“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Upon writing these simple words, the newborn Shakespearean analyst in me is already overturning them in my mind, pondering how the uneven rhythm of the monosyllables reflects the insanity of the speaker, Ophelia, and how the eerie vagueness of her declaration simultaneously recollects her father’s death and foreshadows her own. A few months ago, I would have missed completely these nuances. I would have seen in this brief excerpt only a profound yet direct statement: our destiny is a thing too complex to comprehend, our future full of unimagined possibility – something like that. Attending the first session of the American Shakespeare Center Theater Camp is what gave me the tools and the knowledge to appreciate the brilliance of Shakespeare’s wordcraft, but even so, when reflecting on my experience there it is not the subtleties of this passage’s language that come to mind, but rather that original, simple conclusion. For, above all else, my three weeks in Staunton, Virginia taught me that we can never predict what passions we might discover. I went into camp a Shakespearean amateur, and emerged with a love of English Renaissance theater that I doubt will ever be extinguished.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have begun reading Shakespeare at a young age, and even luckier to have been able to perform his monologues throughout my high school career by participating in the National Shakespeare Competition. This past year especially, in preparing for this event, I found myself immersed in reading and thinking about the Bard’s work for several months, enjoying each new play I tackled more than the last. But there is a level of appreciation for what William Shakespeare truly was that cannot be tapped during a solo soliloquy. It is accessible, I discovered, only through the magical process of collaborative performance, of working with and feeding off fellow actors to breathe life into Shakespeare’s scenes.
Camp afforded me the opportunity to do just that, and what’s more, to do so in the way that Shakespeare’s own company would have. In the midst of movie nights, field trips and all the fun of a typical summer camp, we found ourselves, in Early Renaissance fashion, reading from cue scripts with little more than our own lines and discovering how this process transformed the dynamic of dialogue. We infused live music and dance in our performances, just as the King’s Men would have done. Perhaps most notably, we were able to perform the fruits of our hard work on the stage of the gorgeous Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater in London. Performing for, or rather interacting with, audiences there, untethered from a wireless microphone and unbound by a fourth wall, was the most liberating theatrical experience of my life.
The American Shakespeare Center makes the Bard’s work what it should be: not high art reserved for the most erudite members of our society, but entertainment for all. It is truly an amazing thing to attend a performance there and see patrons from seven to seventy years old, wearing anything from blazers to blue jeans, laughing at jokes and gasping at plot twists that are still captivating four hundred years after their creation. I hope that one day Shakespeare and all the work he inspired can be as regular a part of everyone’s lives as they are for the residents of Staunton. Until then, though, I will forever by grateful for the opportunity I had this summer to glimpse all that this incredible playwright has to offer.
– Aric Floyd