Why I LOVE Shakespeare?

I just closed a production of AS YOU LIKE IT with Ten Thousand Things were I played Orlando, and the experience made me reflect on why it is the I like Shakespeare so much.  If you aren’t familiar with Ten Thousand Things, they tour their shows to prisons, treatment centers, homeless shelters, etc.  So it’s important the production be accessible in many many ways.  By the audience response, it was clear that I was part of a very accessible production and the show reinforced my joy of doing Shakespeare.  But why?

As an actor, I love the use of language.  It is such a joy to speak the way his characters do.  The images are vibrant.  The arguments are intriguing and smart.  And the thoughts require an inspiration of breath that is directly connected to emotion.  We don’t speak this way anymore.  Not even close.  We’re lucky if we need to piece together a sentence with 6 beats, let alone 10 or even 20.  And with texting and twitting, we don’t need any breath at all.  I get excited about the challenge of making his language clear and accessible.  I also love his characters.  They have contradictions and complexities that real humans have.  The stakes for them are always very high and they don’t shy away from extreme emotions.  To do it well, the actor really needs to tap into a deep truth.  Faking it will never do.  Another great challenge.

I love his stories.  Shakespeare knows how to tell a great story.  I know what happens in Romeo and Juliet, but when I see a good production, I’m riveted to know what’s going to happened to the star crossed lovers.  And he’s not afraid of bizarre twists, like someone suddenly getting chased by a bear, or pirates appearing out of nowhere, or gods suddenly descending from who knows where, or statues coming to life.  These are wonderfully theatrical moments with a spirit of fun.

Shakespeare is all inclusive.  His plays know no boundaries when it comes to gender, race, disability, and religion.  The fact that I am a Filipino American has very rarley been an issue in being cast in a Shakespeare play.  It didn’t matter that my brother in AS YOU LIKE IT, Oliver, was a middle aged white man or that a white Rosalind had an African American cousin.  It didn’t matter that in The Strange Capers production of TWELFTH NIGHT that Orsino was played by a woman, or in our MIDSUMMER that Audrey was a man.  The audiences joyfully threw themselves into the event of make believe and didn’t let those things get in the way of their experience.  It didn’t matter!  What mattered was that there were good actors telling a good story in a good, exciting, and clear way. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are culturally specific plays that need to be told in a culturally specific way.  And I’m also aware that there were times that I was not considered for certain Shakespeare roles because of my ethnicity.  But in my experience acting, directing, and producing, Shakespeare plays are strong enough to sustain open casting and I love that.

It is my personal mission to continue on this path of open casting and I look forward to that process again with our production of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS by William Shakespeare.

–Randy

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