Beginning in October 2018, in situ: theatre is offering an eight-week course on Acting Shakespeare.

Participants will then be invited to continue the course through into 2019, leading to performance of a Shakespeare play in summer 2019. in situ:’s previous Shakespeare courses have resulted in performances of Hamlet, King Lear, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale.

This article explains the autumn course through the comments of course tutor and in situ: artistic director Richard Spaul, and of participants on similar and previous in situ: courses. (Some comments first appeared in previous articles about these courses.)

Richard, what do you feel the course allows participants to achieve in their acting of Shakespeare?

Richard says: “Shakespeare’s writing is some of the best stuff there is, but performers, directors and audiences are often in thrall to received ideas about how to perform it. People often think there’s a special voice to do it in or – worse still – special costumes to wear. This can result in boring and predictable work that doesn’t get anywhere near exploring the exciting depths of the material. In the Acting Shakespeare course we use all sorts of
approach to plumb those depths.

The participants add: “I learned a huge amount about acting… Studying Shakespeare – let alone acting it – can be quite daunting but Richard gave us a way in… The class showed me that the possibilities of Shakespeare are inexhaustible… I realise now that Shakespeare is current, fresh and inspiring… A whole new way of looking at Shakespeare’s work…”

Allowed me to explore at various stages of challenge… We had the freedom to use mind, body, voice and imagination in the service of performance – with amazing results.”

What do participants actually do on the course?
Richard says: “We work very intensively on technique via a good range of approaches, including dialogue, looking at space, voice, language, rhythm, tempo,. There’s a lot more to do than is possible in eight weeks, but hopefully we can do enough to whet people’s appetite for more.”

The participants add: “We did exercises to improve our physical and emotional awareness, to help us get to know each other, to raise trust, concentration and focus on the class… We learnt about archetypes, created and developed characters, explored voice and physicality, learned and performed a short piece of text… We went to watch performances by in situ: members who had completed previous courses and gone on to perform – such an inspiration and so much to aim for!… We were always encouraged to push ourselves but it was never so hard that we felt discouraged.”

To enjoy the course, does one need to know Shakespeare? To have a good grasp of English? To learn lines?

Richard says: “No – a prior knowledge of Shakespeare isn't necessary. It would be difficult if one really didn't speak English, but many non-native speakers have done in situ: Shakespeare courses and very good most of them are too. Yes, you do need to learn some lines but the approach works well for all ranges of experience.”

The participants add:

“We were introduced to texts I didn’t know, but soon got to know… I found it fabulous working with the text, even as a non-English first language speaker…. If your first language isn’t English, don’t worry – it’s a great way to improve!… Line-learning is hard for me, but Richard taught us ways of memorising, and plenty of support.”

Does this course involve public performance?

Richard says: “No, there is no public performance. This coming term’s course aims to be wide-ranging, fairly unpressured, a way to learn new techniques and approaches.

“Yes participants on this course will be invited to join the company for a summer 2019 performance – and that phase will be about perfecting the work and then performing under pressure. But that’s not what everyone wants to do. So the autumn course is rewarding and enjoyable in a different way – after that, you can decide whether to go on to perform.”

What are the rewards of an in situ: Shakespeare course?

Richard says: “There are as many rewards to doing a course as there are participants doing it. To actively explore the work of a uniquely gifted writer; to explore voice movement and text; to explore different performance spaces (that’s why in situ: is called in situ:); to learn how to stage pieces and to make decisions about that cooperatively with other performers; to meet other people who are enthusiastic and energetic about making collaborative
theatre.”

The participants say:

“An in situ: Shakespeare course… is a million miles away from being a subdued, cerebral, lecture-based class… has led me rewardingly outside my comfort zone… was an opportunity to step outside of myself and play around with Shakespeare… helps you to put every fibre of your being into speaking the text… lets you work with likeminded people… offers a welcoming, friendly, cooperative and non-judgemental setting… gets you learning from Richard and also from everyone else… involves you physically, emotionally, vocally, interpersonally.”

“It’s rare to find an acting class of such outstanding quality; I’m so glad I signed up for it.”

These are the (lightly edited) words of Richard Spaul, tutor/director, and participants of previous Shakespeare courses: Cyrus Pundole, Helen Leigh, Joe Kao, John Cooter, Jonathan Holburn, Katrina Nuttall, Marta Meszaros, Matt Wollerton, Maxine Fay, Silvano Squizzato, Steve Adams, Susan Quilliam.


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