The second of our series of blogs about theatre in different communities. Actor Joseph Kloska reflects on his work with our Education team through lockdown.
When the Covid crisis hit, I was approaching the realisation of a long-held dream, one that over the years I hardly allowed myself to indulge: to play Leontes in The Winter's Tale with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Incredibly, last year, the cards had fallen my way and Erica Whyman gave me that opportunity.
Together with a wonderful company of actors, stage management and creative types, we embarked on rehearsals in London at the beginning of the year and by March, I had learned almost every line, perfectly grown a moustache, moved into a little cottage in Stratford, and then of course the music suddenly stopped. On Monday 16 March, as we were starting our final week of rehearsal and after a series of confusing and frightening announcements from the government, the theatres of the nation were suddenly closed, shortly followed by everything else.
Life in lockdown
I have been in Stratford ever since, experiencing lockdown away from home (but happily with my partner, who was instructed to work from home and had come up with me that first weekend). The strange atmosphere of our time here was accentuated by wandering the empty streets and passing the half-unloaded truck bearing our Winter's Tale set still attached to the outside of the dark and looming theatre, a monument to our endeavours and our entire cultural industry – in crisis and frozen in time.
Our Company threw itself into making work online. We continued rehearsing and running lines for The Winter's Tale (until it became clear that reopening in three weeks would perhaps not be happening) and trying to be as productive as possible. We've made films and held play readings and taken Sonnet classes on Zoom, and finally, recently, we did our first socially-distanced outdoor public performances. It was exhilarating and moving to be back, and feel again the camaraderie of a group of people creating something live together.
Breaking out of my bubble
Contributing to the work of the truly world-beating RSC Education Department has been deeply rewarding during this time, and also a great way to stay engaged with people beyond my own bubble.
I have made Homework Help videos for students who are looking at Macbeth. Although I felt somewhat odd to be all alone in my living room, staring at my mobile, trying to replicate some of the brilliant exercises created by the Department, it was near the beginning of the lockdown, and I think it's fair to say we have all got used to it by now.
I've loved chatting to Year 10 students in Blackpool who asked a series of brilliant and provocative questions about Shakespeare, what it's like to be an actor, whether I've ever forgotten my lines (of course, frequently) and about our hopes and dreams for the future.
I've worked with teachers in Nottingham, for whom my colleague Avita Jay and I were the happy guinea pigs for a strand of work the Department is doing around creative responses to Shakespeare. We performed some of the teachers' excellent new writing provoked by scenes from The Tempest. At one point, I played an eyewitness to the shipwreck at the beginning of the play, and I hope the teachers enjoyed me bringing my committed performance of 'unreliable Cornish fisherman' to the scene. They didn’t actually say... probably a Zoom connection issue.
In our play, Leontes has to wait and pray in solitude for 16 years before a type of redemption can occur. We still don't know when we will be able to return to The Winter's Tale but one day in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre we will get to Act 5 with our audience and that will be a magical reunion of another kind. And when that moment arrives, I am very much looking forward to uttering a line I hadn't previously given a huge amount of attention: 'the blessed gods / Purge all infection from our air whilst you / Do climate here.' See you there.