Saturday, April 27, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 04/26/19: Goose, Burgers, Shakespeare

1. Cas texted me to call him as soon as I could. He told me he'd received a broken call Thursday night from Montana and he thought the caller had told him that Goose (KHS, Class of '72) was in ICU. He wondered if I'd heard anything. I'm Facebook friends with Goose's younger sister and I private messaged her and found out Goose has leukemia, double pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. I immediately texted a bunch of people. Friends rallied on Goose's behalf with shock and prayers. By early afternoon, Stu, Jake, Ed, Lars, and I had agreed to go over to Missoula together on Saturday (April 27) morning. Please keep Goose in your prayers. I'll do my best to update his situation, especially once I've returned to Kellogg.  (If you text, private message, or email me, I'll do my best to get back to you.)

2. Ed and I went to the Elks for Friday night burgers. Afterward, we had one drink at the Lounge. I'd been up the Lounge earlier when it opened to talk with Cas about Goose. I'll go back on Saturday and tell Cas about our trip.

3. I was back home by 6:00. On Thursday, my recent Amazon gift card purchase arrived: the four volume set of The Norton Shakespeare and the four DVD set covering nine episodes of the 1982 BBC production, Playing Shakespeare. I used to watch episodes of Playing Shakespeare online, but I think they disappeared (not sure), but having this remarkable series in my possession had me fired up. I watched three episodes today, one before going uptown at 3 and the other after returning home from burgers and the Lounge.

I love everything about Playing Shakespeare. I can't write everything I love. But, I will say that I could listen all day to John Barton and the Royal Shakespeare Actors in the program talk about and then demonstrate the relationship between Shakespeare's language, his verse, and how it helps the actor. The verse brings the characters alive, not only in providing the content of what the actors say, but the verse implicitly directs the actor with its particularity, its rhythm, sounds, meter (which words are stressed), images, and metaphors. The identity and intentions of the character grows organically out of the verse. The poetry is not what some call window dressing.

Again and again and again, when I taught Shakespeare, acted in plays, and when I taught poetry courses, I tried and tried to persuade my students to stop working on the poetry, stop struggling with it, and let the poetry work on them. I wasn't referring so much to the meaning of the verse, but the sound, or the music, of it: repeated vowel and consonant sounds connect with our emotions.  Repeated "k" sounds, for example, have a different emotional substance than repeated "s" sounds. Likewise, verse with repeated short "i" sounds is much lighter than verse that repeats long "o" sounds. If the reader of poetry or the Shakespeare actor can listen to the music of the verse and, in a sense, surrender to it, sense often follows. In a way, the actor isn't deciding how to play a role. The words and the poetry are directing her or him how to play it.

I used to see people I worked with in the classroom or in play rehearsal experience the breakthrough of recognizing the poetry as an ally rather than an obstacle to understanding.

It was thrilling.

Ever since leaving Eugene and in the time that has passed since I was last involved with Fools Haven, I've sorely missed the great companionship I had with fellow Shakespeare lovers -- whether in the classroom, over coffee, in the theater, or in casual conversations about the plays, productions of them, movies, and so on. I have never enjoyed Shakespeare in solitude with the same depth that I feel when I'm involved with others in studying, producing, or talking about Shakespeare's work. The closest I can come to experiencing being a part of Shakespeare community these days is through these DVDs of Playing Shakespeare and other things I can watch on tv like Looking for Richard or Ian McKellan's DVD Acting Shakespeare. Yes, at one level, I am passively taking in these works as I watch them on television, but, within myself, I have conversations. I occasionally say things out loud while watching. Sometimes, I read passages I hear in these programs out loud and try to bring them to life in my own very limited ways. It's all good.  Still, for me, Shakespeare's works are best experienced with others, not in isolation. That's where the real energy of their power is best experienced.

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