The Ten Do's & Don't's of Shakespeare Auditioning

The Ten Do's & Don't's of Shakespeare Auditioning

A couple of months ago an article was posted on the site about 10 mistakes that actors should avoid when auditioning for a show. The items in this list are generally helpful but it occurred to me that having sat on the other side of the Shakespeare audition table for several years that I could add some items to this list that pertain specifically for a Shakespeare audition. So the items listed in this article can help you If you’re already into doing Shakespeare, however, this list can also apply for those actors who don’t normally audition for Shakespeare.

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The First Time Shakespeare Made Sense

The First Time Shakespeare Made Sense

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).

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Where Does Shakespeare Belong within Modern Society?

Lewis Baird 

OnStage United Kingdom Columnist

As an actor, there is one playwright that I love more than any others. And that playwright is William Shakespeare, his work is simply stunning and it feels like it has been purely written for actors. 

I’m sure many of our readers have experienced an audition where they have had to perform a monologue to either get a part within a play/musical or even get a place within drama school. One of my go to monologues, which I experiment with regularly is, Launcealot Gobbo’s monologue from 'The Merchant of Venice'. I first used it back in 2014, since then I have used it time and time again. The thing is, each time I perform it, I try so many different things, this is mostly because of the dialogue and the fact that Shakespeare’s writing is perfect for you to use the techniques you have learned to perform this classical piece suitably for a more contemporary audience. 

Within Scotland, also probably within a majority of the United Kingdom plus perhaps some parts of the USA, Shakespeare’s work is being perceived as complex, boring and overused. This is mainly because within school, children/teenagers are being taught Shakespeare in a pretty boring way. Luckily in my case, my English teacher was very enthusiastic about Shakespeare and loved teaching us about Hamlet the Dane. This has obviously helped give me a positive outlook on William Shakespeare’s work. However, Shakespeare is not being appreciated because children and teenagers have previously felt forced to enjoy or dissect his work therefore if they do go on to study acting, they stay clear of this work as they had such a poor experience of Shakespeare originally. 

There are also people who genuinely just don’t have any interest in performing Shakespeare or enjoy his work. Which is fair enough. However, I feel anyone who has had a bad experience in encountering Shakespeare for the first time should give him a second chance, especially if you are an actor or a performer, as his work genuinely is brilliant for performing. As the way his scripts are written, they are open to interpretation, which really does help us as actors to be more creative and question the character’s situation.

Also the language they are written in is simply stunning. People may find it complex but honestly if you sit and read through the play you will eventually understand exactly what is happening. It is really good to have Shakespearian language still active within theatre, especially through the perspective of younger actors and directors. I really don’t want to see a future where Shakespeare is hardly used by our younger generation.

I have also noticed that people aren’t getting excited about new productions of Shakespeare’s work anymore. The Royal Shakespeare Company in the United Kingdom are still going strong and are definitely the world’s best Shakespeare producers, however, I have seen a decline in interest and enthusiasm. One of the things we do not see is a Shakespeare play having a permanent residence in Broadway or the west end (no 'The Lion King' does not count). Perhaps we need theatre companies to make productions of Shakespeare which they expect to be a more permanent production rather than just a seasonal run. If someone manages to pull off a stunning, creative production of one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, then it should deserve to last longer than 4-8 weeks.

One of the latest Shakespeare productions I am looking forward to seeing is the National Theatre’s production of 'Twelfth Night'. It is being shown in cinemas around the UK as part of National Theatre live, which is aimed at making the company’s theatre productions more accessible not only for people out with London but people who cannot afford theatre ticket prices. Tasmin Greig stars as Malvolia and Simon Godwin directs. This production seems fresh and different. I cannot wait to see if it is successful and also hope that it reaches an audience that usually wouldn’t associate themselves with theatre or Shakespeare.

For any reader who really isn’t that keen on the playwright and would like to see some productions of his work that I would recommend, then look no further than RSC’s production of ‘Hamlet’. Starring David Tennant with Patrick Stewart, also directed by Gregory Doran, this production was filmed gloriously for us to watch time and time again. It’s a contemporized take on this brilliant story about the young prince whose father has been killed, his uncle has taken Hamlet’s mother’s heart and the crown. David Tennant is stunningly suited as the young price and holds the audience in the palm of his hands for the full 3 hours. Another notably stunning film production of 'Hamlet' is directed and starring Kenneth Branagh, seriously check it out, it’s brilliant. There is so many film/TV adaptations of Shakespeare’s work to mention, however, a recent one which is also notable is BBC’s production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' which is adapted by Russell T. Davies, starring Matt Lucas, John Hannah, Richard Wilson, Nonso Anozie, Maxine Peake and Bernard Cribbins. This brilliant production is directed by David Kerr and is possibly one of the best films BBC have produced. All of these are brilliant adaptions of Shakespeare’s work which really are brilliant introductions to how enjoyable William Shakespeare’s work can be.

Of course the best place for you to enjoy the work of the poet, sonnet and playwright is the theatre. Just hop on the internet, search your area and see if any Shakespeare plays are being performed nearby, they are brilliant pieces of theatre.

And if you’re an actor looking for monologues or duologues which are different and open to interpretation, buy yourself the complete works of William Shakespeare (like myself) and go crazy. It’s brilliant to use his work, plus if you are going out into the industry, some of the best actors are those who seamlessly tackle Shakespeare.

Photo: Romeo and Juliet at Garrick Theatre, London

The Newbies Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Shakespeare

Natalie Solomon

OnStage Guest Columnist

Unless you’re an avid theatregoer, your exposure to Shakespeare most likely comprised of your ninth grade English class (did anyone else’s teacher cover up the TV screen with a manila folder during THAT scene in “Romeo and Juliet”?). William Shakespeare’s works can be intimidating, to say the least. That’s why I’ve compiled this list – a cheat sheet, if you will – to help you navigate the crazy world of the Bard!

- “Wherefore” actually means “why.” When Juliet’s lamenting “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she’s not asking where he is, literally. In modern English, she’s asking, “Why do you have to be a Montague? Just last night my parents were talking about how snobby and boring your parents are! Why couldn’t you be a Johnson, or a Smith? Way to ruin my night, pretty boy.”

- If you think it’s a sex joke, it’s a sex joke.

- "The Lion King” is based on “Hamlet” … only with less drowning and insanity.

- Speaking of Hamlet, you either love him or you think he’s the most sulky and whiny of Shakespeare’s characters. There is no in-between.

- Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed by all-male casts.

- "Titus Andronicus" is Shakespeare’s most graphic and gruesome play. While it’s brilliantly written, if you have a weak stomach (or had meat pie for dinner), avoid this one.

- Because he and his plays are dead and/or really old, Shakespeare’s works are all public domain. That’s why you see them performed so often; they’re free!

- Along with innuendos, cross-dressing is rampant in Shakespeare’s plays. If you don’t think it’s funny, it’s probably just because you weren’t born in the 15th century.

- Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words in the English language, most importantly bedazzled (“Taming of the Shrew”) and swagger (“Henry V” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). He also invented the “yo mama” joke.

- It’s believed that “Macbeth” was embedded with actual curses and spells by Shakespeare himself. As such, if you say “Macbeth” inside a theater (while not performing in the play), don’t be surprised if your actor friends usher you outside to enact the counter-curse. While I’m sure it varies around the world, this is the counter-curse I’m most aware of: go outside, spin around three times (counter-clockwise), say a curse word, and spit.

And that's it! So next time you find yourself in a conversation about The William Shakespeare, you'll be able to feign knowledge long enough to Google whatever your cohorts are talking about. Adieu, and good luck!

High School Students Need More Shakespeare Not Less

Rebekah Guin

  • North Carolina Columnist

“2B or not 2B,” is that the question? 

The renewed debate about Marlowe writing some of Shakespeare’s classic has brought the infamous bard’s prose back into the spotlight of the theater community. However, the debate over who penned the words seems quite silly when you look at how little respect our culture has for his work in the first place.

Countless 21st-century authors have revisited his classic plots in an attempt to make his stanzas more palatable for today’s youth.  

These travesties range from side-by-side modern translations to emojis and zombie reincarnations. 

Nearly every high school in the country forces glassy-eyed high school students to read at least one of his more popular plays before paper hats, bath robes and diplomas can be distributed. Though some future English majors do not mind reading “Romeo and Juliet,” many students opt for the SparkNotes version instead. 

This, mixed with the decline of U.S. literacy scores, has led authors down the long and winding path to save Shakespeare for the next generation. If high school students will not rise up to meet the text, we will bring the text to their level.  

When students scream that Shakespeare is too hard to understand, they are handed “No Fear Shakespeare.” When students scream that Shakespeare is too wordy, they are handed a series of texts and emojis in the form of “OMG Shakespeare.”  When students scream that Shakespeare’s plots are old fashioned and slow, they are handed “Romeo and Juliet and Zombies.” 

When society was handed one of the most beautiful playwrights the English language has ever seen, we screamed that it was too hard and not worth the effort. 

Society is losing the battle to save Shakespeare because we are not looking at it in the right way. 

Instead of forcing moody teens to read his plays, encourage them to watch them.  Shakespeare was never meant to be analyzed in a freshman English class. It was meant to be consumed from the front row of the house. 

When it is performed well, his plots are not hard to understand, they do not feel long-winded and they are just as relevant today as they were when his ink was still wet on the page. 

The emotion is presented on the face of the actors and not through emojis. Your eyes can not experience his careful use of alliteration, soothing vowels and stop plosive consonants in the same way even an untrained ear can hear them. 

Forcing students to read a play of this magnitude is like asking your average teen to read and understand the sheet music for a symphony. Instead of handing students the sheet music or dumbing it down to the level of a Taylor Swift song, we tell students to experience it for themselves. Shakespeare should be no different. 

There are about 60 recognized Shakespeare festivals left in the country.  Additionally, non-specialized venues will produce shows, but many will only include one of his works every few seasons.

It is up to the theater community to make sure students will have the chance to witness and enjoy Shakespeare in his true form by keeping his plays in their season rotation.  

Each performance of “Hamlet” helps keep a love for the words alive regardless of whether a man named William wrote them.

Photo: The Tempest performed by Berkshire Waldorf High School in collaboration with Shakespeare & Company Fall Festival of Shakespeare