The Working Arts Library News Jeremy Irons Hosts Five-Part Working Shakespeare

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The Working Shakespeare Library is released on DVD.

Jeremy Irons hosts five-part Working Shakespeare Educational DVD series of Historic Shakespeare Workshops Conducted by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Legendary Voice and Speech Teacher Cicely Berry.

“A BARD-TASTIC collection! A thorough master class to maximum understanding and expressiveness….Follow along, do the breathing and vocal exercises, and you’ll feel an increasing resonance in your speaking voice, and Shakespeare will make you want to read—nay, declaim forcefully—Bard hits.”—Entertainment Weekly.

“21 high-profile veterans of stage and screen on a mission to brush up their Shakespeare with fabled RSC voice director. A real workout homing in on the use of language, vocal preparation, movement all the hidden aspects of reading and performing Shakesepare….And you don’t have to be an aspiring actor to appreciate these workshops. They have much to offer any theatergoer who wants a real understanding of the plays.”—Chicago Sun-Times

“Adrenaline flowed freely as the actors pitched into Ms. Berry’s vocal and physical exercises….She guided the actors into becoming a combined force exploring the drama of language.”—The New York Times

Twenty actors from both sides of the Atlantic, most of whom had never met before, convened in New York for three days of intensive Shakespeare training workshops. The group, which included Emily Watson, Helen Hunt, Samuel L. Jackson, Victor Garber, Blythe Danner, Lindsay Duncan, Toby Stephens, Claire Danes, Cherry Jones, Tony Goldwyn, and Robert Sean Leonard, didn’t sign up to demonstrate “how to” perform Shakespeare for the general edification of the theatre-going public. Their reason for attending these master classes was entirely selfish. They flew in from Hollywood and London for the chance to study with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s legendary voice and speech teacher, Cicely Berry, the subject of the PBS documentary Where Words Prevail.

A five-part educational video series for students of literature, speech, and theatre arts, Working Shakespeare, is the record of these historic instructional workshops of major British and American actors together delving into the structure, imagery, meaning and power of Shakespeare’s language. Jeremy Irons introduces each program and describes its educational themes and instructional purposes. Irons urges actors, students, and fans of Shakespeare everywhere to pay heed to the lively proceedings to enhance their fluency and ultimately enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Cicely Berry’s workshops do nothing to enshrine Shakespeare. Nobody learns “the right way” to perform him. If anything, Berry and her associate, Andrew Wade, set out to disturb whatever complacency or sense of rightness her acting students may harbor. The audience sees the actors burrowing with their whole bodies, minds and imaginations into Shakespeare’s most beloved speeches, scenes and sonnets, often to emerge with a resoundingly fresh grasp of the work. And, of course, it is the high risk factor for participant and teacher that fuels the programs with such high octane energy.

Among the subjects Ms. Berry takes up with her stellar cast of actors are the fundamentals of meter and rhythm and how they inform character, the structure of speech, how imagery shapes action and character, how vowels convey emotion, humor through rhythm and underplay, and how sound and meaning are linked to feeling. The actors share their questions and ideas in discussions throughout the workshops about the exercises, the texts, the roles they play, and their experiences in bringing Shakespeare to life. Andrew Wade’s Voice Preparation Workshop offers direct stimulating guidance for actors at all levels who wish to realize their vocal potential. The five-DVD set also includes two workbooks that break down and expand on the subjects covered on screen. The workshops are also available as individual DVD editions.

“We assume,” says Berry “that a sophisticated intellectual background is required to grapple with Shakespeare on stage. But there is a much deeper, almost primal response -- as available to inner city English students as to their counterparts in private school -- the sound and rhythm in Shakespeare’s language which arouses our emotions—feelings of anger and sorrow, of passion and laughter. How do performers excite the audience with Shakespeare’s rich imagery and dynamic rhythm and yet make it real for the twenty-first century? Our bodies and minds shall answer that question.”

“Aside from our educational aims, it was a way of testing the primal hypothesis,” said Executive Producer Glenn Young, “that Americans have a genetic deficiency when it comes to performing Shakespeare, that we are doomed to mutter four letter words in contemporary plays, while our British cousins control classical discourse on stage. Of course, you don’t root for Americans or Brits; you root for courage and truthfulness.”

“Take your liberty!” Cicely exhorts her star students before beginning their first acting lesson. The result is an ebullient collision of intellectual longing, vocal experiment and visceral liberation.

You are encouraged to preview each of the five educational workshops at the Working Arts Library website at Photo stills and video clips may be obtained to illustrate reviews and features. (For media contemplating a review who may require more extensive samples, please e-mail Kay Radtke at kradtke AT )

Working Shakespeare was directed by Tom Todoroff, edited by Stan Warnow, and line produced by Walter Cohen. Casting by Olivia Harris and Siobbhan Bracke.

Cicely Berry’s 128-page Teacher’s Companion describes the mechanics of each performance exercise and discusses the pedagogical intention and instructional outcome of each.

Cicely Berry is available for interview.

Working Shakespeare is the debut offering from The Working Art Library, whose mission is to offer humanities, English literature, and theatre arts programs with the teaching methods and guidance of internationally known professionals. In September, Working Arts will launch The Shakespeare Sessions with RSC co-founder John Barton and Sir Peter Hall, as well as Michael Chekhov’s five-hour CD Master Class, On Theatre and the Art of Acting with the acclaimed actor-director-teacher in October. The Working Arts Library is helmed by Applause Books founder and Publisher Emeritus, Glenn Young.

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Kay Radtke