November 21, 2013
Gracy, part of the Richard II company, is both a professional actress and teacher. She plays lady-in-waiting to the queen.
She is bilingual – speaking Dutch as well as English. Born in England she began her education here before the family moved to Holland when she was nine. She returned to England to complete her education, taking her GCSEs and A-Level exams here.
Although she did English literature it is the modern poetry and novels she remembers rather than any Shakespeare.
She might have done Hamlet but there was no enthusiasm for Shakespeare among her English teachers. So she came to Shakespeare quite late.
In fact it was only at A-Level while doing theatre studies that she became aware of him when they did Measure for Measure. And she admits to being scared of him, afraid that she wouldn't understand.
Scared of Shakespeare
Surprisingly it was her Dutch that came to her aid. She explains that the grammar and syntax of modern Dutch are closer to Shakespeare's than modern English - for instance ending a sentence on a verb. So she found herself acquiring a fluency which was confidence-building.
Alongside the staging of Measure for Measure her group looked at other Shakespeare plays to support their understanding. She remembers Richard III.
She studied English literature, theatre studies and French at A-Level alongside a theatre foundation course but after her exams she took a year out to work at the Royal Court Young People's Theatre before going to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
She worked for the RSC in 2002, appearing in The Winter's Tale, The Tempest and Pericles. She played Perdita in The Winter's Tale and understudied Ariel in Michael Boyd's The Tempest.
She says that by this time Shakespeare was in her bones and Ariel her dream role. She did get a chance to play the part when the actress playing Ariel had to attend a funeral. She reckons that Michael Boyd was somewhat apprehensive but after she received a standing ovation he was more than persuaded! She was later able to play the role in her own right at Bury St. Edmonds.
In 2004 she played Emilia in Othello at Southwark Playhouse, a role she loved, and had more Shakespeare experience playing Iras in Antony and Cleopatra directed by Janet Suzman.
The number 1 director of Shakespeare?
At present she is lady-in waiting to the queen in Richard II but in the public understudy performance she demonstrated her considerable acting range, taking on three roles: a grief-stricken Duchess of Gloucester; the frantic Duchess of York, which results in some farcical comedy when pleading for her son's life against her husband before Henry IV; and the male role of Bagot!
Having taught workshops on Shakespeare she says that the most frequently asked question is: how do you prepare for a role?
She stresses that you can never know the lines too well, they give you so many clues about mood and character, often from their rhythms. As you speak the lines they trigger the emotion. The grief of the Duchess of Gloucester is in the lines not in any colour-wash of grief you might apply beforehand.
Trust the lines, go with the lines, Gracy advises. More than any other dramatist she knows, Shakespeare invites this technique. He is the number one director.
Too young for Shakespeare?
She has worked with children aged four to 12-years-old across the range of ability and so I ask what she thinks of Shakespeare at Key Stage 2 primary level. She says children at this age embrace the ideas, there is none of the self-consciousness that sets in at 13 or 14. Younger children are willing to respond imaginatively to the ideas of greed and injustice and if you then apply chosen words to the situation you have developed with them it works.
As a language teacher she believes that learning a new language should be fun, confidence-boosting and uplifting. With a solid structure in place your new language should live with you for life.
And teaching Shakespeare's language is the same. You need a teacher who is passionate about Shakespeare, she says, and then children can respond with enthusiasm and enjoyment.
by Viv Graver
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