My mother used to tell a story of coming in to my room when I was seven years old and taking a nap, and suddenly hearing me loudly proclaim (still asleep) “SHAKESPEARE!” Apparently I said it with some relish and zeal. The reason for this long ago sleeping declaration is lost to time and the fact that I was asleep and have no memory whatsoever of this event. I do remember trying to make my way through Romeo and Juliet around this age – not very successfully, at first. But I kept hacking away at it, pouring over it a few pages at a time. Something about the language fascinated me, even though I barely understood it. I remember feeling an odd shiver down my spine when I came across Romeo and Juliet’s first exchange in the midst of the Capulet’s ball – knowing it was beautiful and important and not yet having the words to explain why.
Probably unsurprisingly at this point, I was what one might call a Huge Nerd in high school. The head-always-in-a-book, in-every-school-play, recite-bizarre-facts-about-Shakespeare-out-loud-in-class kind of nerd. And after graduation, little Angie decided she wanted to spend her summer (rather than at the beach or relaxing before college or anything of that ilk) traipsing around a vast old manor and reciting monologues. Richmond Shakespeare’s Festival Young Company took me in and let me perform in front of picnicking audiences who came to sip wine on the hills about the James River before attending the real show being put on later that night. We’d go dashing up to them – a bunch of wild-eyed teenagers, speaking terrible Elizabethan, clad in swelteringly-hot vests and doublets – and offer our various monologues and scenes to try and tempt the picnickers into picking one of us to recite for them. It was absolutely ridiculous and enormous fun. I was in this Company for a few years, first as an actor and then later on as their Stage Manager. (I will never forget the night that then-Governor Tim Kaine was on the grass – my cast mates and I practically tackled one another trying to get his attention.)
In 2010, I attended Conservatory at Shakespeare & Company, and promptly was given more knowledge than I ever dreamed was out there – rhetoric, poetic analysis, acting techniques, vocal and movement work. I trained, I learned. I became better. I realized how little I knew. I got better still. And in 2011, Richmond Shakespeare asked me back to be a teaching artist. Cynde Liffick (who I admire more than words can say) and I were in middle schools and public libraries, engaging kids in textual analysis and in creating their own scenes. It was heady. I was passing on the love I’d had for so long. I never was afraid of Shakespeare, not ever – but now I was meeting kids who were, and I was changing their minds. That blew mine. Had I not moved to DC, I think I’d still be quite happily heading into schools every day and cheering the kids on.
It’s hard work. It’s really hard work. But with all the various jobs and roles I’ve played over the years, Richmond Shakespeare taught me one big lesson – it’s worth following your passion, because you’ll find people who will welcome you. I got a start there, the beginnings of a resume and the hint of how much further I had to go, enough to whet my appetite. They were a combination of being my gateway drug and giving me a foot in the door. I’ll always be grateful and I’ll always want to come back for that.
( LIVING THE DREAM. -Cynde)