As the XXX Olympic unfolded in London, England once again captured a majority of our interest. What a show, what excitement, joy and celebration it was! There were some disappointments along the way of course, but overall the imprint in our mind that we go on with the rest of our day or perhaps even more impressionable as we drift off to sleep at the closing of the day’s games inspired us with what we could do in our own lives. That certainly happened to me many a night during the week of the Olympics as I fell asleep after watching the games on television.
Listening while the announcer spoke with the athletes after participating in the event with the echo of success or loss still ringing in their competitive ears, we heard how it went, what they were thinking at the time, how this would affect their next event. We may contemplate with rapt attention what had motivated them, putting forth such Herculean efforts. The sacrifices they endured to find us hanging on each word to find out how they could dedicate themselves to this sport and to have achieved this much to even be in the Olympics.
Can it be surmised that the energy, effort, dedication and time indulged to gain such success permeate other aspects of the individual’s life? The physical action taken would bring better health; the ability to focus more intently, confidence, self-worth, and a better outlook on the individual’s life would add positive emotional and mental states for their mind.
While watching all this on the screen I could not but think of how theatre and in particular Shakespeare causes us to stretch with our listening. At such an event both the actor and the audience are engaged in what is progressing forward in time, what we call a play, tapping into our intellect and emotional reservoir. Notice that I have italicized the word “listening.” It is this human dynamic that I wish to first address. This is not to say that the visual is not activating our emotional matrix; but the aural (hearing) is heightened considerably when engaging in listening to a Shakespearean play.
May I give insight to how our culture has over-indulged in the use of the visual in how we learn, grow and are inspired? The intersection between Shakespeare and the Olympics is what I call pumping emotional/intellectual iron particularly through the use of our ears first and then our eyes.
Is it relatively safe to say that our culture today is heavily visually oriented? The electronic input is massively in our face. The electronic highways have much information, but not necessarily useful information… information that is dedicated to fostering a well-nurtured human being; and by that I mean a well rounded emotional, intellectually, physical engaged individual. When actors are working with the text of Shakespeare they are working with many different literary forms including rhetoric, irony, alliteration, antithesis, and many others.
The human voice has a vitally important position in executing all these forms with acute articulation, pronunciation, and amplification laced with intellectual meaning and expressive emotional impact! The human voice used to its full extent uses the chest cavity and the skull as resonators to magnify the production of these vowels, consonants, syllables and words, building them into magnificent phrases and sentences with mind spinning multiple levels of meaning. With the active use of the tongue in articulation, the lips forming the proper enunciation, you have to be Olympic to be able to be granted a 9.5 or better by the judges, that is, the audience!
This in essence is what I call pumping emotional/intellectual iron! In articulating Shakespeare the physical is admittedly not involved to the great extent as playing in a sport at the Olympic level, but the level of emotional/intellectual intimacy is palpable. Multiply that by the number in the audience, and the theatregoer has a heightened experience of being alive and inspired both individually and collectively. The body can’t sit still with such stimulation, and that is where I feel that our culture has lost a great deal with an active use of their listening. Most spectators are only being stimulated by what they see and are not able to tap fully into the inspiration of the aural.
Playgoers of the Elizabethan era would stroll to the open-air theatres saying that they were going to hear a play, not see a play. Shakespeare certainly gave his multi-classed audience members something to watch; but also gave them a great roller-coaster use of language to stimulate and inspire. The bulk of our culture thinks of Shakespeare as antiquated, and even stupid. Pardon me, but it’s we of this culture who have become so. The term, which perhaps you have heard used in educational institutions, and mass media, is dumbing down.
The second dynamic that I have already introduced is the use of the voice, which I believe is well exercised by pumping Shakespeare’s language. Juxtapose this with our use of text messaging, emailing and I believe we are losing the ability to articulate an intelligent conversation. Lastly, to speak well you must have good posture; having good posture gives you a sense of pride. A sense of pride engenders confidence and self- worth. Your speech carries a vibration that has people taking notice. Speaking well peaks peoples’ interest in who you are and what you have to say. While you watched the last of the Olympics may you be inspired to work the muscles of your ears and mouth.
A third dynamic in performing Shakespeare is the use of the body in terms of gesture, stature, and gait, including stage combat and dancing. The simple act of raising your arm to gesture could set off a sense of self-consciousness and even awkwardness, having extended your arm out beyond the prescribed social limit. Mind you there are those out there who speak constantly with their hands, but what I’m speaking of is a well-initiated, meaningful accent to a statement being made. Perhaps it may seem that I am being overly sensitive to how we use our body particularly in our culture. I would suggest just watching how people in public carry themselves, walk, and gesture. How well connected are people to their bodies? I personally find posture is alarmingly lacking for many. The head is out in front of the body attempting to get there ahead of the body; not a sensuous lope in their gate but a tension that doesn’t realize the ground under foot. Also preoccupied with destination not with the moment at hand. In the end I say that a Shakespearean actor has a much better handle on all of these aspects of being connected consciously, healthfully and perhaps joyously in their bodies.
I state firmly that theatre takes guts to fully engage in. It will take everything you’ve got to be able to bring a character in Shakespeare to life because nearly all of his characters are multi-dimensional. They change with the actor who arrives on stage, or being left alone on stage, expresses to the audience their true feelings. No, theatre is not for wimps. And those who wish to go for the gold of performing on the stage go for the Olympics of theatre and pump Shakespeare!