Ryerson acting students bring the Bard to life

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By Antoinette Sarpong

Love triangles, interracial dating and jealousy may seem like standard themes from a raunchy, fist-flinging, Jerry Springer talk show, but director Paul Miller is going to prove that a man who died almost four centuries ago explored these themes first, as he directs the Ryerson theatre school’s Acting II Workshop this February.

In a brightly lit, black-tiled room in the Ryerson theatre school, second year acting student Lenny Silvini seems relatively soft spoken during rehearsal.

But after Miller gives Silvini some verbal inspiration, the young thespian transforms into the elderly Brabantio from Shakespeare’s Othello.

“Remember, you’re an old guy who just woke up to discover two punk kids on your porch, with a flaming bag of dogshit,” says Miller.

No sooner does Miller finish speaking, does Silvini fill the room with a coarse, booming voice, which no one would ever guess could come out of his lungs.

For Silvini, the Acting II workshop will be the first time he has performed in the Ryerson Theatre. He couldn’t be happier because he not only does he get to perform in scenes from his favourite Shakespeare play, Othello, but he gets to work with Miller, a man he has incredible respect for.

“Ask anyone in this class, this guy is amazing,” says Silvini. “He is making something that is actually so hard, so simple. He makes acting more fun.”

The Acting II Workshop is the Ryerson theatre school’s fourth show of the 2001/2002 season. Miller has chosen 14 scenes from various Shakespeare plays, which the second-year theatre class will perform, from Feb. 14 to Feb. 21.

Miller graduated from the National Theatre School in 1987, and has built an impressive résumé. He spent six seasons at Stratford, performing in a variety of plays including Othello, The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing. He appeared in the television series The Associates, as well as Earth: Final Conflict, and the feature film Bait.

Perry Schneiderman, chair of the Ryerson theatre school, said that it was Miller’s past experience and love for Shakespeare that prompted the school to recruit him to direct the Acting II Workshop.

“We wanted someone who could find a balance between directing and teaching,” says Schneiderman. “He has that combination.”

Peter Katz, who plats Roderigo in Othello, also said that Miller had a very unique teaching style he admired.

“He’s a Shakespeare machine,” says Katz. “He has a lot of respect for the text.

“He always reminds us that even when we are on the stage performing, we are still in rehearsal.

“We’ll still be learning… except some people may show up to watch us.”

Miller said that one of his favourite scenes from the workshop is the opening scene of Hamlet, but he selected all the other various scenes because of their equally powerful content.

“An example of every human experience can be found in them,” he says.

Shakespeare continues to have an influence on contemporary artists today.

Baz Lurhman made Shakespeare cool again when he directed Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in Romeo and Juliet (1996).

Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh both paid tribute to the Bard when they directed and starred in their versions of Hamlet.

 More recently, Ethan Hawke played Hamlet in a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, and Gwyneth Paltrow won an Academy Award in 1999 for playing Shakespeare’s love interest in the film Shakespeare in Love.

Miller said that he enjoyed Baz Lurhman’s modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but this didn’t inspire him to change his directing style during the workshop.

“I’m just going with what’s written in the text,” said Miller.

Miller also said that he isn’t surprised that armies of people still show up to see Shakespeare’s plays because his work is still very relevant today.

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