Friday, April 15, 2011

The Shakespeare Struggle by Parker Matthews

The first time I heard of our Shakespeare teacher, Amy Thone, was in an interview in The Stranger.

It described her as a pirate.

Who taught acting.

Let’s be honest - who doesn’t want to take acting from a pirate? Much of the acting world would vastly improve if students were taught by extreme personalities like pirates. Or dinosaurs.

Jokes aside, there’s actually some truth in that.


I was in a Shakespeare class taught by Amy Thone before the Ensmble Training Intensive. Incidentally, it was thanks to that class that I actually heard about the upcoming ETI auditions. So this was not my first experience with Shakespeare via the Dread Pirate Thone.

“Shakespeare” is a word that strikes fear, discord, and indigestion in the minds/stomachs of many a person. In fact, one of my greatest joys comes from conversations at my work.

Nominally Interested Co-Worker: So, are you doing any acting right now?
Me: Yeah, I’m doing a play. [Insert obscure Shakespeare title here].
Nominally Interested Co-Worker: Oh. What kind of play is that?
Me: (incoherent mumbling) It’s a Shakespeare.
NIC: Huh?
Me: It’s a Shakespeare play.
NIC: Ah.
(Long Pause.)
NIC: You know what I like? Movies. Are you ever in movies?

Shakespeare’s works have a fascinating double-life. For those in theatre or exposed to good productions, Shakespeare plays can be explosive and thrilling experiences. For others, the plays are something that exists in some foreign land populated primarily by prissy men with skulls and pantaloons.

So we started the Shakespeare class with the Thonester a few months ago. We all came in with dramatically different backgrounds and levels of experience with ol’ Bardy’s jazz. I’ve got to confess: I cheated. I actually already liked Shakespeare. I had taken a college acting class that got me all fired up about what previously had been the most uninteresting of subjects. But (and I know that this sounds so deliciously clich├ęd) with Shakespeare, we’re always beginning. As this term reminded each of us time and time again.

Shakespeare’s works are incredible in many ways. To pick an arbitrary starting point, his works are incredibly challenging. Now, of course, challenging does not equal better. After all, attempting to move a mountain one bucketful of dirt at a time is challenging. Shakespeare, though, is challenging in a fantastic way.

We discover (over and over) that his works call for us to apply every single tool and technique in our repertoire. And then (over and over) we find that there’s still so much more to do.

Every tool. Every technique. Completely frustrating, to be sure. Shakespeare’s work has a fantastic way of exposing acting shortcuts and laziness. It challenges you constantly to be so much better. So much richer. Fuller.

And that is absolutely wonderful and absolutely infuriating.

We’ve had front row seats to the near-paralyzing difficulty of this work. The flip side, though (as opposed to bucket-mountain-moving) is that this work has contained some of the most transformational, “eureka” moments for the ETI members this year.

In class we’ve seen and experienced epic, fiery failures. But we have also seen rich, vibrant, bulldozing breakthroughs, breakthroughs of such magnitude that we don’t even recognize the actor onstage. And these are people we’ve been working in close proximity with for the last eight months.

We struggle with the words. We struggle with the language’s structure. The physical abandonment. The impossibly-high circumstances. The ever-deeper ambiguity of the characters. Heck, the memorization.

We struggle.

And yet there are those few moments, those moments that occur after ridiculous hours of over-analyzing, second-guessing, and no-man’s-land-wandering. Those moments where the work clicks into place and you feel the words and ideas and emotions fill you and emanate from you with life that you didn’t think was possible. The moments when you feel completely buoyed by and carried by and swept along with the text, and the words no longer feel like they were written four hundred years ago, but were written yesterday specifically for you and your life.

That’s what the struggle is about.

I don’t know if that’s too idealistic and head-in-the-clouds. To be quite honest, I read fantasy novels and act, so I’m essentially the worst person to judge if something’s too far removed from reality.

Honestly, even writing about Shakespeare is a funny thing. After all, there are libraries full of books on the joe’s works. What can you say in a blog post?

You can say that it’s a struggle. A struggle that you wish to share with ever more people. A gritty, ugly, savory, sumptuous struggle that constantly empties and fills you.

A struggle that makes you crave something more.

A struggle, as Amy Thone says, that has no end point.

There’s great comfort in that.


ETI Shakespeare Recital

Parker and his fellow ETI students will be performing works from Shakespeare at Freehold's ETI Shakespeare Recital on April 29 and 30th at Velocity Dance Center. Here's the scoop ...

Allow yourself to be wondrously filled up on the bards’ magnificent words at Freehold’s Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) Shakespeare Recital. This very special event includes two evenings full of excitement, passion, love and treachery as only Shakespeare can master. This recital traverses the wealth and breadth of Shakespeare works and includes scenes from: King John, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Richard III, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet.

Join us in seeing the great work Freehold's ETI conservatory trained students have been doing over the past eight months in their training program.

This recital is definitely “a dish fit for the gods.” Join us!

Friday, April 29 at 7:00 pm and
Saturday, April 30 at 7:00 pm AND 9:30 pm

TICKETS: Pay What You Can, available in advance at Brown Paper Tickets at:, or at the door ($10 suggested donation)
LOCATION: Velocity Dance Center, 1621 12th Avenue, Suite 200, Seattle

Shakespeare Class

If this post inspired you to want to take a Shakespeare class this spring quarter at Freehold, we are offering a Shakespeare class with Reginald Jackson. More information about that here. Class begins April 25.

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