Shakespeare: A Father’s Gift

When I was in first grade, I was reprimanded for disrupting class.  I was more interested in making the girls at my table laugh than learning proper penmanship technique (to this day, my handwriting is hardly legible), so I was sequestered to sit at a special desk that was fashioned with blinders on all sides.  This desk was very effective at removing any comedy routine from my teacher’s lesson plans, and equally effective at shaming the occupant.  My parents were contacted, and I knew I was done for.

I wasn’t.

ASC Actor Colin Ryan with his Father.

ASC Actor Colin Ryan with his Father.

Instead, my father took me on a walk around the school grounds, encouraged me to pay attention in class, and gave me an old brass keychain with a five cent stamp of Shakespeare’s likeness encased in clear plastic.  I was puzzled, but this ShakesStory has more to do with my father being a great dude than my first grade teacher’s classroom management skills.

Throughout my childhood, my father often recited poetry and talked with me about the language.  He took me line by line through Shakespeare, Whitman, Elliot and others, decoding the words and putting me in touch with deeper meaning.  I tagged along to rehearsals while he directed Sophocles’ Antigone and Aristophanes’ The Birds in the high school gymnasium.  I lead on blind Tiresias, and carved a flying pig out of Styrofoam.  We built a Greek temple and pretended to be ghosts and fish in a Mark Twain story.  When I was older, my first Shakespeare role was Corin in As You Like It, acting scenes with my older brother as Touchstone, in another of my father’s productions.

Some years have passed and I’m still treading the boards, my dad continues to influence young minds, and I still have that keychain.

- Colin Ryan

Taking Shakespeare Home

When I first attended the “No Kidding Shakespeare Camp,” I had been teaching Shakespeare for years.  I felt incredibly validated by the classes and exercises we did during the adult camp.  I knew that what we were doing in my classes with middle and high school students was just and right and authentic.

Since that first year (2009), our own little summer Shakespeare Camp has grown and been recognized and validated for our adherence to the principles taught at ASC.  Even today (1/11/14), we competed in the ESU Shakespeare Monologue contest, and the judge from the administration was blown away by the competence and artistry of our students.  It was hard to choose a winner and runner-up.

Thank you, ASC, for giving us the confidence to move forward!

- Sue Ellen Turscak

Shakespeare: A Lifelong Love

HudMcWilliamsI grew up on Shakespeare.  When I was much younger (8-9 and 14), my parents would take us to Shakespeare in the Park in Fort Worth.  It was performed in this park where a permanent brick building was built that faced a high berm (see picture).  We would take a picnic lunch and eat.

I remember seeing Macbeth and listening to the bagpiper on the top of the berm before the performance and during intermission, that was amazing.  Well, one year we saw The Tempest, and my mother, while she certainly enjoyed it was a bit lost, so during intermission asked me what was going on.  I gave her a summary, to which she replied, ‘I can’t believe you know that, you should earn a living translating Shakespeare for people!’  I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her…

In High School, my English teacher shared my love for the Bard.  I would often find myself in her classroom after school talking the finer points of one of his plays.  She was a most amazing lady and she pushed me in ways I didn’t know I could be pushed.  I remember giving her a card when I graduated and a couple years later when I came to see her, she had that card in her top desk drawer.  Unfortunately, she passed away before I got married, that was definitely a hard day when I learned that.  She was the cement for my love of Shakespeare, that is for sure.

When I asked my wife to marry me, one of the first people she introduced me to was David Zimmerman.  The reason she wanted us to know one another was because, ‘she could talk intelligently to either of us about Shakespeare and we both understood her.’ Since then, I have grown to consider that young man a brother.

So, just after my wife and I were married we were able to see a Shakespeare troupe in Richmond, also in a park, billed as ‘Not your Teacher’s Shakespeare’.  They performed As You Like It, and April and I quickly became the center of their attention, because we were the only ones in the audience that were laughing and interacting appropriately to their performance.  Several times the asides were done directly to us.  I felt like E. F. Hutton with everyone around us trying to get us to tell them what was going on during the performance.  Sheesh!

A few years ago, my good friend David Zimmerman was performing with ASC when the company came through Lynchburg and did a performance of All’s Well That Ends Well at Randolph College.  Ask anyone and they will tell you that I am not shy about enjoying any performance I attend.  At this performance I first encountered Rick Blunt on stage, in the role of Parolles.  I do not remember exactly the dialogue but it occurred when Parolles had been taken prisoner and was talking to what he thought was himself, and David Zimmerman, pretending to be a tree, answered him.  It was a combination of the moment and knowing Zimm that I laughed out loud very hard.  This caused Rick to look at me and laugh as well, even though he was supposed to be serious at that point in the play.

Afterwards he comes up to me and tells me ‘You caused me to break character!’  We had a good laugh about that. Well, later my wife and I came to Staunton to see Romeo and Juliet (still one of my favorites, because I first read it around age 11 or so) and we sat front and center.  One of the first actors we met was Rick, who shook my hand and welcomed us to the Playhouse.  He didn’t recognize me at that point, but thought I looked familiar. Well, at intermission he comes out, finds me and says, ‘You looked familiar but I wasn’t sure where I knew you from. Then I was sitting in the green room and heard THAT laugh.’ I do have a rather distinct laugh, to be sure.

I certainly enjoyed getting to know the cast a bit from the couple days my wife and I were in Staunton.  I was ever so impressed by their amazing talent.

I love Shakespeare.  It has helped me ‘get a wife’ and without it days are grayer, stories are duller and language is not fit to speak.

- Hud McWilliams, Lynchburg, VA

“How I have been transformed”

I first came to Staunton to try the ASC’s summer camp, at the time called YCTC, purely out of curiosity… I had done a bit of film and voice acting before, and I had read/enjoyed Hamlet in my British Literature class, but YCTC introduced me to the world of PERFORMING Shakespeare and brought the magic of theatre to me like I had never seen it before… needless to say, my life would never be the same.

The friends, connections and experiences I gained under the tutelage of the ASC’s amazing crew of actors and academics were invaluable, and I loved the experience so much that, when I heard Stuart Hall (the building YCTC was held in that year) had a Shakespearean acting program in cooperation with the Blackfriars Playhouse, I ended up moving from my home in VA Beach all the way to Staunton just to go there.

In my time there I played Richard III, Oberon, and even some parts in an MFA production of Timon of Athens; and the summer after I graduated I had the opportunity to play Charles IX in a production of A Massacre in Paris at the Blackfriars Playhouse for the American Marlowe Society’s annual conference, a once in a lifetime experience I cherish to this day.

The friends and memories I’ve made through Shakespeare are the best I’ve ever had, and getting to bring these amazing stories to life for a modern audience, on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage no less, was a dream come true for me. As a dedicated ASC audience member, it would always make my day when the actors from the ASC would come to support our productions, as well!

My time in Staunton has transformed me in every way, and it’s all been because of the ASC. The Shakespearean scholars and enthusiasts I’ve had the amazing privilege of working with here at such a young age have given me an entirely different outlook on my craft and on my life. The feeling of taking on a myriad of pages that to many are just a bunch of fancy words, becoming the historical heroes and devils on those pages, and turning the whole thing into a moving breathing performance that makes people who have never understood Shakespeare say they loved it and understood every word… that’s one of the best feelings in the world, and I can think of nothing more exhilarating to do for the rest of my life.

I’ve gone from wandering aimlessly to knowing I want a career doing Renaissance theatre, and my experiences here have given me the confidence and knowledge to tackle that goal head-on. I’m currently pursuing a degree in Pre-Professional Acting at Emory and Henry College, and it makes my day whenever I see someone walk by me on campus wearing an ASC shirt.

I only hope that when I graduate I can get a job living in the Bard’s world again, and that someday I can have the amazing honor of bringing the magic of Shakespeare to a new generation of actors and dreamers in the life changing way the ASC did for me. Thanks to everyone involved with the ASC for all you’ve done and continue to do in my life!

- Rob Cantrell

Shakespeare: A Love Affair

I have loved Shakespeare since I was old enough to know who he was. I did theatre in middle school and high school while also taking a Shakespeare class at my high school and a textual Analysis class at VCU.

I first encountered the Blackfriars Playhouse six years ago and have been in love with it ever since. Every play I have ever seen there has been put on wonderfully. The actors are very much into their work and everything they do they enjoy very much so.

I will be returning very soon to see another fall play, and then proceed in the spring. Thank you for doing such an amazing job!

- Brandi Clark