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McCallum: Playing With Shakespeare

05/13/10 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) While most people find the idea of performing William Shakespeare intimidating, commentator Mary McCallum was confident that people in her town would rise to the occasion.

(MCCALLUM)  This winter I got the idea to lure NY actor/director Jamie Ward to my small working class town to run a weekend of theater workshops. He specializes in making the work of Shakespeare accessible to everyone - kids, grownups, senior citizens, scholars of the Bard, and just plain folks. I applied for a grant and worked on pulling together an event for spring.

The director indicated that he'd need a diverse group of sixteen people to make it work. I put out the word in late January. There was some initial resistance. I heard things like, "You want to do what ?" and "Shakespeare? You'd better hold it in a small venue because hardly anyone will show up."  And, "You really think you'll find sixteen people?"

I persisted. It was one of those moments in life when I just knew that the vision would eventually translate into magic if I could sell people on it. And I didn't grow up with a father who made a living in sales for nothing.

When the first call went out on our community's email newsletter I got an immediate response from a young dad in town: "I love Shakespeare! I already know what sonnet I want to do. Is there room for me?" Ka-ching.  A married couple that showed no interest in participating in past plays in town emailed that they were eager to sign up and were already searching their collected works of Shakespeare for possibilities. A father and his teenaged son signed on, as did a retired English teacher and her ten year-old granddaughter. So did two teenaged girls, a couple in their eighties, the owner of the local bakery cafe, and a friend from Northeast England who couldn't wait to put on her childhood Geordie accent.

As expected, there were more interested females than males - such is the way of most workshops in the arts - but by mid-April we had a full spectrum demographic ready to take to the stage. The Episcopal church offered their sanctuary for two workshops and an evening performance. It was small, the better to draw a full house, and had an Estey organ in mint condition that our director played to add drama and humor to our scenes and songs.

We almost filled the church pews and when and we took our final bows it was clear that this town was indeed ready for Shakespeare. Some who were reluctant to participate hinted that if we ever do it again they would join up, making me dream that this could morph into an annual event.

There is something like alchemy in live theater, and when it happens on the local level it changes how we experience our town. To sit and watch friends, neighbors and family transformed on stage also transforms us, the audience. A night of theater takes us home deeply satisfied in a way that no expensive dinner out could because we all give something to it. And a night of Shakespeare raises the bar just a little bit more.

And just in case you're wondering: I did my first solo in public by singing the Spring Song from Love's Labor's Lost. 
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