Outdoor School: Clara Hillier On The Lessons Of Outdoor Shakespeare

Clara Hillier new Headshot-2013There has only ever been one true theatrical love for me: William Shakespeare. I vividly remember viewing the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson “Much Ado About Nothing” as a 9 year old and just “getting it”: the characters, the rhythm, the passion and the text. Since then, I’ve done everything in my power to fill my theatrical career with Shakespeare.

What I never expected was to be performing Shakespeare outside for the majority of my adult life. Somehow the hot summer sun, yummy picnic lunches, airplanes, fountains and vineyards just make sense in my mind when I think of Shakespeare!

Honestly, I love the thrill and challenge of putting Shakespeare’s text on its feet in the great outdoors. Not only are you delving into some of the greatest text, but also you have no idea of what you may come up against in a performance. Each night is totally different, but every performance is memorable when you go outdoors.

Some nights you may have gusts of wind threatening to tear up your entire set (last summer, Much Ado About Nothing with Willamette Shakespeare). Or you have constant airplanes overhead (basically any Original Practice Shakespeare Festival show up in Vancouver). Or you have those rainy performances on a very slippery fountain (The Tempest with Portland Actors Ensemble). Or you may get slight heat exhaustion from the sun and performing atop of a concrete skillet (Merry Wives of Windsor with PAE). Or perhaps the power goes out and the audience helps you out by providing stage lights with their cell phones and bike lights to finish out the Midsummer Midsommer Night’s Dreame (OPS Fest). Or you may fall backwards, ruining your costume and boasting a pretty awesome “tiger claw” scar on your shoulder from over excited shipwreck acting in a cement fountain (The Tempest, PAE).

When you perform outdoor, you are put to the test as an actor: vocally, physically, and emotionally. You must be heard, but you must maintain tone and variance in your delivery. You must be always moving and alert, but ground yourself to set apart those pivotal plot moments. You must relate to the person in the front row all the way to the back of the park, but also not forget to fall in love/hate/pity/befriend your scene partners. As Scott has often told us in rehearsal for Julius Caesar: “It is really tough. Good luck with it all,” smirking slightly at us from his rehearsal notes.

Regardless of the challenges, I would never trade a single outdoor Shakespeare memory. They made me who I am today as an actor and I can’t wait for more sun burns, heat exhaustion, airplane dances, and power outages and even more compelling characters and stories to explore.

And perhaps a few more awesome battle scars.