BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince everyone I meet that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way.

I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City. That is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.

Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and played the lead role in a staged reading of a play not written by myself. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin].

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reading Through Shakespeare.



It has been my intention, since entering into the world of the theater, to read all the way through Shakespeare. 

Not because someone told me to, but because I think if it's there, why not read it? Why not see what all the hubbub is about, you know? Them that's educated tell us he's the best, but I can assure you we did not have a Shakespeare Festival in Buna, Texas. 

So, I thought, "You know, I just just read these things." But the language is so foreign, I never started.

Not unlike when I determined, as a preacher's kid, to read through the whole Bible. (I kinda made it, if "looking at the words" means reading through it. I was probably too young to absorb it in any real detail. I mean, once you get into the begats and slog through through the religious laws and the incomprehensible histories, you still have poetry and metaphors abounding. I'm not sure where I petered out. Probably in Song of Solomon. A little gay boy can't endure endless description of alabaster breasts.)

So, it was with great joy that Jake Wesley John pointed out this set of books at the theatrical bookstore in midtown, which is conveniently near the discount big box store with the wall of pre-packaged Indian food, each priced at two bucks a pop.

The books, called "No Fear Shakespeare" are divided in two. On the left hand page are the original words of Shakespeare. On the right hand page is a "translation" into modern English. The modern English is inartful, probably intentionally. The plain meaning of the grammar and historical references are there merely help you understand his words. (In looking for a link, I discovered that they have put everything online. I prefer a book, since I want to write notes in it. But it's good to know it's there.)

I started with Twelfth Night. Read it again. Then read Hamlet and read it again. 

The little mission I had given myself was to find one soliloquy and perform it for Andy Gale's class. But nothing stuck out for me. Yes, I was understanding, finally, the plays themselves -- that is, I could look at the words and understand the grammar; but actually understanding them? People spend lifetimes trying to understand them -- but I was just wandering blindly. Honestly, I chose Hamlet because it was, you know, the most famous.

Finally, my friends from England, Adam and Nicky Derrick, who run a theater school, suggested my next read be The Merchant of Venice, most famous for the phrase "a pound of flesh". So, I started it. Had I ever seen it before? I didn't know. I remember scenes from it. It was jarring as I dove in. 

I was startled by how viciously careless the "Christians" were in their hatred of Jews -- probably common for Shakespeare's time -- but also how Shakespeare managed to humanize and let us sympathize with the plight of the hated villain, Shylock. Because deeply embedded is also the great "If you prick us, do we not bleed" speech. 

Even though the play ultimately tilts against Shylock, the point is made. People are people. 

Now that was a great read. And I found my monologue! 

If anyone else wants to join me on this little venture, just put a comment below. I plan to revisit Twelfth Night and Hamlet again. So, just jump right in with The Merchant of Venice. And tell me what monologue or scene you could see yourself doing.

CURRENT SHAKESPEARE PLAY: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
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