The Play’s The Thing!
Published on March 12th, 2013 | by Nabeel
As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, One World Studios organized the “The Shakespeare Way: WOW workshop” at Bayt Lothan.
We didn’t really know what we were in for. Minutes after we’d entered Bayth Lothan we were greeted by a grubby, dirt-smeared—for want of a better word—lady, with a baby in her arms. ‘D’you want this one? I’ve got 10 more back home!’ she said to us with a cheeky grin. I had absolutely no idea how to respond.
We’d just stepped out from Kuwait with its speeding cars, tall buildings, cafes and fast food into a completely different world. Swarthy men decked in drab robes or satin finery, swords and spears all piled up on tables, the odd mask here and there. ‘Wot’s that, then?’ said the woman who would be Alison, pointing at our cameras with a look of mistrust on her face. ‘Don’t like that, don’t point it at me!’
The place? London. The year? Oh about the 1500s. The theme? Decidedly Shakespearian.
I have to admit, I wanted to escape – badly. Oh, for the familiar surroundings of a food court and a juicy burger to sink my teeth into. That I could handle! People playing roles and refusing to admit to your reality even for a second ? Awkward.
Or was it? As one of the gentlemen took us through London as it was in the days of the Bard, I couldn’t help but be interested in what things were like back then for playwrights and actors. The challenges they faced, the fines and fees that piled up on them for the slightest mistakes, the threat of the debtors prison – not to mention the constant danger from lethal diseases.
I found myself slowly being drawn in. The other guests, a handful of men, women and children, had walked in rather bashfully. They’d been confused and taken aback at being addressed by ‘characters’ and when they found themselves answering questions, they looked almost shamefaced at allowing themselves to contribute to this false reality. And yet strangely, we all slowly began to WANT to make the transition.
‘Play’ as Alison told us later, is very important. The word itself brings up ideas like a drop in inhibitions, laughter, camaraderie, creativity and just good old fashioned fun. All of us, at some time or another, grow up into adulthood and have to take on responsibilities and that’s a good thing, sure. But often, we forget how much, I thought to myself, bloody fun it can be to just let loose and play once in a while. Parents who have kids, Alison went on, realise that they are open to the freedom of playing again, with and through their children, and it is often a joy to revisit that part of their lives. That’s why the more we gave in to the ‘play’, the more naturally we found ourselves wanting to. It’s also why the children took to it more quickly than the rest of us.
But we were not in the hands of mere amateurs – they knew how to get us to cross over. Who doesn’t like a good stick fight?
The group was split into two and each went through strict combat training given most masterfully by a Roman Soldier. Thrust, parry, jump. It really was incredible how quickly and with what enthusiasm and skill, the visitors threw themselves into the play. Then there were the insult competition where you got to yell out mean things at your partner like ‘you fat-nosed baboon’ or ‘you squashed banana’ but with an enraged, animated face and pointed finger.
Sadly I was behind a camera most of the time but I laughed out loud several times as people threw their whole bodies into the act of creative insulting, circling each other like wolves about to pounce.
There were other things to learn as well like how to create a group of still, silent scenes to tell a story.
The event ended with a short and powerful scene from the Shakespeare play ‘Caesar’ and it caught me at my most mesmerised. I was surprised at the sense of regret I felt when the swords and spears (all hand-made I might add) were put away, and the actors came out of their roles. Lovely people I’m sure they were but oh for a few more minutes of play.
As I walked back towards the car and we headed for tea at a nearby restaurant, I felt dazed, but grateful that at least for a few hours, I had been taught the value of not taking myself too seriously, losing myself in imagination, and just having a darn good time at play.
And I was behind the camera. Imagine how the others must have felt!?