Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Bard Day -er, Birthday, William Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)Image via Wikipedia

(Today is the birthday of one William Shakespeare, and this post is in his honor.  My good friends, and wonderful people, AJ and Melissa Leon, are currently in England, working for the Shakespeare estate, and they have prepared an inspiring tribute to The Bard at  Please check it out, and my surprise appearance at the end of the video there, and embedded below.)

Around The Globe

The only time I visited the Globe Theatre it was the one in Stratford...Connecticut... not upon Avon. Even so, the class trip to the replica of the famed theatrical home to so many of Shakespeare's productions was a thrill for this young, aspiring writer and all around "theatrical" guy.  I was in the 10th grade, and already on a path that would lead me to be an "English & Theater Major" in college, fancying myself as someone who could write and perform well.  Well, at the time I had read many of the works of William Shakespeare and I had been enthralled by the powerful filmed performances of Sir Laurence Olivier, who was perhaps the physical embodiment of all things Shakespeare in my young impressionable mind.  But I had yet to see Shakespeare performed live, and for that reason I was eager and excited to hop on the chartered bus from Queens to Connecticut.

Weeding Out The Literary Types

The Connecticut version of the Globe Theatre was situated on beautiful, park-like property, with gorgeous shade trees and vast lawns of rolling greens. While I and a select few of my classmates were looking forward to the performance of the well respected American Shakespeare Theatre, an equally large bunch of my school trip mates were far more intrigued by the opportunity to wander off amongst the grass and trees to trip out on their own supply of a different grass.  My recollection is that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Shakespeare performed live on stage at The Globe, and I sincerely hope that my enjoyment came from a love of words and the theatre, and not as a result of any contact high from my more adventurous classmates!

A Quaint Little Hamlet

Years later, I had the chance to actually perform in a semi-pro production of Hamlet at Cornell University.  It was a semi-pro production because us student performers were supplemented with a handful of professional "Equity" actors in the key roles, including the charming and talented John Hostetter, who went on to be a regular on the popular TV series Murphy Brown.  Our production was unique as we performed Hamlet in rotation with Tom Stoppard's delightful and clever "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," using the same set and actors in their overlapping roles.  So, the actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had minor roles in our Hamlet production one night, and were the stars of Stoppard's play the next.  It was a very clever and well executed concept.  I had a small, but impactful role, playing the part of the guard, Marcellus.

Line, Please!

Present, but silent, in a few key scenes, Marcellus is not much of an acting challenge... except for one line... perhaps THE line.  You see, Marcellus delivers perhaps one of the most famous and oft repeated lines in all of Shakespeare's words, words, words.  As Marcellus, I had to step out into the lights, armor clad, broad sword in hand, and muster every ounce of aspiring actor acumen I had to bring originality and authenticity to the well-worn phrase,

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!" 

It was quite a daunting task, and even if my performance bordered on being rotten itself, the experience was ripe with excitement, and memories I cherish to this day.

Thank you William Shakespeare, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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ajleon said...

Jeff, I love this post and I am so happy that you could share that history. I had no idea how involved in Shakespeare you've been. Thank you so much for being a part of our project. We truly appreciate it, my dear friend. :)

sass said...

Thank YOU AJ (and Melissa) for including me in this great project. I had a lot of fun looking back at my "Elizabethan" heritage... ;-)