Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

I am so pleased to be writing this post as a part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's online celebration of William Shakespeare's 448th birthday. My Facebook feed today is lit up with birthday messages for the Bard (and for St. George's Day). I love it!

In a few short weeks, I will be facing the big 3-0 so I have been doing a lot of retrospective, nostalgic thinking lately. Evaluating the events, things, and people who've had an effect on the person I've become and the kind of person I want to become as I get older. One figure in particular looms very large for me: William Shakespeare. A man I have never met and never will meet, because he is 448, and I am only 29. But his words have touched me in ways that I am sure I can never fully express or appreciate.

When I was twelve years old, my parents took me to see Hamlet at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. We sat in the front row, and Horatio was very cute. It was funny when Hamlet crab-walked. It was, simply put, larger than life, and I had no inkling at the time how this experience would change the course of my life. A week later, I bought a copy of it at a bookstore. That fall I began middle school where I read the middle-school-staples: Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. High school brought Macbeth and Hamlet. And still every summer, we went to see a show at PSF in Center Valley, PA.

After so many summers of seeing Shakespeare's plays and many English classes of reading them, I learned that one of the local community theaters was holding auditions for As You Like It. What a fun thing to do over summer break! It was time to cross over to the stage. I can't believe that was ten years ago. I auditioned and was thrilled for the opportunity to play Phebe, the feisty shepherdess. I didn't realize how badly I'd caught the bug until after I graduated college and decided to become an actor.

My first professional experience in acting Shakespeare came in the summer of 2005 at Harrisburg Shakespeare Company (then Festival) in Henry V. The following summer I played Juliet in West Chester, PA. Following on Juliet's heels, I did an educational tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Hermia and Starveling. I was hooked!

1 Henry VI, May 2008
A few years later, I co-founded what has become the Adirondack Shakespeare Company with Patrick Siler. Our first production as (Shakespeare IN THE RAW) was 1 Henry VI in May 2008. Our humble beginnings were on a hillside in the Brandywine River Valley of Delaware, our stage a 10x10 wooden platform. This first RAW production remains one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Our aim was to strip away everything that we could from production so that the play itself was front and center. Eleven actors played somewhere between 50-60 roles, learned an uncut script over the course of about eight weeks, rehearsed for twelve hours, and performed for a small but appreciative audience on a beautiful spring afternoon. So Shakespeare IN THE RAW was born.

2 Henry VI, November 2008
This company has become the cornerstone of my professional life and my passion. We have gone on to produce 2 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI. We incorporated as Adirondack Shakespeare Company in early 2010 and produced Richard III. As the War of the Roses came to an end, we launched our first summer festival season in upstate New York with As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. That fall I began graduate school -- as a Doctoral Fellow studying (you guessed it) Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature at St. John's University. In the spring of 2011, we produced at St. John's for the first time (Titus Andronicus and The Tempest). 

A Midsummer Night's Dream, August 2011
Last year's summer season grew to include a children's production as well as main stage performances of The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. Our first repeat show happened this spring with The Merchant of Venice as part of The Justice Project, alongside Measure for Measure. And we are gearing up for this summer's third festival season with Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the fall, I kick off my dissertation project The Kingship Cycle, which includes what I call the "Big 8" history plays (though I'm sure I'm not the first to coin that term): 1, 2, 3 Henry VI and Richard III in the fall, followed by Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry IV, and Henry V in the spring.

*Nerd Alert* Can I just say how excited I am that our repeats are Merchant, the Henry VI's and R3 before we've even touched Much Ado or Shrew?

Looking back, I wonder what my life would be like if my parents had never taken me to the performance of Hamlet in 1994? Or what if Shakespeare's plays had been lost? Or if the man himself had never written these incredible works? What would all of our lives be like? I shudder to think. So let us give thanks, recite a sonnet, raise a glass, have some birthday cake and celebrate this man, his genius, his work, and our own good fortune. Thank you, William Shakespeare. Because of you, I have pride in my work. And humility. Because of you, I am smarter. Because of you, I have passion. Happy Birthday!

To connect with other bloggers taking part in this celebration, please visit You can also follow along on Twitter: #happybirthdayshakespeare or #hbws

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