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September 8, 2012

Living a dream

Workshop gives writer a chance to try out acting chops

“And this weak and idle Theme

“No more yielding but a Dream.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V Scene 2

These were my final lines in the scene — actually a play within a play — from Shakespeare’s much-loved and oft-performed comedy, which our group performed in broad August sunshine on the grounds of the Cooperstown Theater Festival. I spoke them with as much feeling as I dared inject into that rhymed couplet by the master of all playwrights and writers, knowing that they summed up the heart of the play.

We were a small group of local folks who had signed up for the Smithy Art Center’s “Midsummer Madness,” an intensive weekend workshop that gave participants the chance to learn about Shakespearean acting from New York City acting coach Melinda Hall. I had learned about the workshop months earlier from the Smithy’s executive director, Danielle Newell, a former New York City theater professional. The moment Danielle told me about the workshop, which she had dreamed of holding in Cooperstown for two years, I knew I had to be a part of it, no matter what.

Writing is my passion and I don’t consider myself to be suited to any other kind of work. Yet, I’ve felt drawn to theater and acting since childhood, when I wrote and acted in plays for family and neighborhood kids. Acting, to me, is another way of telling a story, using one’s entire being — body, soul and mind. Acting allows one to take all of her joys and agonies and set fire to them.

At age 16, on a snowbound afternoon, I happened to tune into a PBS broadcast of “Ian McKellen Acting Shakespeare.” It was thrilling. His performance of a monologue by the deformed and villainous Richard of Gloucester, from “King Henry IV Part 3,” was particularly captivating. McKellen contorted his body and proclaimed these anguished words.

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