read. watch. the play’s the thing.

I used to be an overachiever and perfectionist. Somewhere along the way, those two qualities started fighting. I came face-to-face with the fact that there really are only 24 hours in a day. I was forced to prioritize and let some things be “good enough” rather than perfect.  As a result I discovered my talent for procrastinating. I am not sure if I was born a procrastinator, if I achieved procrastination, or if I had procrastination thrust upon me, but I this new era, the closer a deadline grew the more motivated I became. It even seemed that the quality and quickness of my work increased.

This skill, developed in high school, served me well in college. Until, one day I relapsed. The overachiever in me interrupted my advising session and convinced me that if my mom could take 20 hours in one semester in college, so could I. Though a biology major, I enjoyed Shakespeare, so naturally I registered for the upper level English course that overloaded my schedule. I actually enjoyed the class, but it became apparent quickly my elective ranked last. Before it was too late, I was forced to admit defeat and drop the class.

I did not, however, drop my love for the Bard. That love began long before the class.

There were milestones at my elementary school to which we all looked forward. Third graders went to Tannehill State Park. Fourth graders went to the state capital. Fifth graders used lockers, changed classes, participated in a space simulation, and… performed Shakespeare. If I remember correctly, I had a behind the scenes role. Regardless, it was then I discovered a chink in the wall could be ever so hilarious.

I’ll fast forward through studies of Romeo & Juliet in 9th grade, memorizing monologues from Macbeth in 11th grade, and a worn out VHS tape of Much Ado about Nothing to the eve of my IB English oral exam. There was nothing I could do in preparation for an exam that would cover 4 years of material. Instead, my mother and I semi-spontaneously went to the late night showing of Hamlet. I am sure that I was the youngest member of the audience at the time, and by the end of the 4 hour long film I had discovered new ways to sit comfortably in a pre-stadium seating theater. Every moment was worth it. And, it still would have been worth it even if I had not miraculously pulled the question about Shakespeare’s use of comic relief out of the bowl the next day. All I had to do was recall the memorable performance by Billy Crystal as the gravedigger.

Sidewalk drawing near the Globe; Photo: Amy D

Of course, my very favorite Shakespeare related memory, is one preserved by an email sent to friends and family over a decade ago.

I have now been here for three weeks. At times it seems that I have been here for a few short days and other moments I feel I have been here for years. It is nice to know I am that comfortable here and at the same time it is one big vacation.  I thought I would share my with you because it has been one of the most fun for me. After a meeting and a lively discussion in theatre class this morning, April, Mary, and I went to the Globe Theatre to wait in line for return tickets to one of the last performances of The Comedy of Errors. Mary decided to try another time when the only tickets available wouldn’t be £20, but April and I decided there was no turning back. We had heard amazing things but never expected what we would see.

Excitement had to have been written all over our faces as we sat in Gentlemen’s Bay A, where I was little worries about seeing the whole thing from the back, but that wasn’t a problem. The Master of the play and the Artistic Director came out and made an announcement. The much-acclaimed actor who was to play both Dromios had come down with food poisoning and would not be able to perform. Our options were to get our money back or stay and watch the artistic director play the part. I have never seen anything so funny in my life. I might even argue that it was funnier than the Complete Works Abridged.  The rest of the company had to direct him in where to be as he walked around the stage, script in hand. They even had to point out to him where he was when he lost his place on the page. The whole ordeal just made it more authentic; the play must go on.

As the play concluded, we realized the value of having seats as opposed to standing with the groundlings. The skies opened up and blessed London with some unusually heavy rain. The storm only lasted a short while, but it made for a very British day. Shakespeare and pouring rain plus a trip to Paddington Station for train tickets to Wales. What more could we ask of this city but to top it off with a meal at Wagamama, a very trendy restaurant with great noodles and free green tea, with April, Beth, and Katy. On the way back to the centre we passed the only shop that was open and purchased some candy (Beth got an umbrella too). Beth said that this is what living in London is all about, discussing theatre performances and the word day over a big bowl of noodles at a really basic but creative restaurant (even if you aren’t always the trendiest of persons).  I think she may be right…

(Forgive any errors in the above section; I did not exactly fact check as I wrote. At the time, internet access was limited to a few cafés and cost a good bit of money. )

The Groundling View of Gentlemens Bay A; Photo Amy D

Based on my research and memory, the Artistic Director I saw perform that late September day in 1999 was Olivier and Tony Award winner, Mark Rylance. Rumor has it that the story of that particular performance circulated among Shakespeare companies internationally. I was blown away when I overheard a conversation about Rylance’s off-the-cuff performance among the players of a company performing at Hoover Library a couple years later.  What serendipity to have been part of theater history (or so I am calling it)!

I have since revisited the Globe, and on a cloudless day in May, I chose the groundling view for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I recommend experiencing a play there no matter the line, cost, or weather.

Running close behind my two experiences at the Globe was the 2009 Public Theater’s production of Twelfth Night, part of the Shakespeare in the Park summer season.  The cast included Anne Hathaway and Audra McDonald who rather than stealing the show supported the ensemble just as it was meant to be. A better review than I can write is found here.

Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Until you can make the trip to the south bank of the Thames or even a stage production in your area (Alabama Shakespeare Festival for example), you can read any of the works attributed to William Shakespeare for free here. And since the plays were written to be acted and have been performed over and over for hundreds of years, read along with a movie and enjoy!


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