Here’s something you may or may not know about me. The first company I ever started was in 2001. It was called Lancaster Acting Company. We were a professional Shakespearean theatre company. Our vision was to democratize Shakespeare. To bring Shakespeare “down” as it were, back to the groundlings, where I felt he could still lift people up.
I fell in love with Shakespeare when Mr. Spee introduced me to Prince Hal in 11th Grade. I was just some punk kid, who thought he was a badass because he could put a 9 inch ball in an 18 inch hoop.
I remember Mr Spee throwing me a copy of Henry V, and telling me I didn’t “have the balls” to get on a stage. I’ve never much liked when people tell me what I can’t do. I acted in the damn play.
I still remember our very first practice. Knowing that none of us knew shit about Shakespeare, Mr Spee popped in Kenneth Branaugh’s Henry V. I will never forget the goosebumps that rushed down my arm when Henry, outnumbered and outgunned, delivers the St Crispin’s Day speech … we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…. I remember when the Herald came one last time admonishing Henry to pay tribute to the Constable of France, promising they’d let them out alive. Henry glares back … Come thou no more for ransom, gentle Herald: They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints; WHICH if they have as I will leave ’em them, Shall yield them little …
I remember thinking, “How the f*ck did I ever think this was boring”.
I remember back in 2003, when my friends and I rented out an empty warehouse bay in a very sketchy area. We spent one entire month building a 16 foot high Roman structure inside, with $100,000 of lights and sound equipment and special effects geared up everywhere. Our makeshift “theatre” only sat 75 people. There was no separation. There was no “you” the audience and “we” the actors. You were invited into a world that our young minds had created from scratch. You were not a spectator. It was a completely amorphous theatrical experience, which was the whole point. We funded the whole operation by performing children’s theatre in the mornings. Melissa wrote an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that included a leprechaun named Cornelius (don’t ask). We worked 18 hour days. We never had a solitary day off. And I loved every single last f*cking second of it.
I remember the day we realized we couldn’t do this anymore without going bankrupt. I remember our last performance. I remember the emptiness I felt a few hours after that last show, standing alone on my barren, callow stage when I realized my life would never be “Shakespearean” again.
I remember the day I got a real job. I remember being really good at something I hated, which made me hate it even more. I remember missing Shakespeare, missing poetry, missing things that actually mattered.
I remember one sunny day in December, I grabbed my lunch at Cafe Metro and went down to Battery Park. I sat there on a chilly day in the tall grass with a cold turkey sandwich and a tepid cup of chicken noodle soup. I remember just reciting my Shakespeare in my head. Closing my eyes and trying to remember my old theatre. To remember what it was like to make things. To cast people. To take risks. To dream. To build. To tear down. Take a deep breath. Then do it again the next night. I remember trying to remember what it felt like to be counted. What it felt like to have no money, but have more than anyone else I knew.
I remember sometime around 3pm waking from the nostalgic remnants of a life that could have been, and taking a very long and very solemn walk back to my building. I got off the elevator at the 28th floor. Took the long way back to my office, closed the door, sat at my desk and just began to cry. I finally knew what Caliban meant, and then in dreaming, the clouds methought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.
Ninety-six hours later, in one brief moment of audacity, I left a successful career to start living a story that I would actually want to read.
What’s the point of this article? Nothing really. Except this. Let everything in. Shakespeare has had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life. I thank God for the day that Mr Spee threw that tattered copy of Henry V at the 16 year old version of me. I still have it in a box back at my apartment in the Lower East Side. The great poets and artists and muses of this beautiful world have been imbued with the power to lift hearts and steel spirits. Blog posts and e-newsletters and Seth Godin books are awesome, but there is nothing like getting lost in some Shakespeare.
Your Fellow Misfit,
This article was originally published in 2013, but it is about a man who saved my life using Shakespeare and I thought it would be appropriate today on the 450th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
It is a part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare project, a project we launched four years ago with our dear partners in Shakespearean crime, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, where each year on Shakespeare’s birthday week, hundreds of bloggers from around the world celebrate Shakespeare’s impact on their lives and work. If you’d like to join us this year, check out the project here. It launches now.
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