“Do you want to do Shakespeare, or something more personal?”

I met with my Theatre Arts III student yesterday, (Yes, I only have one of them.) to discuss his semester project. He opted for the acting track instead of the production track. For his project, he has to perform a solo act of some substance which would challenge his acting skills. The solo act will be performed at a venue such as our Fine Arts Festival at the local performing arts centre, so it will be a challenging (and hopefully) rewarding experience for him.

We were discussing the many possibilities and I stumbled on the idea of Shakespeare. He had never performed Shakespeare before and, with it being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare death, it would fit into many of the themes which drama troupes around the world are doing in commemoration. He hemmed and hawed a little, while thinking of Shakespeare, and then I asked him a simple question. “Or does your father have any interesting stories that we could turn into something more personal?”

This wasn’t a random question to ask. My actor comes from a unique cultural and ethnic background, and I thought a personal story might be both meaningful to him and to his family. He immediately started telling me his father’s story, and I knew right away that we were on to something. He has a great story to tell.

So what would it be? Shakespeare or something personal.

The choice was easy. We would dramatize his father’s story. Shakespeare is fun, but it would not have the impact and immediacy to match what we are going to create.

This to me shows the power and potential of drama. When you can tell personal stories, and when an actor can be put in a setting to tell an intimate tale about his family, the potential for impact is great.

I’ve seen many Shakespeare productions over the years, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Of course, he wrote about many of the basic human themes which still can touch us today. But even if the themes themselves are meaningful, there’s still a distance between the audience and the words. A distance measured by changing culture and a continually changing vocabulary. Shakespeare can teach us many things, but there’s some things it can’t do like tell a personal story.

I’ve already started writing the script for my student. I can’t wait to see how it works out and how his father will react when he sees it.

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