Shakespeare – the ‘ultimate demand on an actor’

August 13, 2014   ·   0 Comments

RandJcastBy Constance Scrafield – According to Cameron, performing a play by Shakespeare is “physical, mental, emotional [stress].” Cameron is a member of this year’s troupe of Theatre Orangeville’s Young Company, which includes 17 youthful thespians, ranging in age from 11 to 16.

They will be presenting Romeo and Juliet over the weekend of August 22 to 24 at the theatre, the annual Young Company production with Theatre Orangeville.

At the helm of this endeavour is their young director, Colin Simmons, who has just completed his second year at the Music Theatre Performance Program in Sheridan College. The production’s whole presentation has been in the hands entirely of Colin and he has very definite ideas about how the play will look.

“This version is minimalistic, no big skirts, no swords, the set is very basic – we use it, climb on it – all the focus is on the text and the performance,” Colin informed us.

There are fights in this play but, this time, without swords – the action is hand to hand, taught to the actors, as with other plays that involve stage fighting, by Ian Walsh.

Said Mr. Simmons, “This is contemporary, hand to hand – it’s very physical.”

Coming straight from the rigors of Sheridan, Colin was ready and eager to engage and instruct this group on the physicality of acting. Last year, he ran a workshop entirely on drama – intensive technique, which stresses breathing and poise – balance. This year, they have spent the first several days of rehearsal on it.

The Young Company cast are grateful for the training, and, indeed, it seems they have a work out every morning.

There were grudging admissions that the exercise was a good thing –“it’s fun and not fun,” one of them commented.

However, their director insists: “An actor only has two instruments to work with: body and voice.”

He plans to keep both those elements in shape for this very demanding production.

We were sitting together with the cast and the director, at the rehearsal hall in the Dream Factory just inside East Garafaxa. At the moment we had come into the hall, two of the cast – the Friar and Juliet – were rehearsing with Colin. He balanced his instructions with seriousness and praise, parrying the Friar’s worry at not entirely knowing his lines with reassurance about how well he was really doing.

Many members of this year’s Young Company have been acquainted with Shakespeare’s writing for a few years.

One of them went to camp in Stratford last year, where he studied Romeo and Juliet; others have read his plays in school (still, thank goodness); another told us that he had seen As You Like It at the Alton Mill, where they are staging Shakespearian plays out of doors. He admitted that he had not known who Shakespeare was but was captivated by the language. Yet another cast member was first introduced to Shakespeare when he saw one of the plays at Shakespeare In the Park, in Toronto.

Shakespeare: what about memorizing and learning the rhythm and the play on words that the Bard loved to employ, the fulsome language that sounds so strange to us now in this modern area of abbreviation?

There was a consensus: “It’s hard at the beginning but once you get used to it, to the rhythm, it get easier.”

“It’s easy to learn because I die half way through…”

“It’s both easier because of the flow and harder to understand – it’s actually a lot of fun.”

“It’s more difficult and more fulfilling.”

“It’s kinda funny – we’re beginning to use this language so much, it’s kind of taking over my life.”

Another told us, laughing, “Yeah and I kept talking like this at home.”

Others chimed in with the same observation.

They love the intensity of the language, how it makes them concentrate and how much it teaches them about their own abilities.

One sad, “It’s a lot easier than people would think but here it is, flowing off our tongues.”

There is the promise to follow more closely the original format of the play.

Colin explained, “Shakespeare takes more of your attention. He wrote for audiences that were standing [for the whole play]. A lot of his dialogue involves the audience and we are going to use the aisles and engage people in the audience.”

This is not the first production of Shakespeare’s that Theatre Orangeville’s Young Company has performed. In 2005, that cast did Twelfth Night and, earlier, the Company of 2003 performed a compilation called Love in Shakespeare which toured the local high schools.

There are many truisms first penned by Shakespeare and they arise to influence the newcomers to his works.

“This is definitely helping out a lot, not only in the theatre – how you approach your life…”

Obviously, those connected with these young actors will come to see the shows and bring their friend and relations, but what about everyone else? We asked them to tell us why anyone and everyone should come to the theatre to see this Young Company’s performances of a Shakespearian play.

They were quick to reply with “It’s fun and really different.” “I’m in it!” “It’s impressive that actors as young as 11 to 17 can do a play that is a challenge for adult actors.”

With the difference in the style of language and the violence, they recommend this production is most suitable for people 10 years old and up. It is not really geared to younger audiences.

They told us, “Shakespeare widened our spectrum.”

And: “Shakespeare taught us a lot.”

Romeo and Juliet (a somewhat shortened version) is on at Theatre Orangeville from Friday, August 22 to Sunday, August 24 – four performances. Tickets at the Box Office at the Town Hall and the Information Centre on Highway 10. Telephone 519-942-3423 and online at .


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