February 1st, 2014
I am officially back on-board the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival's educational tour after a fantastic experience with last year's OTHELLO!
This time, we'll be performing MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING with myself playing the role of Leonato.
The production will be directed by Christopher V. Edwards and Michele Vazquez
Last year's educational tour was one of my most challenging and rewarding acting experiences so far (just trying to be awake at 8am is daunting, let alone acting) and I am excited to get a chance to take another crack at acting Shakespeare without a net.
Performing Shakespeare before a largely middle/high school crowd is probably not too far off from what Shakespeare and Co. went through waaay back in the day with the groundlings.
There's less bubonic plague, and a lot more iPhones, but the visceral reactions that arise from the audience harken back to the good old days of theatre. When people kiss, there's cheering. When people get slapped, there's gasping. The audience isn't reading the Playbill when someone's getting stabbed onstage, and there is no polite golf-clap at the end.
During last year's production of OTHELLO during our preview performance, I learned a valuable lesson that only this kind of production can give.
As Lodovico, after Othello had slapped Desdemona and the crowd had gone wild, I turned to the audience and asked:
"Is this the moor whom our full senate call all in all sufficient?"
A teenager in the third row called back, "NAW."
I froze. Goddamn people weren't supposed to TALK BACK. That's just not proper theatre etiquette! I sputtered for a bit, thrown off my horse, then hustled my ass off the stage.
I had been caught out of the moment. I threw a tennis ball into the audience and they volleyed it back into my face. But I wouldn't be caught unaware again, and by the end of the run I was demanding a vocal response from the audience when I asked them, "-is this the moor-?"
Putting on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING under these circumstances brings things full circle for me as well, as MUCH ADO was my first Shakespeare play eleven years ago.
It was also the closest I've ever come to quitting acting.
I was playing Borachio, and had no idea what I was doing. I remember sitting at the break table after my shift at Subway, staring at the lines:
"-like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten. tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club-"
Not only, "what does that mean," but why am I talking about massy clubs and codpieces at all?
The confusion and frustration came to the fore during our opening night.
There is a particular moment in the play, when Borachio is conspiring with Don John, that my character gives pretty much the entire plot of the play in one monologue.
We're in the middle of that scene and my big monologue is approaching. Almost there-
Proof enough to misuse the Prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato. Look you for any other issue?
Don John is supposed to next say:
Only to Despite them, I will endeavor anything.
but instead, he said-
Grow this to what adverse issue it can, I will put it in practice. Be cunning in the working this, and thy fee is a thousand ducats.
-which is the response to my big monologue explaining the plot of the play. We had skipped the plot.
I panicked, the plot had to be included, right? So I tried to work it back around-
My lord... but how can I groweth... what I have not planteth...
Keep thine bunches of ducats. You know, because, I've got a great plan to tell you-
It's a greateth plan indeed- and that plan is- that is so greatheth- it is a villanous greatheth plan...
And then I trailed off into silence. Deadly, deadly silence. Don John stared at me, wide-eyed like a fish, and all was quiet.
After what seemed like three hours of silence, Don John finally saved my ass, repeating his line and hustling us off stage.
Sorry folks, no plot tonight.
At the time, it was the worst thing that had ever happened. I had panicked, frozen onstage. I would be shunned forever. It was time to quit acting and retire to a life of shame.
All those feeling of regret churned inside me throughout the rest of the play, so that when Borachio is captured and confesses his crimes to Leonato, out poured real grief and sorrow about forgetting to include the goddamn plot of the play.
Afterwards, no-one mentioned the fact that I choked. They only talked about my final scene, when my real emotions of grief and sorrow overwhelmed everything else I'd built up in my head and everything was clear.
After that, Shakespeare opened up for me in a way I never thought possible, that performance giving way to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING will be touring throughout NY and NJ through May. There will be several public performances in addition to our slate of school shows, so stay turned for scheduling updates!