Neither car horns honking nor chatty families passing with babies in perambulators could keep a 13-year old Hamlet, Tyler Felson, from declaiming, in the middle of Orange Street, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Felson’s bravura recitation of Hamlet’s complex, soul-searching soliloquy from Act Three Scene One of the famous play was a high point of an “I Am Shakespeare” happening.
The event took place as part of the monthly CreateOn9 Friday cultural smorgasbord of activities along the Orange Street cultural corridor in the Ninth Square district.
Billed as an opportunity “to become a Shakespearian actor in 15 minutes,” the event featured actors and directors from the Elm Shakespeare Company rehearsing with any game member of the public.
Following the intense tutorial, each performer could choose to recite before the live audience, including eaters at the street’s al fresco restaurant tables, or in a private video booth set up at the Grove, at the corner of Orange and Center streets.
Tyler rehearsed with Elm Shakespeare’s assistant artistic director, Raphael Massie. He then chose the public venue, and aced it.
When Tyler finished, Elm Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Jim Andreassi asked the young Guilford Shakespeare star for his contact information, for perhaps an appearance in a future show.
Andreassi said the event, which was funded by a community engagement grant from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, demonstrated that reciting Shakespeare is “not intimidating, not inaccessible. All it takes is an intrepid spirit.”
Elm Shakespeare Company provided the coaches and the texts. Accidental thespians could choose small, medium, or large sections to recite solo or with another actor. Or as Andreassi put it, “There are light scenes and dark scenes, and then big bones to gnaw on.”
Tyler, who has gotten into Shakespeare through a Canadian TV show called Slings and Arrows, had chosen a bone of poetical philosophizing usually reserved for older kids. He said that while he had read the soliloquy before as a text, only through working with Massie and preparing it to say aloud did he come to understand it.
As to the car horn, his concentration was such that he barely heard it. By his reckoning he flubbed only a word or two.
Another one of the show-stoppers was the first scene in Macbeth, which introduces the three witches. Maria Freda, Carol Orr, and Catherine Bradshaw (pictured) gave a blood-curdling performance.
Orr, a co-owner of the English Market Building antiques emporium, said her performance was entirely serendipitous. “I was on my way to get a drink and they roped me into it,” she said.
She attributed the deep knowledge of witchiness that animated their rendition of the “double double toil and trouble” speeches of the weird sisters to the fact that she and her friends “have teenaged kids at home.”
Actress Iris McQuillan-Grace was proud of her mentee, Jacob Segal (pictured), after he recited Richard III’s famous opening “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech in the eponymous play.
“He followed the meter. He did well, ” she said of the Yale medical student.
After an hour and a half, a Shakespeare-saturated Andreassi tried to bring the “revels” to an end. But more and more people wanted to recite, and they did.
“We treat Shakespeare like literature too much,” reflected Elm Shakespeare Company’s newly hired director of education, Charley McAfee. “It’s theater. It’s meant to be acted.”
He pronounced the event a success. He said he hopes the company will do it again next year.
Acting coaches from the event will appear on stage or behind the scenes this August when Elm Shakespeare Company mounts its summer production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, directed by Andreassi.
It was too late into rehearsals for Tyler to be considered for that show, said Andreassi. But his unperturbable and precocious reading had caught the director’s attention. Maybe next season.