Saturday, March 6, 2010

Akiva on Connecting to People Using a Dead Guy's Words

"I grew up in the near suburbs of Boston. My family would probably tell you that they had to sit through a number of my interminable theater performances when I was eight years old. When I was 15, I read "Hamlet" and it really impacted me. I think that everyone reads "Romeo and Juliet" in freshman year of high school and just blows it off because they're forced to read it. I did the same thing, but when I read "Hamlet" on my own, that made all the difference. I tore through it in three hours and wondered, ‘Does anyone else know about this Shakespeare guy? He’s great!’ Shakespeare became a real love of mine. In college, I founded a Shakespeare Theatre that performed in the dorms. People would wander up in their pajamas and watch. There was something about the words, the style, and the subject matter that just got to me, and continues to get to me.

"When college ended, I thought I would say goodbye to that part of my life, but it turned out that I wasn’t ready to be a stock broker or an English professor. I wanted to keep this as part of my life and connect with people. Strangely, I felt most connected to people using this dead guy’s words. Still, I didn’t know that one could make a career in the arts; I thought that was just for hippies.

"It was a bet that I could find someone who would hire me to work in the arts after I finished graduate school. Now I work in a giant theater, with 775 seats, putting on these plays. Working at the Shakespeare Theatre was a dream job, where I could get my arms around the historical background, the language, and the interface with the audience.

"For me, one of the most satisfying things about working here is reminding the politicians, judges, and lawyers in the audience that a lot of these plays are about them. The reason these plays have lasted is because they have these eternal questions that people are always working on: How do you make your country better? How do you lead other people? To whom do you look when you need a leader? These are the questions that people engaged in this city are answering every day.

"There was this wonderful episode from the 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth was elderly and subject to a lot of revolts and uncertainty about who was going to succeed her. Before her conspirators launched their rebellion against her, they ordered Richard II to be put on stage because it is about deposing the king. After the conspiracy failed and she learned about the performance, she apparently turned to her aides and says, 'Know you not that I am Richard II.’ That’s a wonderful story because it's about someone really getting what history and drama have to do with their life in a political situation.

"At the end of the day, the politicians and I are working with the same material. Mine is just written down and they are making it up as they go along. It's funny to me that people come over to me and say, ‘You work in theater. That's so cool!’ I am thinking, yeah, but you are running the country. That’s pretty cool, too!"

Akiva Fox is a literary associate at the Shakespeare Theatre.

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