Derry-born Andy Hinds has been a theatre director, playwright and acting teacher for thirty years. For many years he taught ‘Acting Shakespeare’ at RADA, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trinity College, The Gaiety School of Acting, University College, Dublin, and in his own acting studio. In this blog, adapted from his new book, Acting Shakespeare’s Language, Andy elaborates on one particular issue to consider when directing, performing or producing a Shakespeare play that didn’t quite make it into the main body of the book – so no spoilers here!
Most of what I speak about in Acting Shakespeare’s Language, I learnt through my work with students and actors over the years. In the course of the slow, difficult, but ultimately rewarding, process of then organising this knowledge into the subsequent chapters and sub-sections etc., I have, however, learnt a great deal more. I have become more fully convinced about certain ideas, have refined or rejected others, and have come to realise that there are areas about which I remain undecided, and which I need to look into more deeply.
I would like to say a few words about one other matter which did not find a natural place in Acting Shakespeare’s Language. This is a particular circumstance which often results in the language of a classic play (Shakespearean, Greek, Jacobean etc.) being less than well-served.
As well as encountering the many ‘opinion plays’, one regularly comes across stagings of classic plays which I would regard as ‘opinion productions’. These are ‘interpretations’ which can neuter the truth of a play by subjugating it to some opinion, or ideology, of the director; where a play is used as a wall on which to scratch slogans. In such cases, the staging often represents no more than a labour-intensive, often expensive, form of foot-stamping about some contemporary (and, in the great scheme of things, usually temporary) ‘issue’. Staging the play becomes an act of attempted control (‘I want to make you think this about that’); as opposed to its being an act of service; an act where one’s intention is to honour the text in such a way as to deepen the felt contact between the audience and their own souls; between the audience and their universe. ‘Issue’ productions direct the spectators to disapprove of, or even hate, something which the director disapproves of, or hates; this is divisive and less than wholly human. In the face of such enterprises, it can feel as if one is being told, ‘No need to attend to the specifics of the play’s language; more important is that you notice all the ways I, the director, have found to use the play, in order to impose judgement on certain sections of humanity. Please leave the theatre feeling righteous and condemning these people.’ Not a good thing.
I believe the challenge of artists and interpreters is to delve deep into our own consciousness, deep enough to reach a level beneath our individual ‘beliefs and convictions’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ we may cling to so dearly as to imagine they define ‘who we are’; ‘beliefs and convictions’ which, on the surface, may convince as being ‘only right and just’, but which ultimately serve to separate us from an awareness of what unites us as humans. Our endeavour must be to tap down into the clear waters of the more universal truths which run somewhere deep in all of us, which flow somewhere below the personal ranklings and dysfunctions which we all have, and which can so blind us to the greater realities of existence; realities which while being physically invisible, can be viscerally felt, and which are so much more meaningful, unifying, and nourishing to our souls than our ‘beliefs and convictions’.
Shakespeare was an artist who, with apparent effortlessness, tapped deeply into these rich waters; over and over again. He does not use his writing to wag the finger from a position of superiority to his characters or his audience. Nor need we use his words to do this. To make manifest to an audience the humanising truths on which Shakespeare’s plays draw, the task of the actor is to identify and serve, selflessly, and moment to moment, the structures and purposes of his language.
My final wish is that what I have striven to share within the pages of my book may, in some way, assist you towards that end.