Finding Shakespeare in La Canada

I had the lead role in the fifth grade Saint Patrick’s Play at Saint Frances.  But my career ended when I threw Thomas Thouey off the stage for saying something nasty about my momma.  I could have been a Shakespearian actor but I was banned from the stage and regulated to the stage crew.

As a boy I had a passion for theater.  I would purchase standing room at the Broadway on West 53rd and see Westside Story over and over. The magical theater possesses a myriad of worlds.  I could create any fantasy and be anything as long as I could imagine it.  Theatrics is a composite of every emotion, sound, and gesture with a language that resonates life.

Shakespeare is the quintessence of the theater.  He has written 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and numerous poems.  He has added over 3,000 words to the English Language.  His words and quotes are commonplace in our daily vernacular and contemporary writers mimic his creations.  His depiction of drama and use of language is unparalleled. By reading his prose I am fearful of the dread of death and beguiled by the allure of love.  Shakespeare grabs your emotions and leaves them in your throat rendering an aficionado spellbound and speechless. 

Last month one of my former students, Bianca Saleebyan invited me to Shakespearience, a production of the Theatrical Education Group.   I attended as a chaperone for Susan Moore’s 10th grade LCHS English class.  I was enthralled by the production value and the direction of Justin Eick, Chairman of the Visual and Performing Arts department at LCHS.  Of course I had to meet Justin.

“Justin,” I said!  “Why am I drawn to Shakespearian Theater?”  He replied, “In his plays we experience the depth of human emotion, the highest love and the deepest depravity. Shakespeare told stories of star-crossed lovers and ambitions kings in a compelling, dramatic, and timeless fashion,” he said.

La Canada High School has a treasure trove of artistic talent.  Justin is part of this treasure. He possesses a Master’s in Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and from Moscow Art Theater School.  His credentials are impeccable but I am drawn to him because of his passion.  Art is only art when it stirs our emotions. Justin had me enthralled.

He explained, “Acting has enhanced my life; it enables me to explore the full extent of my imagination. It is the unbridled imagination of an actor that creates art.”

Justin brought clarity to Shakespeare by explaining that his stories are derived from the classics.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses completed in AD 8 evolved into Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Similarly, Westside Story is a recreation of Romeo and Juliette, and the movie When Harry Met Sally evolved from The Taming of the ScrewLion King characters Timon and Pumbaa parallel Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet.  Shakespeare has influenced the way we speak and think and his masterpieces inspire contemporary art.    

Justin is the artistic director for Shakespearience.  His direction creates a contemporary approach to Shakespeare enhancing his appeal to teenage audiences.  The character, Puck played by Jeremy Gurkin narrates the adventures of the acting troupe as they stage a series of scenes from Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Gurkin, a comic genius uses lazzis’, interludes to stage the various scenes there-by tying the stories together and creating a play within a play.    

My conversation with Justin unfortunately ended.  I didn’t have a chance to ask him if I could play Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar.  I dream of invoking Caesar’s spirit and avenging his death. With a Shakespearian dialect I would speak, “Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war.”     







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