Why I Do This or How Hamlet Charted My Course
Last Wednesday, a blogger named Shakespeare Geek (real name Duane) issued a challenge:
If Shakespeare means something to you, then you should consider yourself obligated to return the favor and do something for him. For every post about “I love his poetry, his words sing to me!” I’ll show you dozens upon hundreds of posts claiming he’s not relevant anymore, shouldn’t be taught, speaks a different language, banned from schools, too hard, too boring… What are you doing about it?
Having enjoyed Duane’s insight, opinion, and knowledge for many years, I felt compelled to respond.
My love of Shakespeare is common knowledge among friends, but even a stranger coming to my house would quickly realize the role this love plays in my life. On the bookshelves lie multiple volumes of his work, on the walls hang paintings inspired by the plays, and amongst photos of family and friend is a shot of Kenneth Branagh and I.
While Shakespeare has been a great passion since I was very young, it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I felt compelled to (as Duane notes) ‘do something about it’. The change would come on a trip to England, when my then-14-year-old brother and I went to see a production of Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The production remains one of the most gripping, moving pieces of theatre I have ever experienced – but that is not what had an effect. Rather, it came at intermission; knowing my brother had never read the play, I thought he may have missed some of the finer plot points so I turned to fill him in. This would prove to be completely unnecessary, as the clarity and quality of the performance resulted in him picking up every nuance. Rather than summarizing what he had just seen, my brother and I ended up having one of the most rewarding, philosophical conversations of our young lives.
I had always loved Shakespeare’s work, but this experience showed me that the brilliance of his work is such that, if performed properly, remains as relevant, accessible, and profound as the day it was penned.
After this, I was filled with a conviction to share Shakespeare and to encourage as many individuals as possible to experience his plays in this way.
I thought my road to doing so would be as an actor, studying at Victoria’s Canadian College of Performing Arts, before making my way to Ryerson University’s Theatre School in Toronto, an institution famous for producing classical actors (in addition to purchasing text books I was required to show up for the first day of class with a cape).
During this time a gradual realization took hold that it wasn’t the performing I loved, but Shakespeare and theatre itself. Even more, sharing this love and encouraging audiences to experience the work were things I felt I could better accomplish as an arts marketer.
As an actor, I could reach the individuals who came out to the theatre. As an arts marketer, I could create these very audiences, reaching out to the population and getting them excited about attending live performance.
Now, as an arts marketer, I get to do this every day, and it is how I repay Shakespeare for all the richness his work has brought into my life. Whether designing a poster for Waiting for Godot, reviewing a production of Lear or MacBeth, writing copy for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, or crafting an advertising plan for a concert, my life and work revolve around sharing artistic experiences.
While I am not always marketing Shakespeare, my reasons for doing so can all be traced back to that one particular production of Hamlet. By raising awareness and excitement for the arts, I hope I can help others have their own revelatory experience, akin to the one I experienced in Stratford-upon-Avon so many years ago.