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My Shakespeare Crush #1

The Actors Shakespeare Project is a Boston-area theater company that mounts its productions in venues hither (Brighton High School), thither (Cambridge Multicultural Center), and yon (Church of the Covenant). I’ve seen many of their productions, support the company, and read their emails for news about upcoming plays.

A few months ago, the ASP message line read, “Join us at one of our upcoming education projects!”

Spring Shakespeare Workout for Adults

  Come work out your Shakespeare with Founding Company Members Jennie Israel and Paula Plum in an intensive six-session scene study class. Explore all of the tools of the actor — voice, body, breath, text analysis and audience connection — as you play with a monologue and scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays.  Open to all levels of experience, from seasoned actors to those who want to try out Shakespeare’s words for the first time.

 I must have  gotten this notice before, but for some reason, this time I did not delete it.

Watching the first act of any Shakespeare play, I always feel like I’m ten minutes and fifty yards behind the action. This is true for plays with which I am somewhat familiar: As You Like It, The Tempest. It’s much worse with any of the histories.

Eventually, I do catch on. Or maybe I just surrender and let the play happen to me. Invariably, I become enchanted, and/or horrified, delighted, shocked. Shakespeare always delivers.

I love the routines and rituals of theater-going – being part of an audience, reading the playbill, living entirely in the moment, rooting for the actors, reflecting on the performances, sets, and lighting, all the way home. But after seeing a production of Othello or Taming of the Shrew — any of Shakespeare’s works — I always wonder what I missed. And I want more.

That email was an invitation to more. And besides, I sort of knew Paula Plum: actress/director/playwright/ teacher.

Boston is a small town and over the years, she and I had met on several occasions. Once, we sat together at a luncheon where we were able to change our relationship status from familiar strangers to fond acquaintances. So the subject line of my email to Paula was: “I’m thinking about taking your Shakespeare workout.” The message: “Talk me into it.”

She answered with an enthusiastic pitch: “You get a unique perspective on language when you take text and live it as actors do. … Jennie and I have shared this Shakespeare Workout at least ten times and miracles always happen!  It’s a big thing to promise, but the intensity and the compression of time forces the bulbs to bloom… there’s a spring metaphor for you!”

I was in need of … fertilization. I’d been working on a novel for over a year, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Which is to say, I couldn’t get out of my own way. Perhaps the Shakespeare Workout would help me slip the noose of my own ego. Also, it seemed like fun. I signed on as one “who wants to try out Shakespeare’s words for the first time.”

A few weeks before the first class, they sent a questionnaire:

1) What is your experience, if any, with Shakespeare? (None required, of course)

I wrote: “My experience is as an audience member and reader.”

2) Do you have 1 or 2 favorite plays by Shakespeare?

I wrote: “King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing.”

 What I didn’t write: I’m not sure if these really are my favorites. I saw King Lear on stage for the first time two years ago, and I’m still vibrating. Much Ado I’ve seen more than any other Shakespeare play, including two filmed versions: the one with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, and Joss Whedon’s contemporary take.

3) Do you have a DREAM role you’ve always secretly (or not so secretly) longed to play?  Allow your imagination to run wild – your dream role need not be anything like your own gender and age…

I wrote: I never dreamed or even thought about acting in a Shakespeare play. That said, I’m fascinated by Kate in Taming of the Shrew and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

 What I didn’t write: The whole idea scares the shit out of me. This is mostly because my memory, never good, is now pitiable.

4) What are your hopes for our time together?

I wrote: I hope to get inside Shakespeare’s language, to understand and experience it in a deeper, richer way. As a child, teenager, and into college, my dream was to be an actress. I performed throughout high school, but never Shakespeare. Acting is a deathless itch, which I scratch as a public speaker. But it’s not the same.I see this class as a chance to engage with acting and theater again, but without expectations of treading any boards. My goal is to enjoy the class with a minimum of self-judgment.

What I didn’t write: I want to get out of my own way.

Coming soon: My Shakespeare Crush #2 or What’s in a Workout?

5 Comments

  1. Paula Plum on May 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Anita, this is so exciting to read your charted journey into and soon-to-be out of the Shakespeare Workout! I love the honesty of disclosing your fears and trepidations. It will validate others who fear the same and give them courage to dare! Thank you! xo paula

  2. Kathleen Shattuck on May 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Anita, I’m loving the way you’re approaching this…I believe you can do it and gain so much more insight. I wish I had the guts.
    You say you’re trying to get out of your own way…looks like this is the venue that just might do it!
    Please keep us informed on your progress, and how it relates, if at all, to your writing…
    Kathy xo

  3. Ellen Sturgis on May 29, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Anita, you joined Paula, my daughter and I for lunch years ago at Ipstairs at the Pudding–have always lived your work (Dogtown I think had just come out) and learned that day about your process of research and writing. I LOVE that you are taking on Shakespeare in a similar way!

    • Anita Diamant on June 23, 2017 at 11:10 am

      I remember it well. It’s where Paula Plum and I really got acquainted.

  4. Barbara Kline on June 1, 2017 at 10:04 am

    I love this piece and can’t wait to read the follow-up entries. I’m laughing as I read; laughing because I have the same reactions when reading or attending a Shakespeare play. You are courageous, smart, and determined (also very talented). Thank you for your generosity in sharing this experience with us.

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