I talk about reading and books and libraries and bookstores on this blog. I review books. All of those things focus on words, on language, on how words are used, on the power of the written word.
But I haven’t written about my professional life as a voice/dialect/speech/text coach in the theater. There, as well as here on this blog, my work focuses on words. As a coach for actors, I do my best to help each actor bring the words on a page to life on the stage, to use a voice that is expressive and powerful enough to convey that character to the audience, and to interpret those words through a dialect, if necessary.
I’ve done this for thirty years. As a former actor, I understand the life of the theater and the needs of an actor. It makes absolute sense to me that I, a lover of words since I learned to speak and read, would end up as an actor and then a teacher and coach for other actors. The text the playwright has written is the springboard for the live theatrical experience. How we honor those words and interpret them and make them come alive to the audience is the challenge and joy that encompasses my professional life.
Take Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays. There are a few more in question, but we definitely know he wrote 37. I counted up the Shakespeare titles that I’ve coached and I’ve come up with 21. Some of those plays, like Twelfth Night, I’ve coached several times. In the last decade or so, I’ve worked as a Voice and Text Coach for Shakespeare more than anything else. Much of that work involves helping the actor understand the text and to vocally bring it to life. I’ve been lucky enough over the course of my career to work with some amazingly knowledgeable directors, dramaturges, scholars, and actors. Each time I work on a new production, I learn more. And I will never stop learning.
Currently, I’m working on Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play. Besides the brilliance of the text and the profound truths there, I am amazed at how many phrases from the text are used today. I also have noted phrases that have since been used by other authors for the titles of books, poems and songs. Someday, I’ll try to compile some sort of list, but that’s for another day or week or year!
I’m also reading 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro. His research has influenced our version of Hamlet, which was one of the four plays that Shakespeare wrote in that year. The others were Henry V, Julius Caesar and As You Like It. Imagine, all four of those plays written during one year!
If I had to have only one book with me on a desert island, I think it would be the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I know many would choose the Bible, but Shakespeare includes many of those truths along with the greatest and most profound storytelling I have ever read.
I’m going to write the occasional post on Shakespeare, with this one being the first in the series.