Shakespeare session lets kids get physical

Young people gained a unique perspective regarding the works of William Shakespeare at one of many workshops held last weekend in conjunction with the first annual Shakespeare Festival in Vermillion.

Brian Begley an Mary Inman Begley, co-founders of Discovery Mime Theatre, demonstrate to a group of young people the importance of physical movement to stage performances. (Photo by David Lias)

In one particular learning experience, a group of kids didn't have to memorize lines, or learn how to project their voices loudly so that they could clearly be heard by an audience, should they decide one day to take part in a Shakespeare production.

In fact, they didn't have make a sound.

The Vermillion husband and wife team of Brian Begley and Mary Inman Begley, co-founders of Discovery Mime Theatre, demonstrated how physical movement and action on stage is just as important to good storytelling as the words of a script.

"Our workshops are focused on physical performance," Brian said, "and we use mime as the main tool to arrive at a physical performance, both in character work so that they are physically a different character when they walk on stage, and also the technique of mime which is the illusions and the magical stuff that goes on."

None of Shakespeare's works feature mimes as characters. But many scenes are physical in nature, including the wrestling that takes part early in the first act of "As You Like It," the Shakespeare comedy that was performed in Prentis Park Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

"The physical work that goes on is the foundation of all acting," Brian said. "Otherwise, you're just sitting and reading a story."

"Also, during the time period when Shakespeare wrote – the Renaissance time period – there was what was known as Commedia dell'Arte, which was a type of performance touring troupe that really started in Italy," Mary said. "That whole performance genre was very physical, very movement-oriented.

"They wore masks and they told the same types of stories in an improv kind of situation," she said. "They used an actual slapstick, and that's where the term 'slapstick' comes from, and Punch and Judy and all of that kind of physical comedy. You can actually see a lot of those same commedia characters and commedia storylines in a lot of Shakespeare's work. I think Shakespeare was very physical at the time because of the influence of Commedia dell'Arte."

"I always maintain that if you go to well-performed Shakespeare, you know exactly what's going on, even if it's in French," Brian said, "because the acting, the physical work is very clear. Shakespeare wrote very clear actions, so you always know what the conflict is."

"If you are embodying that, you should be able to follow it," Mary said.

"He (Shakespeare) was a playwright, and he never published any of his work," Brian said. "He didn't want people to read it; he wanted people to go watch it. Now we read it because it's such great literature, and it's great literature because it has such dramatic content and it's built for actors."

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