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Tuesday, 10 October 2017 10:24

Scared of Shakespeare?


Thorson VictoriaWritten by Victoria Thorson

Student about to embark on her second year of the 2 Year Diploma in Professional Acting


To fear or not to fear?...That is the question.

'No Fear Shakespeare', a website that translates Shakespeare text into modern English, was my first contact with Shakespearean text. Sure I might have read some extracts of Shakespeare in middle school and seen a few film adaptations and stage productions, but to be honest, seeing Orlando Bloom as Romeo didn’t have much more to do with Shakespeare than any rom-com movie on Netflix.

Boy was I scared. When researching for my drama school audition monologue I didn’t really understand much of the context or meaning of any of Shakespeare’s text. I was a lost soul in Shakespeare land, both figuratively and literally, as I was a Swede in Shakespeare’s Britain. Whilst trying to decipher the meaning of my monologue a slight resentment for Shakespeare began to creep into my veins. The language seemed so distant and the meaning of the words quite dated. I didn’t find that the text connected with reality and it seemed a bit pompous and over the top from my very naturalistic Swedish point of view. Remember, I’m from the land of “lagom” a word that means “just sufficient”, not too much, not too little - a word that doesn’t even have an exact translation in the English dictionary because that’s not how people really go about things here.

Anyway, back to Shakespeare. I managed to work through seeing a few productions and films of the play that my chosen monologue was from and I learnt to live with the fact that I didn’t love it. Weirdly enough though, I did manage to get into drama school. Probably not thanks to that speech, that’s for sure.

Once I had started at DSL I didn't look forward to the Shakespeare block, the closer we came to it the more I dreaded it. I want to be a screen actor, I kept telling myself, I love social realism, not some over the top fairy tale story. But the truth was that I was afraid of the text. I didn’t understand it and I didn’t know how to approach it. I’d always been quite sure of myself when it came to scripts but with Shakespeare I felt illiterate. I was frightened that my colleagues would soon see how little I knew or how little I felt for this crucial part of the training. So when the Shakespeare block finally began I was not a happy puppy.

It started with a one-week workshop. We were handed a compendium of several short extracts and sentences from different Shakespeare plays and assigned to prepare a few of them to read for the class. I got a piece from The Winter’s Tale - a play I’d never really heard of, except for seeing a poster with Dame Judi Dench on it. I got assigned the role of the Bohemian King Polixenes, I mean, my mind was already shutting this business down… me a Bohemian king? I don’t know…. I was dreading the read because I felt I had nothing to offer. But when I finally stood up in front of the class it turned out I simply had to read it. No strings attached and no hidden meanings of being a Bohemian, Shakespearean king. It was a safe place to be an illiterate.

Throughout the week, we used these short sentences and extracts to learn how not to decipher the Shakespearean language but how to see it. After a few days it felt more like an archaeological task, slowly revealing the skeleton of the meaning of the text rather then it being an equation that I couldn’t solve.
I learnt that the words weren’t really pompous at all. It was just another way of being very blunt and straight forward. It was like opening a door to another world where people were being real; they were living with their hearts on their sleeves and what is more real than that?

In one week I went from being super scared to super excited. Its sound cheesy but it’s the truth and a cheesy end is at least what I’m looking for in life.

Shakespeare has really taught me so much about acting. Dare to be free, not some neutral facade. Live the words and feel the power and opportunities they give you as an actor. With Shakespeare I experienced something I hadn’t before. It gave me a freedom to go for it and not apologise about taking a leap of faith and falling on my face. Shakespeare is all about falling on ones face and showing that to hurt is to be human, but it’s also absolutely magnificent to be alive!