Actors Need to Study Shakespeare

byJeff Richardson

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Louisa Proske - Script Analysis New York NYThey say that Shakespeare is the greatest actor’s gymnasium. Speaking and embodying Shakespeare’s text demands the full gamut of your passions and emotions, every inch of your imagination, your intellect, and the full availability of your supple body and your trained voice. He teaches you to be the kind of versatile, commanding, subtle, engaging artist that can succeed in any medium – on the stage, performing new plays and classics, or in film and television.

Unfortunately, there are many hurdles to receiving this kind of training. Students are frequently afraid of Shakespeare. They feel that they don’t understand his language. Or they had a deadly boring teacher at school who drained them of all joy in connection to Shakespeare. Then, there’s an enourmous amount of bad verse speaking happening on our stages, which does not help to inspire students to want to study Shakespeare.

shakespeare class for actors - louisa proske - maggie flanigan studio

However, when teaching Shakespeare, it is always miraculous to observe how quickly these hurdles fall away as students get into the wide array of plain crazy, delightful, dangerous, sharply intelligent, and deeply human characters that Shakespeare has to offer. It is exhilarating for students to discover that Shakespeare’s “poetry” is never decorative or just pretty, but plunges you head first into the inner world of the character, into places that are frequently chaotic, violent, conflicting – in other words, great food for the hungry actor. Students also quickly sense how much Shakespeare keeps you at the top of your game as an actor – the thought and emotion of his characters moves lightning-fast, from here to there and back again, as thoughts and emotions do in life under the duress of greatest urgency, with no time to second-guess yourself. You have to get on the saddle and hold fast as the verse gallops forward.

And then there is another great gift that Shakespeare has in store: the audience. Many 19th and 20th century plays tend to keep the fourth wall intact, so that you cannot acknowledge the audience as an actor – and God forbid you should look directly at the camera when filming a television episode! But Shakespeare allows you to take in and respond to everything that is happening not only with your scene partner, but with the audience. All the wonderful Meisner work of living moment to moment with your acting partner is multiplied infinitely in Shakespeare, because the character can turn to the audience at any moment, and appeal to them, confess a secret to them, challenge them, even threaten them. In a soliloquy, the audience becomes your scene partner. Once you understand the freedom of that, you can discover a direct connection to the audience that is rarely possible in other kinds of work.

Training in Shakespeare goes hand in hand with Meisner training. It helps you become a more expansive, present, expressive actor – and this will serve you no matter which medium you end up working in.

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