Thursday, January 21, 2016
I got to spend some time with the Sweet Swan of Avon today. I'd agreed to serve as one of the judges for a Shakespeare recitation contest up at Western Reserve Academy. (The winner will go on to the next level of competition--link to info about it.) There were two other judges--a former WRA colleague of many years and a former WRA student, now a college graduate and beginning her career as an actress.
The nine young people had selected passages from Macbeth, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, and King Lear (I think that was all) and had to deliver them accurately with appropriate gestures and inflection--as if, in other words, they were performing in the play.
What made it more difficult for the young people (in addition to their performing in front of an all-school assembly) was that they could provide no context for the pieces, so unless the hearers knew the plays involved, it was all on the actors to communicate as much as they could without being able to emerge from character and explain what-the-hell was going on in the scene.
Quite a task.
As the hour went along, I felt incredibly moved by what I was seeing and hearing. The contestants had clearly devoted hours to their preparation, had practiced hard, and had come up with movements and inflections and modes of delivery and interpretations of character that, it was clear, they were devoted to. I didn't want to think about it too much up in my judge's perch (balcony, front and center) because I was already veering near tears.
I was impressed, as well, with the audience--very supportive and appreciative. I can't imagine High School Me eagerly heading into a mid-morning assembly (in temps below 20 degrees F) to hear a bunch of my classmates speak Shakespearean English, waxing eloquent about events I knew nothing about--lines from plays I'd not read and never, damn it!, would read.
Of course, High School Me would be shocked by Old Man Me anyhow. I've read all the plays (multiple times), seen all of them onstage (multiple times), have memorized nearly 20 sonnets and many lines from the plays--all of which, by the way, the students today delivered far better that I could have (or can!).
So ... thanks to former WRA colleague Donalee Ong for inviting me to judge. Though, as I've said before: It's not nice to make an Old Man weep!