Earlier this month, some of the hardest working actors in showbiz tested their Shakespearean mettle, joining with their British counterparts at a master class conducted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Held in New York City, organizers hoped the first jointly staged U.S.-U.K. event would define the performance of Shakespeare for the new millennium. Titled "RSC Meets USA: Working Shakespeare," the three-day master class was conducted by RSC's voice director, Cicely Berry, and head of voice, Andrew Wade.
Among the actors who took part in the event were Samuel L. Jackson and wife La Tanya Richardson, Claire Danes, Lolita Davidovich, Cathy Tyson, Blythe Danner, Robert Sean Leonard, Tony Goldwyn, Helen Hunt and Diane Venora. While they have an enviable list of credits, some admitted to stage fright before facing their U.K. counterparts. "We were terrified because we rarely get an opportunity to do the classics in the way the RSC actors do," said Goldwyn, who just wrapped "Kiss the Girls." Chimed in Jackson: "As Brits, they use words to describe things where we use emotions and act with our bodies. We become intimidated when we see them doing Shakespeare. I've been intimidated by it since high school because it was taught as literature and not a performance art."
According to Danes, Jackson is no longer intimidated. She described his take on Sonnet 138, spoken in a nightclub, as "terrific, very Shakespeare meets Quentin Tarantino." The high schooler, who just completed her role as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet," had to skip school to attend the master class. "It happened right in the middle of my finals week so I was pretty stressed," Danes said. "But it was wonderful because I had never had any formal training prior to 'Romeo and Juliet."' Venora, who plays Danes' mother, Lady Capulet, in "Romeo and Juliet," said the actors worked on using the language of the text to move about, which would help them better understand what they were reading. "These plays have a point of view," she added. "They're not this politically correct nonsense we have today.""Twister" star Hunt said, "I've been so busy lately, it takes a lot to get me to act right now. But at the end of this experience I felt absolutely nourished. It put me back in touch with why I act."
The class was taped for an educational series to be distributed to schools and universities, and possibly to air on an arts channel. The "RSC Meets USA" video, directed by Tom Todoroff, will be available in early fall.
© 1996, Reuters/Variety By Chris Petrikin