Sunday, April 03, 2011

My Introduction to Shakespeare

In between my Fifth Grade Year and my Sixth Grade year, I had the great fortune to work with professional actors. For many years, Platteville hosted the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival. Now unfortunately gone, it was a wonderful way to be introduced to William Shakespeare and his plays.

Right after Cosmic Dust, my brother and I tried out for the Shakespeare Festival. One of the plays they were producing was that Scottish play (the one that is bad luck to say). You know. MacBeth. MacBeth has roles for several younger actors. David Burgett was Fleance, son of MacBeth’s best friend Banquo. My brother and I actually split a role of the son of MacDuff - he took half of the lines, and I took half of the lines.

Mark and I spent a lot of time up around the theater. We played and worked and explored the whole area. We loved climbing through the trap door where the caldron was raised and lowered for the witches. We got to watch them create the dead head of MacBeth and impale it on a stick. We also got to watch the actor practice their stage combat. They were using heavy steel broadswords – unsharpened, but very dangerous when swung because they were heavy as all get out. I vividly remember one time during a performance where MacDuff swung a little faster and MacBeth ducked a little slower and watching one of the leather straps on MacBeth’s costume torn through. It would have broken an arm if it had hit.

I saw how everything was carefully choreographed, and Mark and I started to imitate some of it. Tom Collins, the co-producer of the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival and the director of MacBeth saw us and told us to do that on stage. So, rather than entering with our ‘mother,’ we ran onstage, did our sword fight, and then stopped roughhousing right before Lady MacDuff and the Thane of Ross came on scene.

Mark and I practiced and practiced that fight; I think I could still reconstruct it now almost 30 years later. I had a wooden sword and shield; Mark had two swords. We fought, he lost a sword, I lost the shield, it ended with me climbing up one of the built-in ladders, Mark still swinging, and then us hearing Lady MacDuff coming. Mark and I would exchange a quick glance, and then go and look as innocent as we possibly could. One night, I improvised a line in there. I said, ‘Uh, oh,’ which got a big laugh from the audience. I have to admit, I was hooked on acting after that, always trying to get a laugh. I do have a few pictures of us in costume.

There were many people that summer that had a real effect on my life outlook. Tom Collins and his co-producer Tom Goltry had faith in me and taught me a lot about design and respectful directing. I learned a lot about acting from MacBeth (Robert Duncan), Lady MacBeth (Midge Vaughn) the Thane of Ross (Terry Moore) and the woman who played Lady Macduff. Her name was Kathy Kelly, and I had a real school-boy crush on her. One of my most treasured books is a gift from her; she gave both my brother and I a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, a truly princely gift. It is sitting up on my shelf in my study right now.


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