Happy Birthday, William

William Shakespeare would’ve been 448 this year.

And while he’s been studied and analyzed and denied, there are questions we’ll never answer.

Was he a morning person? I doubt it. Artists and writers wake early out of necessity. Only the night has a silence and a seeming isolation that fosters the imagination of grander ideas.

What did those 37 plays do to him? Literally, I wonder. How was his vision? Did he write into the blur of sleeplessness, until he felt the salt burn around his eyes? And what of his back? His writing hand? Hunching over, working by candlelight, squinting into the night. This conduit for the human condition, working unaware of how the world would later perceive him and his words.

He was just a guy making a living, wasn’t he?

It wasn’t until college, and it was late even then, that I developed any appreciation for William Shakespeare. It is all to easy to say that I’d never the right introduction, but while I owe a debt immeasurable to Dr Cooley, Berry College’s resident expert on most things Elizabethan, the revelation was long in coming.

A public school education in Georgia guaranteed a minimum four encounters with Shakespeare over the course of a high school career. Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Macbeth.

Of these four, Romeo & Juliet is remembered fondest. In the mid-80s, there was no Baz Luhrmann film adaptation to pull from the media center. Instead, we had the Zefirelli from the early 70s. A beautiful film, remarkably true to the source material, Zefirelli’s take presented a public school teacher with a challenge of timing. Why? A partially naked Olivia Hussey, of course.

I remember like yesterday the sight of Ella Greene, high school English teacher, dashing across the room, manila folder in hand. She covered the screen just in time.

But Romeo & Juliet was the one play in the four to include anything like a teenager. By all rights, my classmates and I should’ve lapped this up like the everyday drama that washed up and down the locker-strewn hallways. And yet, it remained apart from us, something cold and learned and disconnected from reality. In my middle-aged conceit, I wonder how much more we’d have learned from just standing and saying the lines out and in the open. What teenager couldn’t relate to the immediacy of infatuation that feels like the end of the world, starstruck and lovedrunk?

But I know better. There was no time. There were tests to take, standards to meet. Bells ring and we shuffle on to the next class of the day.

And later, after we graduate, and then we graduate. And sometimes after we graduate again, we’ve just no time. We’re so busy.

We’re all just making a living aren’t we?

I’m asked often why we at NFDC stick to Shakespeare. Don’t we ever want to do anything different? When will we expand our horizons?

For about six months out of the year, we get to immerse ourselves in the words of this amazing, hard-working man. We go to our day jobs from 8am to 5pm, we dash through traffic, grab a bite to eat (or not), then we gather for rehearsal. Blocking, scenework or choreography will take us through to 10pm. Then we drive home, ideas still percolating in our heads of how to tackle the same thing tomorrow. Sleep, wake, repeat.

We do this because we have the time. Because we are blessed. All of us in this company, we attempt twice yearly to form a conduit of human creativity.

And once the show goes up, just as our Steampunk Tempest has … perhaps someone will come to this space we’ve created from nothing, expecting little more than an evening’s entertainment, then walk away with the strange comfort that there once was a man who knew them, all their human failings and glories.

And a little over four hundred years ago, that curious man had so much to say that he fought off sleep and cracked his knuckles and allowed himself maybe one more hour’s writing before going to bed.

Happy Birthday, William.

Thank you for staying up a little later.