Monday, April 01, 2013

Killing Shakespeare, Pt. 2

Read this first. About how I killed someone.

Here's the real story. A couple of weeks ago, this really great actor named John, in Andy Gale's Sunday afternoon advanced acting class, did a very famous and frequently quoted scene from Richard II because he's auditioning for a Shakespeare company.

Since I'm at the beginning of my discovery of Shakespeare, I don't know the play. I maybe had heard the line, "Tell sad stories of the death of kings."

John was riveting, as he always is. And it was very dramatic, but it just hit something in me.

I needed to do this scene.

In previous weeks, I have been singing songs, getting ready for Portland, assuming I have about 15 minutes, but knowing how flexible one has to be for an event like this with a lot of presentations. Ideally, I should be doing that. Crafting those minutes.

So, to suddenly be yanked off that path and into the oncoming headlights of Shakespeare, is pretty jarring.

Remembering, also, that I write and sing out of necessity. They keep me alive. If I don't do them, I die. To divert away from music made no sense, therapeutically.

Here's the scene:

King Richard is defeated and has lost everything. Death is inevitable. And now he's standing around with his friends and, as I imagined it, was telling them to stop being so formal and court-like, that with everything gone, he's about as much a king as they are -- and that what he really needs is friends who will joke around with him and just be real. After all, once you've lost it all, there's nothing left to lose. Might as well just get drunk or high, booze or ice cream and pizza and tell stories and cry and laugh and just be real.

Let it all just go.

I didn't know if that was the point of the scene or not. It's just how it hit me. The death of kings. Honestly, aren't we all, at some point in our lives, little kings in the kingdom of our own minds? Little tyrants?

And this description of crying:
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth
To this Southern boy that just sounded so Tennessee Williams. Yes, Shakespeare is still "undiscovered country" for me, but something took me over.

I had to learn this monologue.

Which would mean I'd have to do it in front of this remarkably talented group of the some of the best actors I've met in New York and do Shakespeare for them.

A play I haven't even read yet. Nor would I. I didn't want to. Not yet. Because this wasn't about Richard. There's this line he says, after describing how puffed up with power one gets when one is king; how it makes you feel impregnable. And how Death sits "at court" in his crown just waiting for him to totally think he's god on earth. And "humor'd thus",
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall and Farewell King
So, yesterday, I get to class late because it was a long Easter service. "My Rising Up" sounded great. I'll post something about that separately.

John wasn't there. So, I relaxed. I had been reciting this thing to myself for two weeks. Even used the Memory Palace technique to get into my head. When walking to the subway, I would say it out loud. Correcting myself, driving myself crazy when I couldn't remember a word.

My heart was pounding in my chest. When the other actors did their scenes, I couldn't understand a word they were saying. I was completely off in another universe, but trying to pay attention and sometimes even accomplishing the task.'

And, of course, John walks in and joins the group.

About an hour and a half later, not that I was watching the clock, Andy looked at me with his impish smile and said, "You want to do your Shakespeare now?"

I sat on the little piano bench

It told them how, when I heard "with a little pin bores through his castle wall," I immediately thought of the AIDS virus. And it thought me back to when I looked like walking death. When my death was as certain as anything can be, barring a miracle.

And I remembered how careful people would be around me sometimes. Scared for me. Not knowing what to say. And I'd want them to relax and forget it and just be their same hilarious selves. And as I'm telling this to the class, without stopping, I go right into the monologue, as if it's my own words just continuing on. I said, In my mind I was thinking, "HEY!

Of comfort no man speak
Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs
And as I'm saying these words, I'm saying them in the manner two young boys might use when describing the gooshiest, coolest part of a horror movie. Playfully. Jokingly. Laughing at the futility of our rage against death.

And it felt so GOOD.

It felt like singing.

But more than that. It was laughing at death itself.
Somewhere down in South America
There's an H.I.V.-free town
In the town there's an H.I.V.-free circus
With an H.I.V.-free clown
One thing I've discovered, in this Shakespearean journey, his plays are poems. They are as good to read as they are to say out loud.

Now I know why people fall in love with Shakespeare. Oh, it's almost like a religion with some people! Like a secret club that anyone can join, except you don't join it. It is already you.

And Shakespeare is not easy. As I said before, my entry method has been the side-by-side "translations." It takes a little effort. A little work. But when you break through, the pleasures don't stop.

So, perched there on the piano stool, I did it. I got laughs where maybe people don't usually get laughs in this scene. I am still a neophyte. But it felt like a real accomplishment. Like I had done something no one else had ever done. But had done it by expressing a totally universal emotion.


This being April Fool's Day, I'll let you decide whether everything I just said above actually happened, or whether it's merely what I fantasized would happen. Happy holidays! Who knew Easter and April Fool's Day were so close together? Like Christmas and New Years. 


sarahbear said...

What a great post, Steve! Love hearing about how thrilling Shakespeare can be for you :)

Steve Schalchlin said...

Sarah! My Shakespeare buddy!! You're the one pushing me on, baby!