After coming back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I was pumped to get back into acting. My curiosity about the Bard was piqued. As luck would have it I was able to get into Freehold’s Shakespeare Intensive with Amy Thone. My goal was to crack the nut, finally. Why do we value this playwright so deeply? Why is his language useful to actors? She vowed to treat us like adults and laid the responsibility on us to take care of ourselves. She asked us to get the most out of each other and her. These attitudes I found refreshing.
It became clear quickly that intelligibility is the first hurdle. It turns out that 400-year-old language sometimes contains subtleties of meaning that are easily lost on modern ears! In this way also Shakespearean text encourages the development of voice and diction: you must communicate it, and sometimes what is said is quite alien to the listener!
Soon, however, I began to see just how masterful this poet is at carving out speech. His twists of rhetoric and perfume of imagery, when engaged with, yield fruit in multiple ways. Foreign word use (such as “lief" for “dear”) forces clarity of inner life. Once you’ve swum in the language and grown comfortable with your memorization, you begin to be surprised by his wit and humor, both dark and light. I learned that for Shakespeare, the word is a weapon: sharpen it and use it well. Let it work for you. You are not Shakespeare’s slave; rather, he supports you.
The memorization expectations were one specific way I felt I was treated as an adult. This is our discipline as actors, and to expect us to embrace it was an attitude I appreciated. “We will not drop any text in this class, there’s simply not enough time!”
Amy’s approach to teaching is impressive: dynamic and flexible. She offers so much: in her personal time, her encouragement, her insights, and the material she picks for study. Her own enthusiasm for Shakespeare is itself a teaching tool. She encouraged us to draw our partners out, to wrestle deeply with the language and situations, and met us where we were towards growth as artists. And I feel that under her direction we did grow indeed, both individually and together. Class is exciting when it is filled with discoveries, new things, and pieces clicking into place. More than once, towards the end of class, watching other group's scene work brought tears up. Amy provided for us the safe and productive play space we needed for that discovery to be possible. She’s fiery, witty, funny, patient, challenging, caring… learning under her is so very fun!
And now, through the shifting colored glass of reflection, I see that I did indeed get what I asked for: I have found enthusiasm of my own for the Bard that I can share. However, I must not be overwrought in doing so, going on and on with ostentation, as I have learned: “for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” From Hamlet’s mouth, this admonition to actors is a touchstone I will surely carry with me for years to come.