Monday, December 20, 2010

It's in the Air

Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!

This text is taken from the opening scene of "Hamlet." In the castle fortress, Horatio and a few guards have the unsettling experience of seeing a ghost bearing a remarkable resemblance to Hamlet's dead father, the King.

A few years ago, when The Shakespeare Club performed Hamlet, eight-year-old Geoffrey played Hamlet's best buddy, Horatio. Geoffrey is an actor through and through. The kind of kid that you simply know was born for center stage.

It's not that Geoffrey clamored for attention or cracked jokes or hammed it up. It was his ability to absorb text, to question a character's motive, and his desire to take an audience on a ride that led me to this conclusion.

"Hamlet" is a tragedy defined by a stage littered with dead bodies at curtain's fall. There are a few laughs in the play, but it's not a comedy defined by marriages at curtain's fall.

I watched Geoffrey rehearse the opening scene of the play, where the ghost appears and scares the willies out of the tough guys.

"Okay, fellas," I directed. "Keep in mind that in Denmark winters are way cold and snowy. And remember this scene takes place at night. It's up to you to convince the audience of the atmosphere."

Luis, as Marcellus, hugged himself and pretended to shiver. The other boys followed his lead by exhaling imaginary wisps of air and chattering their teeth until Mr. Ghost arrived, when they widened their eyes and stared.

Geoffrey made a choice to point his sword toward the ghost, letting it quiver and shake. Riotous. His actor mates crowed with glee and copied him. They added knocking knees to their repertoire of stage business.

I had three actors onstage facing a scary ghost as if we were staging a Bugs Bunny version of "Hamlet."

And I let it go. I let their choices stay in for weeks. I didn't mention it, they got lots of laughs from the other kids while they rehearsed and they bathed in the glory of what they believed was inspired. And it was inspired. It wasn't right for the play but it was inspired.

In the club we have a small library of Shakespeare movies on DVD which the kids can check out. One weekend Geoffrey borrowed a film version of "Hamlet."

The next rehearsal the funny, quivering sword bit was gone.

"Oh, I noticed that you made a change, Geoffrey, in that opening scene. It's good, what you're doing, but I just wondered how you came to it?"

"Well, Ms. Ryane, I saw that movie of 'Hamlet' and that guy being Horatio, he was really good and he didn't act kind of, like you know, kind of like funny....He was kind of like, you know, more freaked I wanted to do that."

"Good. I think it works."

Air. Actors need air and space and room for discovery. Who doesn't?

Stephen Dillane as Horatio.

I allways wanted power because my little sister ceeps on taking stuff from me.

I wanted revenge when Dominick keeps on making fun of my name. I waanted to make fun of his name but I just walked away and he cept saying it and I got relly mad.
Lizzie, 4th grade

snow picture by Flickr user MMMR

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