Shakespeare and Storytelling

Shakespeare and Storytelling

Those who know me well know I love Shakespeare – regarded to be among the best and most prolific storytellers in history. My dissertation and directing piece from my degree were Shakespeare inspired, I’ve been in a number of Shakespeare tours, I have a webseries devoted to his sonnets and I’m in an a group who improvise Shakespeare shows. I’m a bit of a fan.

I’m clearly not alone either, as his shows are staged and re-staged time & time again always with a different ‘spin’ to keep it relevant. Though I’m always intrigued by the various theatrical choices made by directors all over the world who choose to stage these 500 year old plays, those choices are rarely what make a Shakespeare production good or relevant. They can make it exciting, fresh, surprising, but ultimately what makes a Shakespeare show watchable & engaging is the level of emotional truth from actors who trust the words enough not to add anything unnecessary. The words are what draws so many of us to the Bard, and it’s because they reflect the human condition warts and all, letting real emotions drive the action forward – and often (not always) in beautiful poetic language.

The most engaging and memorable improv shows I’ve both seen and been a part of have stayed with me for the same reasons. It’s rarely what happens or the order it happened in that affect me, most often it is a series of emotional reactions and truths expressed bravely honestly and beautifully with nothing unnecessary on top. One of the best shows I’ve ever been in had absolutely zero plot – just three sets of people who felt different things and were affected by each other genuinely. It felt like a complete story and all tied together perfectly, leaving the audience genuinely touched by what they had witnessed. This is the true power of storytelling. It’s never about plot, but about people and vulnerability.

So here are my top tips for good storytelling in Shakespeare shows and improv shows alike:

Keep it simple

Mixing twenty ideas into one pot will confuse both performers and audience.

Lead with genuine emotion

Don’t let the plot become more important than how a character feels in any given moment.

Trust the words

Don’t judge what’s coming out of your mouth or over-analyse it. Take your time and speak honestly – it is so compelling.

To thine own self be true

Don’t try to be another performer. You’re you, and what keeps shows fresh is seeing new faces with their own unique stage presence and life experience being shared with an audience. It brings us something we’ve not seen before, and cannot see anywhere else.

The Play’s the thing

By that I mean remember to play. No one wants to see Shakespeare with a pole up it’s ass where the actors are all doing what they’ve been told by a strict and humourless director. Likewise no one enjoys improv where the performers are not having fun because they are worrying about what they ‘should’ be doing. Throw the plot out the window and play with your teammates. Be cheeky, take risks, break some rules. The plot will sort itself out.

You can learn more about storytelling, and all other aspects of improv with out improv courses!

Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer is the Youth Coordinator & Safeguarding Officer at the Nursery and teaches a variety of classes and courses. She also performs with The Maydays, The Concept, Impromptu Shakespeare, and Somewhat Theatre.

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