Hmmmmm….. having just finished teaching a weekend intensive for the Portland Shakespeare Project I find myself needing to add to this blog. The intensive combined Meisner acting techniques with Shakepeare. It was a revelation to me. The Meisner “mechanical reading” exercise (reading the script with a measured tempo and no inflection) allowed the actors to simply say those glorious words to each other without the usual actor desire to “rise to the Shakespearean occasion” and DO something with the language. Michael Mendelson visited class a few times and we both kept looking at each other and shaking our heads due to the power and clarity of the language and to the obvious joy displayed by the actors. I write this because the weekend, full of theatrical integrity, was profound. We DO need more vision, and we need lively, theatrical environments for artists to bravely meet the language without pre-conception and baggage. The participants in the workshop were moved by the work as we rehearsed the scenes one final time. They weren’t doing Shakespeare, he was doing them. As Meisner suggests, we cannot make the audience believe we are those characters up there- the audience is not insane, they know we are performing- but we can invite the audience to share our experience as we act truthfully under those startling imaginary circumstances provided by Mr. Shakespeare. With all due respect to the NEA this county needs MORE opportunities that allow Americans to experience profound moments in community. That is how culture is shaped, through shared experience. I can tell you that the culture formed this past weekend at the Portland Shakespeare Project sponsored class reeked of inquiry, joy, celebration, tears, and deep self discovery. Film can do alot of that, but only in the theatre can we EXPERIENCE each other living larger in the shared moment. Theatre is a church and a hospital, and this weekend it inspired and healed. Thank you Mr. Meisner, Mr. Shakespeare, and The Portland Shakespeare Project for providing. And thank you NEA for provoking. Theatre people tend to do well when provoked, gets us out of our heads and into ACTION.
Last week, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, commented that “it is time to think about decreasing [the] supply” of theatres, since theatre audiences are growing smaller while the number of theatres in this country is growing larger. (New York Times, Arts, Feb 4, 2011). Many people have stood up resolutely to defend theatres against Mr. Landesman’s inopportune remark, and I thought it was appropriate to begin active blogging here by adding a few thoughts of my own about the purpose of theatre and why we started Portland Shakespeare Project now. I invite you to join in the discussion, and I hope that my comments start a dialogue about theatre in general and what we are doing as a theatre organization in particular.
Hello, and thank you for visiting Portland Shakespeare Project’s new website. I will be writing here from time to time, as will other members of our Artistic Council, to let you know what we are doing and thinking. I hope you will feel free to communicate with us and let us know what you are thinking. We are building a theatre company from the ground up and we want your feedback and your participation.
I believe that classical theatre is a rich and vital source of entertainment, education and inspiration, particularly when it is performed by actors who have been immersed in classical theatre training. As a long-standing, active member of Portland’s wonderful theatre community, I also believe that Portland needs a strong and vibrant classical theatre company, and I am committed to building such a company: Portland Shakespeare Project.