Shakespeare’s Heightened Language With Patsy Rodenburg

Two weeks ago, I spent three intensive days at the Michael Howard Studios in Chelsea doing an acting workshop with master coach, Patsy Rodenburg. I am not an actor, so I had never heard of Patsy Rodenburg before and only decided to try her workshop on the recommendation of a friend. The thing that fascinated me about this workshop was watching some of Patsy’s videos on You Tube. Patsy is a remarkable storyteller and has an intense presence that is captivating. I wanted to know more about what she did and whether I could bring some of it to my own performances.

Once I registered for the class, I was required to have a two minute monologue memorized for the workshop. Picking a monologue was a challenge because, I have to confess, I hardly know any Shakespeare. I have seen a few plays and watched a movie or two but never really checked out Shakespeare the way one really should. Anyways, I chose Queen Margaret’s monologue from Henry VI, part three, Act I, scene iv (once again a recommendation from the same friend who referred me to this workshop – thanks Nick!) My first reading of the text was humbling to say the least. I had no idea what I was reciting and I was beginning to think that I got myself into one pricey mess. After six weeks of work and lots of help from my husband, Mr. Smarty Pants, and Shakespeare’s words dot com, I could recite the monologue with real fiery contempt—or so I thought.

On the first day of the workshop, the first two hours was an introduction of what was to come over the few days and everyone introducing themselves and why they were all particating in the classes. I was the only non-actor who wasn’t pursuing acting in the group although there was one opera singer who trains actors in voice work. Patsy mostly spoke about preparing yourself mentally and physically for the monologues. She described three “circles” of being. (Please understand that I am over simplifying these concepts and I don’t have real depth of knowledge on it). First circle is a passive state, a subservient, inactive place. Third circle is what Patsy called the “bully” state: overbearing, insensitive, and aggressive. The second circle is the active, present state. This is the place you want to be in.

It is amazing how unaware you can be about your state of being. You don’t even realize at times that you are not engaged or present in the moment. Sometimes you think you are present but realize you are really in “Third Circle”. We worked on being aware of how our bodies are when we are not in “Second Circle” and to try to engage the body so that you are in “Second Circle”.

On the second day we continued our work on being “present” and worked more on our chosen text of Shakespeare. One exercise that Patsy asked us to do was to recite the first word and last word of each line in our text. That was an incredible moment for me. For one thing, it was the same exercise which my piano teacher, Sofia Rosoff, asks me to do when learning music. Sofia calls it outlining and Patsy’s outline blew my mind! As I was reciting the outline I truly glimpsed for a moment the genius of Shakespeare. Everyone tells you that Shakespeare was a genius but I truly felt a connection and was awestruck by my discovery. That was a highlight over the weekend.

On the final day of my Level I workshop (there was a Level II and III), Patsy worked with each participant in a masterclass forum from anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes on each monologue. That day started at 9:00am and went until 2:30am!! Patsy was a machine! I mean this woman worked with everyone and with only two 20 minute breaks and one 5 minute bathroom break during the almost 18 hour marathon of Shakespeare. The incredible thing about Patsy was that she never waned in her intensity with each person and she brought out remarkable results from many of the participants.

When Patsy worked on my monologue, she stated that my voice was very clear and could be heard very well. But her criticism was that it sounded more like a speech rather than someone speaking to another individual. Also, I sounded mean and contemptuous. She wanted me to change the mood of my monologue. She wanted me to understand that Queen Margaret was almost in disbelief that the Duke of York had the audacity to try and take over the kingdom. Patsy really makes you understand that Shakespeare’s characters are relatable and that you can really understand and empathize with the character. When she asked me about Queen Margaret and how she felt. I began to get excited and exclaim that Queen Margaret was angry but feeling protective of her son and his right to the throne. I could feel my rage and hurt boiling inside me and at that moment Patsy said “Text, go!” I started to say my monologue and the tears and rage and pain were literally exploding out of me. The whole time I didn’t let go of Patsy’s intense gaze in my eyes. Her “Second Circle” presence energized me and even though I could barely catch the clarity of my voice how I know it, it feel absolutely incredible to experience that emotion and deliver my monologue! I don’t know if I was any good but it felt great!

By the time we were all done, my brain and body were fried from fatigue but I was filled with excitement and inspiration at the same time. I was sorry that I wasn’t continuing onto the next level but it has only given me something to look forward to the next time Patsy comes to NYC to do another one of her workshops. Also, I have found a new love for Shakespeare and I want to continue learning more about his work and studying more of his plays.

Thank you Patsy!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.