Asha-Maria Bost, Neuroscience student, Bishop’s University
I am not an actor. But for the first time in many years I feel like I could try acting again and embrace the vulnerability of performing. When I registered for Shakesperience, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not know anyone going on the trip and I was unsure if I would be able to feel connected to the group of participants. I shouldn’t have been worried though. I don’t think I have ever felt closer to a group of people than during the seven short days I spent with the Shakesperience crew. We attended different universities and are in different programs, but we are all lovers of theatre and the arts. We bonded over our desire to understand and celebrate the relevancy of Shakespeare and classical theatre in our time and our enjoyment in seeing classic stories on stage. Some of my favourite moments were dancing the final Guys and Dolls dance sequence at impromptu times during the week, for example dancing in the wings of the festival theatre after a performance and during our final end of Shakesperience banquet. Watching the actors/actresses dance on the stage to choreography that we knew was a real treat. It’s rare that you get such a unique behind the scenes glimpse on what it takes to put on such a high quality production of musical theatre and then get to see that dance sequence performed on stage in all the glitz and glamour. One the first night in our accommodations the Shakesperience group played a game where we shared our favourite quotes from books, television, plays and movies. It was an awesome way to get to know everyone, and to learn about our mutual love of literature and theatre.
The beauty of this course is in learning through experience and through discussions. It is an immersive look into all aspects of theatre from the playwright, script, costumes, stage design, stage combat, song, dance and acting. We toured the Stratford costume warehouse and discovered how each and every costume was designed with a specific vision for each show. The Stratford Festival is one of the only festivals that can afford to have a wig department, and the festival plays an important role in insuring that the art of making hand crafted wigs remains an important part of the theatre. It was exciting to visit the prop department and see how they are constructing the animals that will be a part of the breathing hole production. I would love to see how the bear moves around on stage and how it will be used to advance the storyline of the play.
We learned about the differences between thrust stages, proscenium stages and black box stages and how actors have different challenges for vocal projection and movement on stage depending on the stage set up. The Tom Patterson Theatre where we watched Timon of Athens, Bakkhai and The Changeling, was set up using an arena style seating where audience members were sitting on all four sides of the stage. The actors had the added challenge of constantly moving around the stage to maximize the amount of audience members who could see their performance. Because members of our group were seated in different parts of the stage we were able to discuss what parts of the play we had seen and what parts of the play were most vivid for us. Some people were not able to see the spectacularly realistic gushing blood that happened at the end of the changeling, but were able to see other parts of the play more clearly. The Tom Patterson Theatre’s small amount of seating and area stage set up allowed for a more intimate play-watching experience and required innovative scene and set changes. The three plays we saw in this theatre were easily the three most innovative, and risky plays that we saw at the festival. I am happy that the Stratford festival took the time and resources to showcase these three lesser known plays, as it was invigorating to dive in to the worlds of these plays with a front row seat for the action.
Often the most breathtaking events during a trip are the little adventures or happenstance moments that instantly set your heart fluttering in awe. One of those moments was meeting some of the actors by coincidence at the Boar’s Head pub. One of the students sent a note to Antoine Yared the actor that played Romeo, and he came to meet her. I got to have a conversation with Mikaela Davies, the lead actress in the Changeling. She spoke to me about acting, and how having confidence in your abilities and striving for what you love is extremely important. All of the actors we met were very down to earth and approachable, and this reminded me that actors are people like us, and that a girl like me could become an actress one day. I don’t have formal acting training, but I have always been fascinated with the stage and writing. I think I shied away from the theatre as I grew older, as I was intimidated by the talent and drive of those in the acting profession. This lack of confidence really is holding me back from striving for the things I love. Shakesperience, and Mikaela reminded me that I need to follow my passions, and to not let my self-confidence hold me back. It reminded me to truly live my life, and to find the things that give me long lasting joy unlike the fleeting happiness I get from watching a television show. I feel the most alive when I am singing and when I am writing and creating. Hopefully one day I will be back on the stage performing, feeling comfortable in my own skin while embodying the life of someone else.
After Shakesperience, I feel a renewed desire to read Shakespeare and to reflect on how productions are staged and acted. I have a rekindled appreciation for how a director’s choices can influence a stage production, and how the beauty of Shakespeare’s body of work is in its interpretation. I want to watch as much Shakespeare and theatre as I can. The best way to understand and to immerse yourself in Shakespeare is to see it performed and to perform it yourself. Shakesperience allowed me to do both of those things, and to understand the breadth of the work behind the scenes that are essential for a well-run production.
As a recent graduate of Bishop’s in the neuroscience program I can honestly say that Shakesperience was my favourite class I’ve taken at Bishop’s. I have never felt so energized and excited about what I was learning. Dr. Riddell is an outstanding teacher, who takes the time to get to know each of her students. This class is an example of first rate undergraduate teaching that I hope many more students get to experience in the years to come.