Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
Your job as an actor is to demystify Shakespeare. If you don’t, then it is dead in the water!” This is the mantra my Shakespeare class hears every Wednesday and Thursday from our teacher, Leo Wringer. Our introduction to this man was as a highly successful actor who has been in at least seven shows at the RSC and played Othello at least three times, who also happens to have the craziest laugh on the planet. Our first day, Leo started class by having us throw a soccer ball at each other and anytime someone faltered, he would shout “Don’t think, my babies, just do!” It is his goal that by the end of our term, we as young actors are able to demystify Shakespeare.
Now to establish, a large component of our LDA program is our Shakespeare acting class, which makes sense since he is a symbol of English theatre and necessary for every English-speaking actor to understand. Now the 21 of us in the program are split into two different groups for Acting and Shakespeare. Half of us have Leo and the other half are taught by Zoe Waites, another incredibly successful actress. This is where their two similarities stop. Zoe’s approach to Shakespeare is much more relaxed where Leo’s is an Elizabethan boot camp. I thought that it would be good to tell you all about this pivotal class in my program.
Throughout the course of the term, Leo will have us work on a monologue and a scene either fromMeasure for Measure or Macbeth. The monologues entirely disregarded gender and were much more about getting the technique to tackle verse. Leo is adamant about only breathing at the end of a line when one is speaking blank verse and has the keen eye to notice when someone is breathing in the wrong place. He believes that it is best for us to start at the most difficult so that if a director wants us to do verse this way, we have the ability to just do it and not think about it. He believes in emotional rawness and passion throughout the work and that an actor must always be in a state of readiness (we are expected to warm up physically and vocally before class to be in this state). This means no legs or arms crossed and if someone slips up, Leo barks ”Unwrap, my babies!” This made it easier for us to step into our scenes, which we are currently in the middle of working on.
I was given a monologue from Measure For Measure that belongs to Angelo. It is one of his soliloquies in Act 2, Sc 4 that begins “When I pray and think, I think and pray”. When I first received this speech, I was ready to tackle what I thought would be an emotional but not too crazy speech. I was dead wrong. Leo spent weeks working with me on not thinking, and that meant throwing four tasks at me at the same time. One memorable time had me clapping at the last word on a line, snapping at a change of thought and REMEMBERING TO BREATHE ONLY AT THE END OF THE LINE! Sometimes, he would have us run around the room and be Barack Obama, or doing push ups and saying the speech. This is all to make us ready and break us of our defaults. The last day I worked on Angelo, Leo got me to such a state of raw emotion that I was sobbing throughout the speech and almost could not get the words out of my mouth. It was an incredible feeling to finally get what Leo wanted out of me and to be that emotional available.
The scene I am currently working on is from Act 1, sc 7 of Macbeth and is the incredibly famous “Was the hope drunk?” scene. How did Leo know that Lady Macbeth is a dream role of mine? He is also requiring us to use the First Folio edition (where I am actually called Macbeth’s Wife and not Lady Macbeth) because it is closest to what Shakespeare originally wrote. He also has all of us dressed like our character which means for me a palate of black, character shoes, and our long black Period Dance Skirts (which I might stow away in my suitcase because I want it so much) and this simple change of dress really does help me with Lady Macbeth. These scenes are a chance to apply everything that we have learned from working on the monologues and applying it to incredibly difficult scenes from Shakespeare’s canon. Leo is expecting us to have completely fleshed out characters and know where the antithesis and alliteration lay in the language. Another thing Leo really wants us to take away from this class is an understanding of how to approach the language of Shakespeare so that we can demystify it for an audience. As he says, you want your acting to be “fleet of foot” and “Shakespeare PLUS!” If he feels as if you are collapsing, he will make sure to let you know that it is not working. My scene partner, Daniel V from Fordham, and I have been working most nights on figuring out of characters and making sure we know exactly what it is we are saying because Leo will know if we don’t and not be thrilled.
Now I realized I may have made this class sound horrible. It really is not, just quite difficult. We have many moments of levity in class due to Leo’s laugh and reaction to things. We always laugh when Leo comments on someone lack of stakes because he always substitutes either a pet mouse or hamster into the dialogue for example “Yield your body up to my pet mouse”. We all enjoyed the moment when someone messed up “Duncan comes here tonight” and said tomorrow and Leo began to roll on the ground as he was laughing. A good work environment needs moments of laughter and jokes throughout it in order to truly work.
This is one of the most incredible classes I have taken in my life and I know that everything I learn will be useful when I go out in the real world and try to follow my dream of being a Shakespearean actor.