ACT I: THE PRECONCEIVED NOTION --
Before I knew anything about it, I thought I'd like Billy Shakespeare (how I intend to refer to him henceforth) in the same way I like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Even if I don't love the work, I can appreciate the artist and recognize him for the pioneer he was. Just because his works aren't my style doesn't mean they're bad, and he can scratch out a winner now and then. For the most part, as long as Billy didn't get in my way, I wasn't going to get in his.
ACT II: THE INTRODUCTION --
My introduction to performing Shakespeare can be credited to a friend of mine who introduced the idea of going to a Shakespeare competition. Now, I was still trying to stay out of Billy's way but I had always thought a monologue competition would be fun so I put some thought into it. As luck would have it, I had just seen this AMAZING video of one of my favorite Broadway comedians, Christopher Fitzgerald, performing a Shakespearean monologue so I went home and looked it up. I knew I had to do the competition as soon as I saw it, because this video is what proved to me that Shakespeare was real acting. You could still use inflection, you could still feel what you're saying, and you don't have to sound all proper. So, I went to work memorizing the monologue and, you know what? It was actually really fun. To this day it's one of my favorite pieces ever to have done, and I really did pretty well in the competition (honorable mention with special recognition for energy and physicality...which made me feel good). When I looked at my score sheets, I discovered that the main reason I didn't do better was because it wasn't "Shakespearean enough." I suppose this should make sense, I saw that Mr. Fitzgerald did it fairly modern so I did it even more so and, by the end, I forgot that I was even doing Shakespeare (which some of the judges found disrespectful and others inventive). This lead me to some research concerning how to be more "Shakespearean" and I was horrified by what I found.
ACT III: MY HATRED IS IGNITED --
My research yielded that Billy wrote in a kind of code to dictate the actor's every move. Every comma, every exclamation point, every dash, all of it dictates how the actor must pause and what syllables he has to emphasize. In addition, apparently in Billy's work the actor has to "act on the lines" which completely devalues the dramatic (or comedic) pause, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite devices. Basically, BILLY TAKES ALL THE FUN OUT OF ACTING! If any other writer (or director for that mattered) tried to dictate an actor's decisions to that extreme they'd be attacked by a hoard of angry actors! But old Billy can get away with it? I don't think so! At that moment, I vowed my hatred towards Shakespeare and everything that related to him (except West Side Story...my love for that never dies).
ACT IV: MY RAGE GROWS --
Despite my hatred, I had been assured that seeing a full Shakespearean show would be different, so I agreed to go to see a production of Macbeth (ironically held at the same place my competition was). It was just as bad as I thought. It was so hard to follow and all emotion seemed contrived because the actors weren't allowed to make the parts their own. The designer also made some really strange choices in mixing modern elements (like machine guns and handheld cameras) with period ones. All in all I left feeling exhausted because I felt like the production asked too much of the audience. It didn't draw me in at all! The language and the stiffness kept me at arm's length trying to decipher the madness. It was that day that my deploration of Billy's work was confirmed.
ACT V: THE TAVERN TURNS THE TABLES --
Because of my feelings towards Billy's work, I was cautious when, just a few weeks ago, I was invited by a good friend to see a production of Romeo and Juliette at The Shakespeare Tavern. However, despite my wariness, it turned out to be an absolutely wonderful production. Once again I was reminded that Shakespeare can be funny and the actors truly can have fun with it and make it their own. In fact, I came to see Shakespeare as having even more creativity than prose because the actor has to deliver his meaning sometimes without using discernible words. In this production, the body-language and inflection was by far the best part of the show and made for some truly inspired performances.
Act VI hasn't been written yet, because I am still on the fence about Shakespeare I know people who adore his work (including one young lady who's goal in life is to play Hamlet) and help me to see the point of it, and others who remind me of how bulky and awkward it can be (unless you have a carrot like Christopher Fitzgerald). But now instead of staying away from him, I find myself wanting to see any of Billy's productions that I can so that I can eventually have an opinion on the subject.
So Shakespeare, while I don't yet "love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty," I might be getting there...