Episode 238: Back to Basics


After two productions with my young company of players I decided that I needed a whole lot more training in order to raise the caliber of performances to a whole new level. I enrolled in a month-long intensive workshop with Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires. This class was not only an extensive education in Shakespeare directing and acting techniques, but it made me a more complete and present human being. I will be forever grateful!

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Hello, hello, welcome back. Thank you for being here. Thank you for joining me, thank you for being part of my journey. I’m so grateful, I’m so blessed in knowing that you all are out there, and I love talking to you so I’m so glad to be here.

 I want to tell you about an event in my life that profoundly affected me, and it was the best class that I think I have ever taken in my entire life. It made me a better human being, not just a better teacher, but a better human being a more fully present, alert, human being. It was incredible. This was the intensive at Shakespeare and Company. 

I had taken a couple of shorter classes with Shakespeare and Company that had really fueled the way that I taught, and the way that I structured my own company as it was starting to grow. But in May of 2001, I launched into a one month long, intensive class, where I had to live on campus at Shakespeare and Company for six out of seven days, for four weeks running. Now, the preparation to be able to get to that place was incredible, because I had to be leaving my kids for basically a whole month. I called in every favor that ever had amassed on my behalf. So my sister in law, Edie, although she was not happy with me at all still because of separating from her brother – since I had taken care of her brand newborn baby for 10 days way back when when he had first been born, I called in that return favor and said, “I did that for you, I need you to come and take care of my kids.” It was May and going into the end of June, so I could sign up Edie for one of those weeks, because her kids would be out of school. In the south they get out of school a little bit earlier to compensate for the hot weather. So Edie, Maddie, and Jake were coming up to stay with Savannah and Dakota for one of the weeks. And then my former mother-in-law as well was going to take the kids for one of the weeks that left two weeks that I spread out between my own mom, and Milbry as well. And I somehow pieced together childcare for an entire month. And Dave was going to take them for a week as well, of course. So childcare put all together.

And then there was the leaving my house, because oh goodness, nobody can run my house the way that I do right? Of course. So I had to make sure that every single thing that needed to be fixed, or addressed, or stocked up was ready. There were piles of extra dog food and cat food, and piles of extra supplies for the kids. And all of the schedules were made so perfectly and the calendar was filled in and very clearly written in so that everybody knew what was going on. I knew in my head that it would be fine because all of the people who were coming to care for Savannah and Dakota were all people that loved them so much, but I am a control freak. Okay, I’ll say it. Yes. So I felt like I had to help them as much as possible. 

On the night before I left, Savannah and Dakota and I all slept in the same bed because they wanted to be as close to me as they possibly could for the last few hours that we would be together for a long time. And it’s funny, you know, when they left me to go places with Dave, they didn’t have the same feeling, but for the people that are left behind I guess it’s worse, right?

I got out of bed early in the morning, I took a shower, I folded every last speck of laundry and stuff, and then they got up. When it came time to say goodbye and I was driving away, they started chasing the car. And it was heartbreaking. I had to tell them, “Please, please don’t. Please go back.” 

So off, I drove to the Berkshires. I arrived on campus, found my room and met my roommate, and then we were immediately pulled into a huge group voice class, which was so fun because we were just walking around this enormous space kind of interweaving with each other and we were guided to stop and have certain reactions to each other. This is an exercise called milling and seething, which I learned from Shakespeare and Company and it’s all about noticing who’s in the room with you and coming face to face and seeing somebody’s eyes and checking their expression and sharing a moment of interaction before you move on and then do it again. Then you switch directions, and you vary the pace, and it gets the energy building up in the room. 

And it was a huge room full of people! There were 60 people in this intensive, and then something like 10 or 12 teachers, who are also weaving in and out, trying to get to know us a little bit through participating in exercises with us. And then we had our first circle, where we sat and went around the entire circle and did a check in. Check in is the thing that I always do on my very first circle, which is for each person to get a chance to say, “Hi, my name is Diana, and I come from Nyack, New York and blah, blah, blah…” anything that you feel like you need to unload and get off your chest, in order to be able to do the work that is ahead of you, in terms of the rehearsal. 

So we had this massive check in where everybody got to speak – about 70 odd people around the circle. That was the biggest circle I have ever participated in. But it was so exciting. It was like storytime, like hearing everybody’s life stories, you know, condensed into this dynamic thing. Because in later check ins people get to be much more banal, like, “Yeah, I feel good, I’m ready to go,” but when people are meeting each other for the first time, they feel compelled, you know, to tell a few important nuggets about their life. So we had that and it was amazing. 

Then the teachers, with whatever information they had gleaned, met after we all left for dinner and such. And they organized us into basics classes, which were going to be a much smaller grouping of about 10 of us per teacher, wherein we would start working on one particular monologue that we had prepared, and brought – ready, memorized and ready to work on. I was in a Basics class with a teacher named Dennis, and at first I was highly disappointed that I didn’t get to be in Kevin’s class, because Kevin was my mentor from the other two times that I had been in Shakespeare and Company short classes, and I desperately wanted to work with him some more. So I had to get over that initial disappointment. And once I did, I realized what a gem Dennis was, and how every teacher that I would encounter in the next few weeks brought every bit of their humanity to this work, and shared themselves in a way that was incredibly generous and inspiring. And unlike any other teacher mentor student interactions that I had ever had, or really have ever had since, except at Shakespeare And Company. So I have a deep place of reverence for their work in my heart in my life. 

In any case, I was in Basics class with Dennis, and the monologue that I had prepared, I must admit, was either a lazy choice on my part, or something that I just felt like I had to revisit in some way, because it was a monologue that I had prepared long ago when I was 17 with my then, acting coach. And I had prepared this monologue in order to audition for colleges to get into the theatre program, which I never did. You can go back to some of the episodes from 1979 and hear more about that if you want to. But I never ended up doing that. So I’d shelved this monologue and not gone back to it. So when I was looking, amidst all of my preparations of my house, and my kids in order to be able to leave them, I kind of left this really essential piece to last and then I thought, “Okay, I’m just gonna choose this monologue that I had already done.”

 It was a monologue from the Duchess of Gloucester, talking about her dead husband, from Richard The Second. And it was a monologue that, at the time when I was doing it when I was 17, I had not really connected to because I was 17 years old and this woman was a married woman who had lost her husband of many years. So it’s a strange one for us to have chosen any way for me to work on, because usually you want to have something that you feel very connected to personally. So when I brought it back out, here I am now almost 40 back in May of 2001, and I had had a husband, and he was not dead, but he was not part of my life anymore. So working on this monologue, with Dennis started to bring up a lot of interesting things for me. He was a genius at really getting you to figure out what connection you have to this character, and why you need to speak these words in particular. At one point, I know he was helping me kind of loosen up parts of my body that were really tense while I was speaking, and he came over, as I was talking, and saying this last line about “My dear Lord Thomas, My dear Lord, Thomas…” and Dennis said,” What is your son’s name?” And I said, “Dakota.” And just the sound of his name, right there where I was talking about someone who had died, I just started to weep. And that grief of the Duchess of Gloucester became very real for me, because I was missing my son and my daughter. I was missing my kids so much. That grief of being separated from them sat right in those lines, and it was an incredible experience. 

Ever since then, I have witnessed or experienced this so many times, but this was like a key opening the door that may me understand that, wow, Shakespeare is universal. There is a reason that you have to speak the lines that you chose, or for some reason someone might have assigned you a part. You might not know what that reason is, but there’s a connection that is unmistakable. And it was wild. I was like tingling. I was on fire as I left that class. It was like I had been seeing only the color yellow, and suddenly, there was a rainbow. It was astounding. And I was so happy to be there, despite all of the sacrifices that I had made to get there. 

So there’s more to tell you about that. And I think it’ll deserve one more episode because it was such a huge influence on me going forward for the next couple of decades. So I hope you’ll enjoy this journey. And I thank you for being here. I’ll see you next time.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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