At 12 years old, I was yearning for a group of friends, for a sense of a team, and I hoped that this is what I would find with The Upstart Crows of Santa Fe. I had no experience with Shakespeare and I was a bit wary about adjusting to the Bard’s language, as well as to the other people in the group. However, there were only a few other actors in that first workshop and I made an instant connection with both of them. As for the language, I quickly grew to understand the seemingly strange words and the images; I was able to connect with the characters and feel what they felt. Today, at 14 years old, I still have this connection with my fellow actors (whose numbers have grown) and the language, which still remains as beautiful to me as it did in that first workshop.
I started performing Shakespeare when I was six. At this time I wasn’t a particularly good actor, nor could I “speak the speech” all that well. But at six I was living in a family of thespians who were actively doing the plays and had begun building my connection and love of the stories and the language. During this time my ear became attuned to a language I would come to love later in my life. With the language came communities and friendships that I hope will last my entire life.
Shakespeare has given me a greater appreciation of the beauty, complexity, and ambiguities of what it means to be human.
So here’s a fact: I’m shy. I always have been and, to a certain extent, probably always will be. So perhaps it is a little strange then that theater has become so vastly important to me. I mean, for most of my life I was the kind of person who was terrified of simply ordering food in a restaurant. There was no way I was ever going to stand on a stage, in front of people, and recite 400-year-old words. But, well, here I am.
I made the choice to start performing Shakespeare early in 2015 when I heard of a youth Shakespeare company launching a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I decided I would go to the introduction and see what it was like, and that was it. No promises. But since then I’ve acted in four productions. Since then I’ve memorized perhaps too many Shakespearean words. Since then I’ve met so many wonderful people and made so many amazing friends. Since then I’ve stepped out of the box I was hiding in my whole life. Since then I’ve smiled more. Since then I’ve laughed more. Since then I’ve talked more. Since then I’ve been, simply, happier.
But here’s a catch: I almost didn’t join. The day of the introduction, I chickened out. I decided it was much less scary to stay home and do nothing. I wouldn’t have to talk to people, I wouldn’t have to take any risks. I could continue living my normal, Shakespeare-free life. No effort, no stress, no problem. But, luckily, my mother wasn’t having any of that and she forced me and my brother to attend the introduction. Today, I can’t begin to describe how glad I am we went.
Acting has transformed my life. I’ve grown into myself through theater, and Shakespeare’s fascinating language and riveting plots have only made my journey that much more rewarding. True, it has only been a year and yes, I am still rather shy. But I can confidently say Shakespeare changed my life and changed it for the better. A future where I am not performing Shakespeare isn’t a future I’d find appealing. Not anymore.
When I was 16, my mother dragged me and my sister to an introduction to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Upstart Crows. We met Anna and Caryl. Within two weeks I fell in love with acting and with Shakespeare’s work, and I can distinctly remember, after the first night of performances (I played Lysander), deciding that this is what I want to do for at least most of my life.
Since then I have done several more productions (including The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, and assorted scenes) and my fascination with the world of Shakespeare has only grown.
The word “Shakespeare” is scary to younger people; it carries connotations of complicated and difficult language, suited only for scholarly adults. This is completely untrue.
Through my work with the Crows I have realized that Shakespeare truly is something for everyone, and that includes kids! For me, that is something that I absolutely love about Shakespeare—the universality. And the language is just so rich and wonderful, so many of the lines work perfectly and slide off the tongue with elegant ease. Once I got hooked on Shakespeare, I realized my life would never be the same again.
When I first joined the youth Shakespeare group in Madison at seven years old, it was because it had the appeal of summer camp, a place you go to be with your friends and do something out of your everyday life. As I grew older, however, I found that I wanted Shakespeare to be my life and not just something I did in the summer. Through his words I was able to find myself, to gain the confidence I lacked, and find a kind of joy that I hadn’t felt anywhere else. Shakespeare gave me a voice, he taught me about love, and anger, and honor. His language needed no more translation when I was five, sitting in the audience, than it did when I was fifteen and playing Macbeth. The power of the words spoke to me in a way that is deeper than grammar or plot.
That experience was an exceptionally social one that brought me into contact with a group of people my own age, all doing Shakespeare out of a desire to speak his words on the stage and give life to the characters. The people whom we looked up to were those who took on the greatest parts, the kids who—in this setting—were the “Richard Burbages” of our little stage. It was “cool” to memorize Shakespeare, to know all the tavern songs from Henry IV by heart, to stay up late talking with your friends about why Iago did what he did. Shakespeare was as relevant and interesting to us as any modern writer or musician.
Because of this, when I eventually met Shakespeare in an academic setting, I felt like I was meeting an old friend and not another dusty writer that had to be “got through” for a reason that felt very distant from the realities of my life.