by Pamela Lockman
I was around nine or ten years old when I first met The Bard. It was on a class trip from my small-town school on Long Island in New York. We went to nearby Hofstra University for their annual Shakespeare Festival. We went every year from about grade six through junior high, and even some years during high school. I had never read Shakespeare before my first theatre experience, and in some of those early years, we never read the play in class. But we went anyway.
What I remember well is, first, absolutely loving the whole theatre experience. It was, as they say, “magical.” And I remember that experience of hearing the words, but not totally understanding what was being said. That never actually bothered me, because I still knew what was going on. Maybe not all the nuances, but the big ideas and feelings. Especially the feelings. Mistaken identities, a man turning into an ass, and a great variety of physical pranks were always funny. Raging storms with flashing lights and metal sheet thunder were always frightening. Family and friends backstabbing each other by consorting with the enemy or by cheating with another’s lover were always hurtful. The weddings of well matched couples were always joyous. The deaths of star-crossed lovers were always tragic. And the class discussions afterward were always terrific.
I was so well primed because of my early Shakespearean theatre experiences that I loved him before I read a word!
We are so lucky in Winnipeg to have Shakespeare In The Ruins, our own local Shakespeare company. And although they have a fantastic education component that allows students in Winnipeg and around Manitoba to have these amazing theatrical experiences every year, not all classes attend. This year’s spring production is Timon of Athens, a play that I have only just recently read for the first time. I have no doubt that audiences will find much to relate to and discuss, even if they do not read the play first. Who has never experienced at least some level of disappointment at being let down by a trusted friend or family member? Or, although we hate to admit it, who has never talked behind someone’s back and, perhaps, chuckled at their expense? There is, of course, more to it, and I have no doubt that audience members, including young people, will find the play quite compelling and have lots to say about it afterwards.
My first experiences with Shakespeare were, well, let’s just say a few decades ago, but they are what I still remember most about those early school years. I am grateful to all of my teachers who loved The Bard back then, and to my parents who supported them. Share him with your children, students, and friends this spring, and they will thank you!