misery, on occasion) will be memories I’ll always treasure. In fact, after the show this afternoon, we were joking that we should start a Shakespeare flash mob club where we text each other to show up at a certain spot in town at a certain time just so we can do the show again for fun. That won’t happen – but the fact that we all wished it would is telling of our relationships with one another. 

It’s been a blast. I’ve loved making the audience laugh with my own lines and seeing them laugh at everyone else’s. One of my favorite moments was when Titania is fighting with Oberon and she calls for a fairy – me – and I run on, just before she immediately sends me off and I slowly back off the stage again. I never thought what I did was particularly funny – but the audience cracked up. Every time. So by tonight’s show, I played it up and got the best laughs I’ve gotten all weekend for that part. Seeing everyone’s smiles made me happier. Entertaining people – or really, making them feel anything at all – is a special experience, especially because it’s entertaining people with Shakespeare, which is so dear to my heart. I’m so glad I was able to participate this summer, and I am already looking forward to next year’s show. 

Tara

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