A good while ago now, I stepped into an ancient school bus, left a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and traveled to the glittering metropolis of Johnstown, New York. There, The Tempest was being played by a traveling troupe, and somehow our country school got us there. The play was The Tempest. When I walked into the dull brown everywhere auditorium, I saw marvelous things. There were great gauze curtains, aquamarine and pure blue, folding back and forth upon themselves, prompted by some invisible wind. This itself was enough to make the trip a rare event in my life!
It was only the beginning. Out came actors who were intelligible, who could make all kinds of sounds with their voices, and two of them were young. I had only heard Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar, heard it many times, since we all had to perform it in front of our classmates. These actors, true to their craft, even in a little no-where town, made my ears ring and buzz. It was like a new world redeemed from the ordinary, diligent and passionate.
I say this because I write to appreciate the wonderful chance my student Nicole and many other high school kids got last night to strut the stage and have the words of Shakespeare come out of their mouths. On this weekend, the audience is as much a participant as the actors, sometimes more. The play was The Winter’s Tale, fast becoming my favorite. In this same theatre I had seen a searing production of this play, led by Jonathan Epstein as Leontes and Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Hermione, that showed me just how “out there” the English of the first three acts, especially Leontes’ speech, can be- like a renewed speech that slowly disintegrated into cacophony. In the Mt. Greylock High School production I saw last night there was a lyrical sense. Leontes played music before he began to speak. There was a performance of Hermione by Nicole (full disclosure, my student) which was itself musical. A surprising and admirable combination of word and sound coming from one so young. Connor Hadley played his supporting role of Camillo to the hilt; it was specific and natural. Molly Wilson had energy and strength as Paulina as she called for music with its resurrecting power. And the country folk were for once, believable. In the solemn statue scene near the end of the play, I saw young actors entranced, and an audience of young people given over to silence.
May the Fall Festival long endure.