The first time I saw Shakespeare, I fell asleep.
My high school theater class had just spent the whole day driving from Portland to Ashland (home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and then gone directly into a very long production of “Richard III”, and…. Okay, I don’t have an excuse. I have no doubt it was an excellent production. But I fell asleep. Afterwards, my teacher asked me how I liked the show. I avoided eye contact and mumbled something about the battle scenes (didn’t sleep through them—too loud).
By the time the same school trip rolled around the next year, I’d developed somewhat more of an appreciation for Shakespeare. At the very least I wasn’t falling asleep anymore. I’d seen several other productions of his work, even voluntarily sitting through “King John”. I enjoyed it.
But my enjoyment of that show and other Shakespeare was purely intellectual. The plays were interesting: a mental challenge to be confronted and tackled. But there’s something removed, even cold, in that kind of enjoyment. I liked Shakespeare; I didn’t crave Shakespeare. A play or two on our annual school visits was plenty.
Then came year three back in Ashland.
The play was “As You Like It”, and Rosalind was played by Miriam A. Laube. I can still see her so vividly in my mind: the ease with which she carried herself when Rosalind was disguised as a boy, her command of the stage, her husky voice, and her playful energy. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I hung on her every word—and understood them all.
And for the first time, I didn’t just understand; I cared. I was riveted by the dangerous rivalry between Orlando and his bullying brother; by Silvius’ hangdog pursuit of the deeply disinterested Phebe; by Celia’s mystery romance (which our pre-show speaker refused to spoil for us).