London Shakespeare Workout LSW Prison Project

Big Apple Bite

Text by Matt Daniels

So.  Where to begin?


LSW is a revelation.  In a time and place (now in NYC) rife with shoddy, lazy, not-up-to-par actors and the classes that keep them that way, LSW gives us hope that, in fact, it doesn’t have to stay that way.  Physically, vocally, and intellectually demanding, the workout is just that, a place for actors to get together and keep (or get) in shape.


Beginning with a simple warm-up, Bruce gets things cooking fast with exercises reminding us all we’re not alone – onstage or off – by setting up a number of call and response situations (non-Bard-specific to start).  Once the air is hot, we moved right into ‘Shakescene’, and from there, it just didn’t let up.


A real test of one’s complete-works-knowledge, the Shakespeare Name Game kept us on our toes and at the tips of our tongues.  Let me suggest boning up on those “Dramatis Personae.”  Followed by  a lovely foray into the land of Shakespearean insults, where colorful language gets bandied about, and everybody ironically has a huge smile on their face even within the physical bounds – as we were – of the Stella Adler Conservatory.


And then into hard core verse work.  Witslings, where we all get a chance at iambic greatness, was an amazing section of the workout.  Inspired by a line, actors would write 4 to 20 of their own iambic verse, many even rhymed!  And to our own mini one-man (or woman) shows, where Bruce would find ways to help us really make the verse sing.  Never mind showing us how the verse really sings of its own accord:  Just watch two different pieces together, line by line, and a whole new dialogue appears, to amazing effect. Always making us listen, through exercise after exercise, proving the point that the best acting is reaction-based.


And then to the Clumps.  A free-for-all of sorts where the more Shakespeare you know, the more fun you have.  Richard III meets Bottom, and both defend themselves from Lady M, all to rousing applause, derisive laughter and battle noises!  Anything goes in that circle, and we all learned that truly, we are such stuff as dreams are made on.


At which point Lynn Farleigh arrived for work for commentary, a sort of Master Class.  And how very thankful I am to have been able to work with her.  Working on the tennis ball speech from Henry V, I had a couple of ideas but needed guidance.  Well, with Lynn (and Will S.) as my navigator(s), I took the thing from first, through second, into overdrive in a matter of minutes.  Incredibly astute observations, from both Lynn and my colleagues, really opened the piece up for me, and I feel I now have a formidable weapon in my audition arsenal.  She was awesome.  Truly.  And not just with me.   The other actors with whom she worked also made great strides in their pieces, and I’m quite sure we three were not the only ones who learned during the commentary.


When Special Guest Two, Greg Hicks, appeared, I knew it was going to be hard to equal Lynn.  But with his everyday approach, his admission that in fact, he’s just an actor like me, he immediately won me over.  A totally different section than Lynn’s, we all did very little work with Greg, but a lot of question and answer, as a guest speaker at a college might give.  But again, I was honored to do a tiny bit of some of the work he espoused: letting, as an exercise, the weight of every image bounce back to you before moving on – essentially letting the verse do the work, not me.  And what an amazing feeling. 


We seem to be trained as actors these days to do a lot of the work.  Make things happen, tear ourselves apart.  And Greg talked about letting that go, and letting the play do the work, and just being open and available to that.  And it was lovely, really, even to hear a fellow actor just talk about his personal process and relate it back to the work at hand, verse.


I teach Shakespeare for actors, in a much different setting.  My class is structured around the encounter with the text, from first look to putting it on its feet, and giving the actor a number of tools to use along the way. As excited as my students are about the work we do, what I now know the class lacks is this workout: a way to keep in shape. 


LSW is by no means a formal class.  Much rather a workshop situation, where we all learn from one another, constantly.  Structured in such a way that people of varying levels of experience can all reap reward, LSW reminded me that my way is not the only way.  I studied at Juilliard, and I often find myself in that terrible mindset of “there is nothing this can offer me” – a load of *&^$%# if ever there was one. There are so many ways at this stuff, all of them have something to give us, and most importantly, the fount of knowledge will never run dry.  There is always more to learn.  And LSW is a fantastic place to learn it.


I came home beaming, and I hope I can get my act together and take it to London, so I can spend some more time working out.

London Shakespeare Workout LSW Prison Project

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