The Winter's Tale opened at the American Shakespeare Center, in Staunton, Virginia, in the middle of July. Since then, I've seen almost every performance of this particular production. Why?
I don't particularly love the play. I think Leontes is pretty awful and barely redeemable, I think Paulina is completely terrible and not redeemable at all. The first half is so dour. The second half, though, with its unbridled joy, passel of clowns, and true love triumphant, gives me life. And for the first five or so times I saw this show, the joy and laughter of the second half were more than enough to keep me happy.
After the fifth time, I started listening. And when I listened, I heard things. And I learned. I'd wager that I know TWT the best of all the plays right now, even with only having read it once, two years ago. Every time I go to the playhouse, I hear lines I haven't heard before, and I hear lines I know in a new way. I'm uncovering depth of meaning, variety of choices. (And I get to watch the actors continue to play and try new things, which is such a joy. Even better when I get to talk to them about the little details of their performances and ask why this choice, why did you stop doing that other thing, how did you discover this piece?)
Somewhere around show eighteen, I started taking a voice class with the actor playing Polixines (who is incredimazing, talented, pleasant, and unfailingly generous with us), and began to listen differently. Now I'm not only listening to the words, but also how they're being said—where the words originate in the bodies of the actors, how they hit the ears of the audience. It's opened my eyes and has added an entirely new, ridiculously challenging, incredibly educational layer to the production.
Of all the classes I'm taking and things I'm learning in this final year of my degree, the voice class is the most valuable. It's also the one I'm having the easiest time applying across all the work I'm doing, and I think that's due, in part, to the amount of time I spend at the playhouse listening. Accessing all the vocal resonators isn't easy for me. Identifying them in others is even harder. But I am learning so much just by making time (sometimes stealing time) to show up at the playhouse as many times a week as I can and listening. I listen to René the most (because I've heard him break down the resonators, I find his easiest (but still really hard) to identify—and also he just has a lovely voice that I could listen to all day long), but all twelve actors are doing things with their voices that I'm learning from. (Like, how did Pearl manage to sound completely normal onstage for weeks when he was so damn sick? And if Keegan has a cold, why isn't he modifying his performance to preserve his voice? (Or is he, and I just can't tell?) And why does Alli's voice always sound like liquid gold, even when she's raspy?)
I'm struggling a lot with this program, especially the final year, but I'm already nostalgic and missing a place I haven't yet left. Snaps for the ASC, and snaps for René—he's a fine actor and a wonderful instructor, and I can't quite believe I get to learn from him. Snaps for René always.