We are lucky to have gotten out alive. See, the final number always threatened to drain the oxygen out of our bodies, not to mention the rap songs that could tangle a tongue out of one’s throat. And don’t get me started on the monologues in Old English and iambic pentameter. Shakespeare is dead. But we tried, dared, to raise him from the grave. Now, we live to tell the tale of a play so dynamic in its being we’d actually perform it instead.
In the beginning, we were quite overwhelmed by the thought of William Shakespeare himself. Really, who wouldn’t be? Any ordinary citizen of the world we call the stage would concur that Shakespeare is one tough nut to crack. But we got our chompers on, scripts in one hand, English literature references in the other, pencils behind our ears and coffee in our veins. Trust us to lock ourselves in a pressure cooker with just a 20-day period for cooking, operated by the desire to shed some new light on THE Bard. This, hopefully, fingers and toes crossed, would convince some Marky, Bhe, Jowhie or Jezza and the rest of their high school barkada to take interest in him and his works. All this in rap, hip-hop and regional accents, mind you.
By the time we’ve put it together, we were still so scared. We didn’t know if it would work, if anybody would buy the rapping of pentameters, the stage of stools, the bits of monologue, the onstage romances, and using Shakespeare’s text to speak of high school students’ issues. On critics’ night, our nerves were so racked on edge we couldn’t stop hugging each other backstage and assuring each other that we’ll pull through. The preview wasn’t perfect, but we pulled through. Oh yes, we effin’ pulled through.
We chipped a tooth here and there but we did not dislocate our jaws biting on this nut. We nibbled on it, little by little, until we found out that everybody, anybody can crack the nut. (Okay, the nut referring to Shakespeare and not just one nut we’re going to chew as community. I’m mixing up my metaphors but you get it.) We just had to make sure that the people watching would get it, too. We had to make sure that the young audience would actually walk out of the theater and think “Yeah, I guess Shakespeare’s not that bad. In fact he’s kind of awesome. Oh, and yeah, my life ain’t that bad either. If those color-coded students onstage can deal, I’ll deal, too!”
This was the thought that pushed us, what kept us going. Our fuel, if I be allowed a cliché. So what if we’ve read our Shakespeare bits in the script and analyzed it in conjunction with the characters of the play? Not enough. The audience, they too, should be able to see and feel the magic of Shakespeare at work. Not just as pieces of literature one studies but also as pieces of art that reflect life and help you face it head on, the way that the same passages we read as characters touched us actors and helped us with our messy lives. We needed to make sure we did justice to the characters in the script. That the lines we spoke went beyond just plain storytelling. Life had to be breathed into it. We knew it wasn’t going to be enough for just one actor to take charge of the breathing-life-into-the-character business. Everyone had to work for and with everyone, not just the actors, but every single one of the artistic and production staff.
And that’s what we did. Every single show we hugged each other and told ourselves we’ll pull that show through. Every single show we stood in a circle backstage and reminded ourselves why we were doing this, who we’re doing it for, and prayed, universe help us, that each and every single one of us be there for the other once the lights came on. Every single show was like that. The entire run felt like a drive through a single-lane rough road on a mountain’s edge, one wrong swerve meant sudden death. We were thankful for the applause but it never put us at ease. We just couldn’t relax. We owed it to our audience to keep pushing ourselves, to keep the ball rolling, never let it drop.
We knew things were going well not just because BBC picked up on the buzz the show was able to create. We knew we were getting through because of the rise in the sales of books of and on Shakespeare being sold at the lobby during our shows. We knew we were getting through to our audience because they started creating fan pages, convincing their friends and classmates to watch William, maintaining a thread of discussion on the topic among themselves, and, this one I should say would be the most flattering thing for a thespian – inspire some of them to actually get into theater themselves. We knew things were going well but we never imagined it would be this good.
Now, we have trophies we can actually boast of, the prestige of being awarded the best play despite being up against ‘em theater biggies. We got our share of pat-on-the-back but that’s it. What happens now? What happens is that we wait for the house to open, music to come on, and then we stand in our circle and remind ourselves of the very same thing we held on to since our opening: we do this for the love of our company, for the love of each other, for the love of our audience, and for the love of theater.
Whip your hankies out Williamates, tilt your chins up, and breathe. We’ll get through another nosebleed and be better because of it.