A Sabbatical from the Professional Theatre…
Working Sabbatical, That Is
by Ben Gorman
This summer, Commonweal afforded me the luxury to take a working sabbatical to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: Shakespeare! Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival, one of Arizona’s youngest theatre companies, is in its fourth season producing the Bard’s plays in various gorgeous settings in the Grand Canyon State. In 2016, I met executive director Dawn Tucker (a former seasonal actor with Commonweal) and asked if there was any way I could get involved. After sending a taped audition this year, I was honored with two responsibilities in their company: three small roles in The Taming of the Shrew and the position of text and speech coach.
As a guest actor among their transnational cast, I have the privilege to bring Shakespeare’s text to life outdoors under a festival tent in a pine forest at 7,000 feet elevation! This young company has big ambitions and is impressing audiences with their work. Their offerings this year include Shrew and Titus Andronicus, in repertory during July, followed by The Tempest in October. How bracing to bellow the Bard’s beautiful, brilliant—and often bawdy—bounty to the mountain air! (Sorry, Shakespeare geek moment!)
As text and speech coach, I’m engaged in the rewarding challenge of helping actors bring the text to vibrant life. As I put it in a blog entry for the Flag Shakes website:
My task is two-fold. The first part is to make sure the actors understand the text. What do the words mean? What is the sense of a phrase, a line, a speech? What is happening in the scene? The second part is to make sure the audience understands the same text, but this time as speech. The difference between text and speech, though it may appear largely mechanical, is fraught with challenges. As text and speech coach, I must examine each actor’s expressive output and evaluate its effectiveness, then help them to modulate or enhance that output when it is ineffective or its meaning unclear. That work requires an appreciation of the actor’s gifts and limitations, an ability to adapt to their style of learning, and a thorough knowledge of the tools available to assist them in this quest to convey meaning.
I’m having a blast here, but I’m ridiculously excited to return this fall and begin work on Commonweal’s fourth production of 2018, Dracula: Prince of Blood! I’ll see you back in the ’boro!