The idea of a Shakespearean character appearing in a wheelchair was so remote that Amy originally thought Shakespeare wasn’t for her.
Amy feels that it is important that the audience should see itself represented in the theatre. While theatres have become more accessible and casting has become more diverse in ethnicity and accent, it’s still uncommon to have wheelchair-using actors on stage. We are hopefully now seeing the start of improved representation for disabled people as well.
A flirtation with Shakespeare
Amy’s parents loved theatre and she went regularly to musical theatre with them. But although her school was just an hour away from the Globe, they were never taken to see live productions there. Shakespeare was read in class but never performed, not even in sixth form Theatre Studies.
When Amy decided to apply to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts she was asked to present two Shakespeare pieces, so she sought out the teacher in her school who was the known expert. Her teacher’s passion for Shakespeare sparked something in Amy and she realised that she was actually relishing speaking the language. She was accepted on the basis of her performances of a Queen Margaret piece (Henry VI) and a Phoebe extract (As You Like It), leading to what she calls a "flirtation" with Shakespeare. Her enthusiasm grew when they undertook a Shakespeare project at Mountview, guided by a passionate teacher.
By the time she left Mountview, Amy had moved from musicals to more traditional acting. She did some interesting work at Westminster Abbey and promenading Shakespeare in The Sonnet Walks at the Globe, gaining valuable experience in connecting with an audience, winning their attention and retaining it throughout a performance. Her first full-length theatrical role was playing Laura in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at Nottingham Playhouse.
Playing Biondella and Juliet
Amy auditioned for the RSC’s present season and was delighted to get the roles of Biondella in The Taming of the Shrew and Juliet in Measure for Measure. Her performance as Biondella shows a command of comic timing that repeatedly earns a round of applause when she runs a marathon of a monologue. The wheelchair becomes an extension of her physicality, as she both glides and sweeps furiously across the stage, sometimes turning dramatically on a sixpence.
Amy explains her use of four different wheelchairs over the two plays. Titus is her main chair but she also has a Titania, made of a lighter titanium which facilitates swift movement, her dancing chair. In Measure for Measure, she has two heavier period pieces.
Amy welcomes the challenge of the different staging conditions she will encounter taking these plays around the country, and is pleased to have got over the imposter syndrome (mistakenly believing you're a fraud) that she had at the outset. Working with RSC practitioners, she has discovered that it is OK to admit you don’t always know and that you can discover Shakespeare through performing him.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.