Once upon a time I played Helena in Shakespeare’s Rom-Com A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When I was cast for the part my on-stage experience included Hodel from Fiddler on the Roof and Nancy from Oliver!. Since musical theatre lines are mostly sung I freaked out when I was cast as Helena. Helena had some of the longest monologues and there were no musical cues to remind me of the blocking. How the heck was I going to memorize all those lines?
But I did it, thrived and survived to tell the tale.
Three years earlier, my senior year of college, I had taken my final required English Ed major class: Intro to Shakespeare. I rarely showed up, rarely did more than read the scripts and threw together a few essays and watched the required Kenneth Branagh BBC Shakespeare videos. There is such a thing as too much Kenneth Branagh.
The Prof was horrible and I was overwhelmed with Level Three Education and English classes. Because of missed attendance and assignments I barely passed – but somehow managed a C-. I was embarrassed. I still have nightmares that I DIDN’T pass Intro to Shakespeare and was denied my diploma.
But I managed to kick ass as Helena a few years later. Once you perform Shakespeare, or whoever wrote those plays, you gain a new level of respect for language, movement, rhythm, sound… unlike what is found in musical theatre… and a well-timed grimace and re-adjustment of the bra strap can send the audience howling.
Shakespeare turned me into a “laugh slut.” It’s one thing to get tears or applause after a scene or song, but making people laugh? O fuck… it’s as good as sex.
You say it, then say it again, then write it down, then read it out loud, then read it differently, different inflection, different timing, different perspective, say it, read it, write it, read it, block it, play it.
The words spin and saunter and banter on stage. This is magic. You can’t stop it.