On Acting Shakespeare


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. 



Shakespeare, my one true love.

I know I’ve been posting quite a few reviews lately, but I also want this blog to be a place where I can reflect on my life and my thoughts. So today, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about one of the people in this world who’ve completely altered the trajectory of my life: William Shakespeare.

When I first read Romeo and Juliet in my ninth grade English classroom, I was underwhelmed with the story. Star-crossed lovers, blah, blah, blah. But I was completely taken with the language, with the way that Shakespeare told that underwhelming story. The rhyme, the imagery, the creation of the characters just through the dialogue they said – all of it was astounding to me. I still wasn’t to the point where I wanted to pursue Shakespeare outside of the confines of the classroom, though. I think I was too overwhelmed to try reading it on my own – when his words were so brilliant, if I tried to read it by myself, I’d surely miss out on everything of importance. And where would the point be in that?

Macbeth and Hamlet were the next plays that I read – in AP lit, in eleventh grade, though I don’t remember which play came first. I do remember, however, that Hamlet spoke to me on a profoundly emotional level. His character – a young man in a complex relationship with the world around him but who was bound by his own melancholic state – is one that resonated with me then, and still does today. Thankfully, high school wasn’t the end of my Shakespearean studies. I read Othello in one of my honors humanities courses at Ball State, and it was a privilege to discuss that play with college students who – let’s be honest, were of a bit higher caliber than the kids at my high school. But I considered myself to be only a casual fan of Shakespeare up until the summer of 2012. Well, maybe slightly more than casual. But “casual” in terms of the fact that Shakespeare was a playwright I loved, but he hadn’t taken over my life. Yet.

Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

That was a joke (it’s actually a Last Airbender reference, for the information of those who are less inclined towards pop culture).

In actuality, everything changed when I applied for the US-UK Fulbright Summer Institute to Shakespeare’s Globe in London. A full scholarship to the Globe for three weeks, for three lucky American students – and I decided to apply. I knew, of course, that it was just a pipe dream, and that I had no chance whatsoever. I almost gave up on my application, too, because it was so much work getting it into shape. But I finished it, and I submitted it, and I expected nothing to come of it.

To my surprise and delight, I was chosen for a phone interview (to which I wore my lucky green pants, which I still cherish to this day) – and the next day, I got the email telling me that I won. I won the scholarship. I would be spending three weeks at the Globe.

I won’t blather on too much about my time at Shakespeare’s Globe, because everyone who knows me knows that I will not shut up about it once I get going. But I do want to say that the three weeks I studied in London completely changed my life. Obviously, the cultural experiences and adventures I got to have changed who I was personally. But as a lover of Shakespeare, nothing could have stimulated my obsession further than being given the opportunity to study Shakespearean text analysis with Giles Block, movement with Glynn MacDonald, voice with Martin McKellan… and beyond those classes, we studied and practiced Shakespearean music and dance, learned how to properly stage fight with rapiers and daggers, discovered how sets and costumes were designed for Shakespearean productions. As an English major who has harbored a love of theatre for her entire life, our classes and workshops were a dream come true.

Beyond that, we got to perform. Directed by accomplished actor Philip Bird, we put on an abridged version of The Taming of the Shrew, in which I played Petruchio in one act and Bianca in another. And of course, we got to see professional shows performed, which was even better. The Globe put on Taming that summer, as well as Henry V and HamletHamlet was another dream come true, as it was my favorite Shakespearean play and the first one I had gotten to see on stage, ever. And Henry V was – and this is no exaggeration – a life-changing experience. I can’t put into words what that play meant to me. We saw it twice, and would have seen it again. I would have gone to see it every day if I had the chance.

My experiences at the Globe will forever be the most cherished memories I hold. I actually wrote a memoir about them, entitled London Above, London Below (the title an allusion to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, one of my favorite books and one which I had the great pleasure of re-reading while taking the Underground to class each day), for my senior English capstone course at Ball State last year. The Globe helped me to grow as a person, as an actor, as a scholar, and most importantly, as a lover of Shakespeare.

When I returned to Fort Wayne, it seemed as though I had been marooned in a desert with no culture whatsoever. But I was hopeful that I could find some oasis to depend on for my Shakespearean needs. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a non-profit group in Fort Wayne called “Shakespeare from the Heart,” which was holding auditions for their summer production of Romeo and Juliet. Each summer they put on a show outdoors for free – and any donations from the audience are given directly to the charity for the year. I wasn’t able to audition, as I was going to be in Oregon for the week of the show – but they gladly took me on as an assistant, and since then I’ve risen to the status of executive board member, acting as the fundraising coordinator for the company. This summer, we’re doing Midsummer, and I hope to get a part; even if it’s just two lines, I’ll still be happy (auditions are tomorrow – please hope I break both legs).

I also landed an honors fellowship position as a research assistant for the “What Middletown Read” project as a result of my Fulbright summer. In essence, I was paid to read and take notes on Muncie newspapers in the 1890s, as the two professors heading the project – Dr. Frank Felsenstein and Dr. James Connolly – were working on editing the draft of their book about Muncie’s reading habits during that time period. I’ll definitely spend a whole post later talking about the project, because it’s a fascinating one.

But where this ties into Shakespeare is that for my honors thesis – the one I was procrastinating on when I wrote my first post on this blog – I decided to use my research notes from my fellowship as a starting point to do an in-depth analysis of Shakespeare in Muncie in the 1890s, specifically. I compared my findings from the newspapers and library records with scholarly research about Shakespeare in America during that period to discover whether or not Shakespeare’s position in the cultural hierarchy was established in the typical American town by then or not.

My thesis advisor (and former boss  – Dr. Felsenstein) thinks that with some cleaning up – and shortening, as it’s currently 95 pages long – my thesis would be a prime candidate for publishing in a periodical like Shakespeare Quarterly.

I took a Shakespeare colloquium from the honors college and studied As You Like It in my literature and gender class, with the added benefit of having seen the play performed in Covent Garden while I was in London. I took a trip to Illinois for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last summer in order to see Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, and I’ve seen every local Shakespearean production performed in about a sixty mile radius of Fort Wayne. I’m well on my way to finishing reading Shakespeare’s complete works. This blog is titled according to one of my favorite Shakespearean quotations. I applied for a full Fulbright to get my Master’s in Shakespearean Studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon – which, no surprise, I didn’t get. But like I’ve said before in previous posts, just because I’ve left the world of academia doesn’t mean the world of academia has left me.

Shakespeare has, it is safe to say, taken over my life. And I have absolutely no complaints. I can’t wait to see where my love (read: obsession) takes me next – but I’m sure it will be somewhere I never expected. I certainly never expected when I was sitting in my ninth grade English class, drawing a life-sized outline of Friar Lawrence, hating the fact that I had to work in a group, wondering how drawing a fat friar had anything to do with literary analysis, that my life would eventually lead me here, unemployed and rambling about Shakespeare’s impact on my life. Yet here we are! And I still have no complaints (although the “unemployed” thing could change, I’d be okay with that).


Stepping into the “Real World”

Well, I’m finished. I am officially a college graduate. Everyone keeps asking me, “how does it feel?” I wish I could say that it feels AWESOME; I wish I could say I feel accomplished or ready to take on the world. In all actuality, it makes me feel lost. I feel a bit like I’ve been helicopter-dropped into a desert in the middle of nowhere with a backpack of “supplies” meant to help me when in reality, the backpack has a padlock on it and they didn’t give me the combination.

For the entirety of my life, I’ve been a student. From preschool twenty years ago until just four days ago, being a student was all I knew how to be. And yes, throughout my college years, I’ve learned plenty about life and critical thinking and problem solving – I’ve had a fabulously well-rounded education, focused on practical elements as well as the liberal arts. But at the same time, I don’t know how to put those skills into application. Mostly because I am currently unemployed and lying in bed in a different pair of pajamas than I wore all day yesterday, with nothing to do but kill time and apply for jobs, hoping that one day the employment gods will smile down upon me and bless me with a paycheck.

So while it’s nice to be finished with all of the excessive schoolwork that’s been hanging over my head for the past twenty years – my senior thesis is finally completed and turned in, by the way, which is an accomplishment in and of itself – it’s also strange to be lacking that near-constant part of my life. I don’t know what to do now that I don’t have papers to write and projects to do, classmates to work with and books to research.

I think what I’m going to have to do, at least until a job does drop into my lap, is take it upon myself to continue my education. I’ve always wanted to learn about art history – why not check out a book and take my own notes and write my own papers? Who says that I can’t continue studying Shakespeare and editing my thesis to make it even better? Why can’t I decide to explore 1920s American literature even further than I did in my undergrad classes? It’s going to take much more work than just showing up to class two or three times a week to listen to the professor lecture. I’ll have to decide what avenues to explore, what deserves time and attention, what kinds of things I can do to keep practicing my literary analysis skills. But that also gives me a bit of freedom that I’ve never had before. And if I’m my own director, at least I won’t have to stress about deadlines.

The thing is that the “real world” that I’ve been told to prepare for throughout my entire life is just this: doing whatever I want. Once I become employed, of course, I’ll have responsibilities to complete and colleagues to collaborate with and everything else I expect from a Grown-up Job. But the real world for me, right now, in this moment, is whatever I want it to be. My to-do list consists of “do laundry” and “read those library books” and “work on writing short story” and “go outside and get some sun, you ghost-person.” So if I want to choose to make my own real world an extension of school, no one can tell me no. I could get used to having that kind of power.


It’s time I made a proper blog.

After all, I’m moving out into the world. My adolescent days of tumbling are long over, and as I take the step from the world of university to the real world (read: unemployment), I figure it’s time to take a step up and create a name for myself in the blogosphere (even if that name is just… my name).

So here it is, the cheesy introduction post, the one no one’s been waiting for: I’m Tara Olivero, I’m an English major in a complicated relationship with WORDS and LIFE and everything that comes along with those two great things, and I’ve only just realized that “English major” will only define me for another two weeks or so, so it’s a good thing I’m making this post now. I sense an identity crisis forthcoming. See? Complicated relationship.

In all actuality, I’m probably only making this blog as an excuse to procrastinate on my honors thesis. I love writing it, as it’s been a nice foray back into the world of academia after a semester student teaching and interacting with only thirteen-year-olds on a regular basis, but for some reason my four years’ worth of procrastination has left its mark. Two weeks, shmoo weeks, I’ll get this paper done eventually. It will even be better if I put it off, I’m sure. (That’s a lie. But maybe if I say it enough times, it will come true?)

But as the clock slowly ticks on and I feel the sun shift and the tides change, I know it’s time for me to get back to work. I’m sure a future blog post will spotlight my thesis, so I won’t say more on that subject just yet. Instead, I guess I should finish writing it. Ha.