My father was a submarine captain, which I thought was the most exciting job in the world. When I was eight, Dad took me out to lunch to tell me there are no women in that line of work. To distract me, he took me to see a matinee of Camelot in Norfolk, Virginia. Afterwards, we sat in the parking lot and watched the actors leave through the stage door. Dad pointed out that there were other exciting things I could do with my life besides being on the subs. I seem to have become an actress because I thought it would be exciting.
I was always behind in school. When I was fifteen, my father took me to a production of Richard II, and somehow I understood the language. It really opened a world to me, and made me feel smart for the first time in my life.
You have to use the elitism of Shakespeare to work for you. If a kid who lacks confidence in school can understand Shakespare—the absolute pinnacle of the English language—she can develop confidence in other areas. It can make her feel smarter, just as it did for me. When I see that transformation take place, it is truly magical.
Learning Shakespeare is like learning computers: You have to dig in, put your hands on it, get your eyes busy, interact with your hands and your eyes and your mind. For both, you only learn by doing.
Cam Magee is a teaching theater artist. She has appeared in seven Folger productions, including Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and Macbeth. She is an original member of Bill's Buddies, and has been the Mistress of the Revels at the Secondary School Festival for twenty years.