Theatre Information

Add Shakespeare to Your Arsenal

By • Jun 17th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I am currently in a production of Romeo and Juliet. I have not been in enough Shakespeare in my time as an actor, and I am thrilled with the chance to be in this show.

I happen to enjoy Shakespeare. Many people, actors included, simply do not. This is legitimate to an extent. Yet I must stress that for an actor, performing Shakespeare at least once is an invaluable experience.

Yes, even for those of you who cannot stand the Bard, you should read, and, if given the chance, perform in one of his works.

This is not simply a matter of what is commonly referred to as Bardolatry. Shakespeare does in fact have certain plays and certain passages that are weak, uneven, inconsistent, and, yes, just not that good. However, his ubiquitous nature and esteemed position in the world of poetry should provide incentive for all actors to look into at least one of his plays in detail.

The average person learns a huge amount, about pronunciation, diction, poetry, delivery, expression, and, most importantly, script interpretation, by acting in the works of the Bard. If you commit to reading (better yet, starring in) one of Shakespeare’s works, and truly understanding it, you will flex your theatrical intellect in ways that few others canon will allow. I am a fan of Shakespeare, yet I already am learning more about him, this play, and acting in general through all the extra labor that is needed to master his language. What is true for me, will be true for other actors as well.

I am particularly addressing those of you out there who almost always lament, “I just don’t understand Shakespeare.” Make the effort to. As an actor, you should be exposed not only to all kinds of scripts, (the Bard covering the classical era quite nicely) but also to as many mental exercises as possible. An actor must not shy away from working hard to understand a piece, and most of us must work hard to understand a Shakespeare play.

Even if you end up hating it, and everything Shakespeare stands far, the very act of committing to understanding each speech, each sentence, every nuance within the writing of a Shakespeare play, the meter with which it is to be performed, can only improve your skills of doing the exact same thing with other scripts that you encounter. Iambic pentameter may not be your thing…but finding ways to master it, and then being able to use it without anyone notice you’re using it in a speech will do wonders for your delivery in other types of cadences. Looking up definitions of words and phrases that are unfamiliar to you will sharpen your research based character studies in other pieces. And the very act of having performed in a Shakespeare play, fairly or unfairly, will sparkle on your acting resume, even if you opt to never do so again.

Furthermore, understanding Shakespeare means, believe it or not, a greater understand of English itself as a language.

Yet the simplest but perhaps most important advantage one derives from studying these works? It will whip laziness right out of you. Better an actor have no voice, than to be lazy.

So there is much to be gleaned from working with William Shakespeare which does not require a love or worship of him. I am have only scratched the surface. Don’t be so modern as to dismiss the vital resources of our collective theatrical past. Set aside both your arrogance and your laziness, and simply make the choice to learn. For an actor who doesn’t learn, doesn’t act.

And the good news is, none of us need ever stop learning from Shakespeare.

This article can be linked to as:

is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.