Nothing comes of nothing
I am currently working on a play at the University of Miami. That’s not unusual. I am often involved in a production at this time of year. But the play is King Lear, and I’ve only done one other production of Shakespeare since I began teaching some twenty-six years ago.
In my last year as a secondary school drama teacher, I directed a production of the Scottish play. It was to be the first production in a new state of the art theatre, but the construction fell behind. Since the old theatre had already been demolished, we had to perform the play on a makeshift space that wasn’t quite ideal. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the title of the play so fearlessly and so often. It was pretty stressful, but in the end the production turned out nicely.
Now, some eighteen years later, I’m doing Shakespeare again. But this time is very different. I’m not directing, you see. I’m acting. I have the role of Gloucester, the parallel plot role to Lear. I get to have my eyes poked out and be led around the stage in a bloody blindfold by my students. I have not acted in eight years, and I have no desire to do so. I was drafted, plain and simple. A professional actor was jobbed in to play Lear and he wanted a professional actor to do this parallel role, so the age differential between the patriarchs and college aged students would be consistent. When my chair asked me to step up, I felt I had to say yes because I had already turned down his offer to direct. I have never before acted with students, particularly my own.
I am petrified. And not because my eyes get poked out. I believe most of my students love and respect me. Since I am such a smart acting teacher, they all assume that I am a brilliant actor. Vince Lombardi was a superb coach and teacher, but I don’t think his players expected him to be able to quarterback the team. My students expect great things from me. I hear it in their comments. When I’m not blindfolded, I can see it in their eyes. I would be happy with competent. I memorized my lines long before rehearsals began to set a good example and so I wouldn’t be seen struggling in the early goings. Before rehearsals began, I could do them in my sleep.
But now I have to walk and talk at the same time. The lines I had down before have become little islands in the mist. They come and go as the fog shifts. I want to model good theatre practices and etiquette. I am a teacher—I want to set a good example. But I have to remember lines and blocking and objectives and arcs and entrances and exits. I have to listen and react and speak clearly. I’m dying here. My students are fearless, and I am scared to death. No one believes me when I tell them. The only thing I have going for me is craft. I only hope I can get past the panic so I can use it. May the kind gods be gentle with me.
Nothing will come of nothing. So, I continue my march toward Dover blindly.