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Something in the wind
Hello beautiful humans!
Today is a high holy day in my little world. Records suggest the birth of William Shakespeare on 23RD April in 1564, and his death on 23RD April in 1616.
There is much ado about who actually authored the plays... But today, I embrace sentimentality and inspiration, and I fucking well celebrate The Man from Stratford.
William Shakespeare... Outlaw. Misfit. Entrepreneur. Son-of-a-glover. Imperfectly educated. Reject. Irritant. Adulterer. Wordsmith. Poet. Playwright.
Last night I enjoyed director Simon Godwin’s reimagining Timon of Athens from the RSC in 2018, thanks to Marquee TV. To aid in celebrations of Shakespeare’s birthday, tonight I plan to watch Broadway staple Patrick Page’s solo piece, ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE, streaming from The Shakespeare Theatre.
I can’t think of a point in the last decade or more when I haven’t been interested by Shakespeare, but these last few weeks I seem to have been even hungrier than usual.
I have been thinking about how sometimes actors live for Shakespeare… they delight in his language. The purity of their joy when they work to embody and unleash his writing is infectious. It inspires me. Sometimes it is as though they ended up as actors accidentally, only because their love of Shakespeare pushed them there in the first place.
However, these folks are rare.
Much more of the time I see actors step on their brakes and skid a wee bit when Shakespeare’s writing arrives in the room. It can honestly feel heartbreaking, for me, when talented and brave performers ask things like, “what if I’m not cut out for this?” while they’re experimenting with Shakespeare. It is even worse when someone has quite simply resigned: “I love watching Shakespeare! I’m just not good at doing Shakespeare, personally…”
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert reflects:
“…In ancient Greek, the word for the highest degree of human happiness is eudaimonia, which basically means “well-daemoned”—that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide. (Modern commentators, perhaps uncomfortable with this sense of divine mystery, simply call it “flow” or “being in the zone”).
“But the Greeks and the Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity—a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors. The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf. They called it your genius—your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.
“It’s a subtle but important distinction (being vs. having).”
Gilbert goes on to note:
“I think society did a great disservice to artists when we started saying that people were geniuses, instead of saying they had geniuses. That happened around the Renaissance, with the rise of a more rational and human-centered view of life. The gods and the mysteries fell away, and suddenly we put all the credit and blame for creativity on the artists themselves…”
(Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert).
Shakespeare was not a genius… He was an artist and his work was better than a lot of other work out there, but he was human as you or I. He wasn’t a genius, and you don’t need to be anything except yourself to approach the writing he left behind.
I have theories about how we’ve arrived here… but the result is the result, and it saddens me.
Whether we’re thinking about consumers, students, or performers, I believe Shakespeare should feel like part of the world… Something that belongs to everyone, like sunrise or sunset. Something that is there for you, when you want to engage it.
Shakespeare should not feel like something that is accessible to only a select few. But it does feel that way too often, and that’s a problem.
I wish that I could help people’s encounters with Shakespeare be less scary, and more nourishing. So, I have decided to return to my slightly madman roots, and believe that if I just start working at it, the forces of Serendipity will bring me what I need.
My inner madman and I are developing two new training resources for actors who want to grow more comfortable with Shakespeare, and I will be unveiling those opportunities as we roll into summer.
You heard it here first, folks. Stay tuned. That’s all I can say about that for now, except this...
In my experience of ‘pause’ through the Covid-19 pandemic this past year, I have felt louder-than-usual curiosity inside me about how the world, and people—and therein theatre—might be changing during this period. Of course, Shakespeare will be part of our changing theatre, in one way or another… what will it be like?
I am curious, too, how I am changing. (One doesn’t easily see oneself up close. A vantage point of a few years brings more clarity).
But, I was standing outside just now, thinking about that… Thinking about Shakespeare… Looking at a cobalt sky and wondering if my inner madman and I are doing the right thing, embarking on our next adventure... And just then, a single firework exploded right in front of my gaze. Firework... celebration. What is today? Shakespeare’s birthday.
There is something in the wind, so I am hopping on my broomstick to ride it.
Until next week,
© Jeffrey Puukka, 2021