Friday, August 20, 2010

Final Reflection

So, it's my last day here at the ASC, which of course makes me think about the things I've learned during this experience. Obviously there are the tangible things--a long list of primary documents, folders and copies and handouts I've made that will soon be used or recycled, the general fluff left behind from anyone who works in an office.

And, there's the things that I've learned--for one, I have a whole host of new information, facts, and skills at my call. I spent a large amount of my energy last semester designing and thinking about my senior thesis project this spring, and now I have even more ideas and information to tangle with.

But more than that, this experience has allowed me to experience Shakespeare in a way I never have before. As a college, and a few years ago high school, student I primarily experienced Shakespeare as just that--a student. I was handed a text, told to read a certain amount by a certain day, and then come into class to talk about it. I had a teacher standing at the front of the room suggesting ideas and themes to think about. Now, there was nothing wrong with this experience. Nothing at all. My Shakespeare professor at St. Lawrence was wonderful, and my high and middle school teachers some of the best. But I was still a student. Shakespeare was still a task for me, a question to answer, an act to read, a paper to write, a guilt during friday morning class because I was sleepy, hungover, and thinking about the delicious breakfast I could wolf down in just twenty minutes....fifteen minutes....ten minutes.

Aside from being a student, I've interacted with Shakespeare before as an actor. Lucentio tenth grade. Peter Quince twelfth. Viola sophomore year. And these experiences were some of the most rewarding. Discovering a text as a character, peeling through the layers of history to find something whole and human and lovely inside of it, something that could then be brought alive. Of course, being young and knowing less than I do now, I don't think I ever exactly realized what I was doing onstage. Yes, I said the lines because they were in my script. I moved around because my director told me to. But I slipped into the perpetual deep trench of the unknowing actor, in which I pronounced my lines with the the general tone and air of what they meant, but without understanding the language itself. Watch any high school theater production, you will understand this phenomenon. It's almost a dumbshow in this respect, in that they could be saying anything at all with no changes in their performance. The acting is guided by tone and movement rather than language. It's a mark of a professional show and actor that their performance of Shakespeare is guided by the words and the text.

As such, for the first time really ever this summer I was allowed to interact with Shakespeare as I wanted. Sure, I was being told to find articles and primary source documents, but I found joy their pursuit. I clicked on links because I wanted to and pored over documents because I was genuinely interested in what I could learn from them. I hunted through articles and blogs, chatrooms and videos, all for the sake of learning. For the first time, I was able to interact with Shakespeare on my own terms. I didn't have a teacher giving me a text and a deadline, or a director shouting blocking cues. I went through the texts myself, and let them speak to me as they would. I got to learn Shakespeare, on my own and in my own way.

Think about the first time you ever read Shakespeare. Ever looked at or spoke the words, the first time you've interacted with the text. Mine was 8th grade, Mr. Davolio's classroom (see? I can even remember details) reading A Midsummer's Nights Dream. I remember where I was sitting, what the room felt like, the color and the weight of the book in my hands. And I remember thinking "Oh. This is pretty cool". My point is whatever professor or actor you talk to, whatever blogs you follow, whatever nerdy friends you have that you talk about Shakespeare with--they all remember that moment. They can all recall when they first interacted with a given text. Taming of the Shrew tenth grade. Hamlet twelfth. Much Ado sophomore year of college. Titus junior year. These plays are not historical documents, they are living pieces of work. They have history of their own, but they also create a history, a close, personalized, unique history, in the hands of their viewer, their reader, their player and their student. That's the real beauty of Shakespeare, of any play or piece of text--they reflect universal truths and genuine human emotions, but they're also all your own. It is for everyone, and also for you. I'm so grateful to the ASC that I was able to have this experience and learn everything I did. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of thinking about Shakespeare, and I'm sure I'll be back for more.

Carla Ricci

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