Auditioning for Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 39

Laura Wayth confesses that she’s never read any of Shakespeare’s plays. But she’s listened to the plays performed over and over, and it’s her keen ear that informs her advice to actors in this episode of Shakespeare Unlimited.
 
Wayth is assistant professor of theater at San Francisco State University and the author of a how-to book called The Shakespeare Audition: How to Get Over Your Fear, Find the Right Piece, and Have a Great Audition.
 
In this episode, she demonstrates how actors can learn to read Shakespeare’s verse so that they understand the rhythm of each line, the importance of punctuation, and the way that one piece of text should vocally build upon another.
 
Wayth was interviewed by Neva Grant, and she was joined by actors Stephanie Ann Foster, Mike Ryan, and Bruce Avery.
 
Listen on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, and NPR One.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. © January 12, 2016. Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. "A Poor Player That Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Stage" was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had help from Melissa Marquis at NPR in Washington and Darren Peck at the Sports Byline studios in San Francisco.

Transcript

MICHAEL WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director.

This podcast is called “A Poor Player that Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Stage,” and it’s directed at a specific portion of our Shakespeare Unlimited audience: people who appear on stage in Shakespeare, and even more so, people who may want to appear on stage in Shakespeare, but haven’t yet.

Laura Wayth, assistant professor of theater at San Francisco State University, has written a how-to book called The Shakespeare Audition: How to Get Over Your Fear, Find the Right Piece, and Have a Great Audition. We brought Laura in, along with a group of actors, to demonstrate techniques that can help even the newest aspiring Shakespearean shine on stage. Laura is interviewed by Neva Grant.

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NEVA GRANT: So, Laura, what inspired you to write this book?

LAURA WAYTH: There’s nothing else like this out there. And I sometimes teach at the American Conservatory Theater, and they have a two-week Shakespeare intensive, which is really to get actors, you know, a little bit of skill in handling Shakespeare verse. And I asked my students at the end of the two-week session, why they wanted to take a class like this, and they told me that they were absolutely terrified of doing Shakespeare. They didn’t know how to approach it, they didn’t know how to find material, and that they really, really needed to find a way to get a handle on it quickly.

So, I thought, you know, that’s a unique program at American Conservatory Theater. There must be many actors out there who need something like that, and if they’re in a more rural area or something, they don’t have access to that. So, I thought, why not write a guide that would be kind of a quick hit for actors who needed that kind of experience and that kind of training very quickly.

GRANT: You know, that’s such a strong word you used: terrified. And I’m wondering what goes into that terror? I mean, these are plays. Many of us are quite familiar, or at least slightly familiar, with Shakespeare, and I’m wondering why it strikes terror in the hearts of people who want to perform for, in many cases, for a living.

WAYTH: Well, I don’t use that word lightly. They really are terrified of it, and I think it comes down to reverence. "These words are so great, I don’t have a right. Little, lowly me doesn’t have a right to speak this."

GRANT: And what about the fact that so much of it is written in verse. Is that intimidating, too?

WAYTH: I think it’s intimidating for an actor who doesn’t know how to handle it, but, I mean, ultimately, verse, once you find the tools to handle verse, verse is actually easier than contemporary text, because well-constructed verse text does so much of your homework as an actor for you.

It has your objective, what you want as an actor, embedded in it. It has your tactics, what you need to get done on stage to another character, embedded in it. So, it really just becomes a matter of actors learning how to read the verse map, so that you can unfold all of this information that the playwright has put in there for you.

GRANT: I should mention here that, while we’ve been talking, you have three actors... you, yourself, of course, you’re an actor, but you have three actors in the studio with you, correct?

WAYTH: I did, I brought in the big guns!

GRANT: Okay, that’s great. And all four of you are there to sort of demonstrate some of these ideas as we’re talking about them. And so, I think this would be a great place to have someone demonstrate just what your book can do for somebody who really wants to soar in a Shakespeare audition and then, of course, on stage.

So, we thought we’d try a bit of "before and after," where one of your actors could sort of demonstrate what it’s like to, sort of approach a work cold, and then what might happen over time as you take some of the tips in the book and get ready to perform, and how the performance changes over time. So, who do you have there?

WAYTH: Sure. I’m going to have Stephanie Ann do that, because Stephanie Ann works with a lot of young actors. And what happens a lot of the time is, when a young actor comes in, they treat verse text like it’s contemporary text. They flatten out the text, they breathe in the wrong places, they don’t honor the pulse of the language, and that’s when Shakespeare starts to not make sense.

So, I’ll have her show you a little bit of what she might encounter working with a newbie to Shakespeare, because she sees that, probably, on a daily basis.

GRANT: Stephanie Ann, hi. Stephanie Ann Foster? You’re at the microphone.

STEPHANIE ANN FOSTER: I’m here. I’m going to show you a little bit of Ophelia and in this scene, Hamlet has just burst in upon her and displayed some very disturbing behavior. It’s a favorite among young actresses, and I’m going to show you how some of them might approach it, if they were to disregard the verse, and then we’ll try it another way.

FOSTER as OPHELIA in HAMLET, "before" version:

He took me by the wrist and held me hard.
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stayed he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
That it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being.

GRANT: Okay, and so that’s perhaps a young actress approaching this material cold, and now tell us what you’re going to do.

FOSTER: This time I’ll pay a bit more attention to the verse line.

GRANT: And, when you say “verse line,” what do you mean?

FOSTER: I mean, the line of text that is considered complete, typically ten beats of iambic pentameter, that has a rhythm and a designated start and stop. I’ll pay a bit more attention to the verse line, and I will honor the places where Shakespeare has drained out, as far as we can tell, drained out the punctuation, so that we can see sections where Ophelia is feeling more driven.

FOSTER as OPHELIA in HAMLET, "after" version (better approach):

He took me by the wrist and held me hard.
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stayed he so.
At last, a little shaking of mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being.

GRANT: Stephanie Ann, thanks you so much for that example. Laura Wayth, what did you hear in the "before and after" there.

WAYTH: I heard something so familiar, it hurts. [LAUGH] I heard, in her first example, I heard what so many young actors do, which is they chop up the text. They don’t follow the driving pulse of the verse, finding how the text is rhythmically constructed, and Stephanie Ann was doing a very good job of doing what a lot of young actors do, which is not honoring punctuation, not finding anything that was a through line of action through the text.

The second time she did it, she did what any good Shakespeare actor knows, who has their skills, would do, and she was honoring the “up-and-down” kind of pulse of the language. She’s also honored the punctuation that has been provided by the editor, which tells the actor... helps to tell the actor, where to breathe and where to pause. And, you would probably notice as the audience member, that even if you didn’t know specifically what tools the actor was using, the second time around it made so much more sense to the ear. The content made more sense.

GRANT: Yeah. You know, it’s true, and people who do go to Shakespeare plays a lot often say that there’s a huge range, even plays they’re familiar with, you know, sometimes they’ll say, “I went to that play and I understood everything as if the person was speaking to me in completely contemporary language.” And I think what you’re talking about is exactly the kind of thing that Stephanie Ann was doing there in that second version.

WAYTH: You know, and sometimes we blame Shakespeare, and it’s infuriating. We blame Shakespeare for actors not having their proper skills, because if an actor has the proper skill set, they can communicate this text beautifully. I don’t think anybody would ever walk away from a soliloquy performed by Kenneth Branagh or Judi Dench and go, “What was that about?” because the language lives, because these actors know how to handle that language, you know, very adeptly.

GRANT: Another tip you offer in the book is to treat the language like music. Partly, I guess, because so much of sung music is sung in verse, right?

FOSTER: Right.

WAYTH: You know, I think it’s the closest way for us to understand what verse is, and I think that’s because Shakespeare’s text is heightened. We call it “heightened text,” and that means that it’s lifted above contemporary, everyday speech and the closest thing that we have to that is music. I often say that if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a slam poet, and I say that because it’s heightened, rhythmic, powerful use of language and, really, music is the best way to understand it. And I also always find that my students who are musical take to this work much more quickly than students who maybe have more of a kinesthetic sense, or a different point of entry. Musical people just get onto it, like that.

GRANT: And one of the practical tips you give in this book is to take a section of Shakespeare’s verse and actually to sing it, as if it were music. And is that really something you actually do?

WAYTH: It is. It’s something I do when my students are at this awkward stage, where they’re learning how to map out the poetry, but then they’re stuck in something I call “scansion land,” where they just find the up and down pulse of the rhythm and they sound like little robots. So, I’ll let them do that for a little while, then go “Great! Intellectually, you understand this poetry. Now, put that away, and now, why don’t you sing it for me, so that you can see what the intent is behind it.”

Because when we analyze the poetry, it’s not an intellectual exercise. It’s really something that helps us ultimately to perform it, because really what we’re concerned about is performing it in a way that’s clear for the audience.

GRANT: I’d love to hear an example.

WAYTH: Okay, I’ll give you a little example from Helena, from A Midsummer Night's Dream. First, I’m going to give you a couple of lines, just so you can hear what the actual pulse is of the language and then I’ll sing it for you, so you can hear the “up-down” nature of the language.

WAYTH as HELENA in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, exaggerated emphasis:

How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
He will not know what all but he do know.

WAYTH: So, as you can hear, that’s very flat, that's very boring, but that’s actually the pulse of the language as Shakespeare created it. So, if I were to sing that, I would find that pulse, but I would have it have a little more shape and life.

WAYTH as HELENA in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, singing:

How happy some o'er other some can be!
Through Athens I am thought as fair as she.
But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
He will not know what all but he do know.

GRANT: I really... I love that, and it really demonstrates just how useful that technique can be, and what’s interesting is you’re not trying to really sing out any kind of melody. You’re focusing on the pulse of the music, but there is something about singing it that really drives that home.

WAYTH: And what happens, ultimately, is that would be, like, a beginning stage that I would do with an actor, and then when they’re trying to find more sophisticated ideas in the text, then I’ll say, “Okay, well, you’ve done this on these two pitches, now I want to hear you explore it.” And, what happens, very interestingly, is these actors start to turn this into some kind of Shakespeare opera, and then I have them return to speaking the text, with the discoveries they made when they did their little opera aria, and the text takes on this amazing dimension and life that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

GRANT: Hmm. You know, we’ve already started to introduce the idea, and I think you mentioned the word earlier as well, of “scansion,” which is basically how you stress the words as you move through the piece or the verse. Can you talk a little bit more about how that works?

WAYTH: Sure, so, all poetry has stressed and unstressed beats. This is how we analyze it. We look at where the language is stressed and where it isn’t stressed. Scansion is the process of mapping out where syllables are stressed, where they’re unstressed.

And what happens when Shakespeare doesn’t make sense to an audience, is the actors haven’t done this work. They’re just speaking it without having identified where the pulse of that language is, where, when the actor does sit down with their pencil. Because this is something that no matter how skilled you are, you really need to do that intellectual homework of mapping it out for yourself, because sometimes things aren’t always regular.

You know, people always have this idea that Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, which is five metrical feet of unstressed-stressed beats. But, Shakespeare wrote in all sort of different meters, and the different meters show a lot about character, a lot about specific characters and their differences, a lot about character psychology. So, in addition to making the text sound better, doing this work also identifies a lot about how characters think and who they are, and what their status is.

GRANT: Does this scansion or stress also help the actor to determine what the important or operative word is, in the piece?

WAYTH: Yes, it absolutely does, and that’s one of the reasons that I ultimately find it easier than contemporary text. If I’m doing a contemporary text, I as the actor have to determine what words are the most important words to land my vocal energy on. If I know how to do this work as an actor, where I identify the natural pulses that Shakespeare has put in, the meaning just unfolds. I don’t have to intellectually choose that as the actor. You know, the bottom line is: Shakespeare was smarter than all of us. So we just need to figure out what he was thinking, and if we can kind of get a clue to that, and can just follow it along, it just unfolds itself.

GRANT: Yeah. You know, it just occurred to me, of course, that Shakespeare was himself a performer and was surely thinking of what it would be like to perform these lines as he was writing them, and might have even been saying them aloud to himself, to make sure that the scansion worked, to make sure that the verse rolled beautifully off the tongue.

WAYTH: It’s not an intellectual exercise. This work was meant to be on stage, and it was written by somebody who knew how to do that work.

GRANT: Is one of your actors there primed to demonstrate a little bit about how this operative word just kind of rises out of the verse.

WAYTH: Yeah, I’m going to let Mike Ryan show you a little bit about that.

MIKE RYAN: Hi there.

GRANT: Hi, are you Mike?

RYAN: I’m Mike Ryan. I’m the artistic director of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

GRANT: Nice to meet you. What do you got for us?

RYAN: This is a piece, the Bastard from King John, and he’s delivering a speech to the French army, after they’ve invaded England, in an attempt to get them to turn back.

RYAN as the BASTARD from KING JOHN:

By all the blood that ever fury breathed,
The youth says well! Now hear our English king,
For thus his royalty doth speak in me:
He is prepared—and reason too he should.
This apish and unmannerly approach,
This harnessed masque and unadvisèd revel,
This unheard sauciness and boyish troops,
The King doth smile at, and is well prepared
To whip this dwarfish war, these pigmy arms,
From out the circle of his territories.

GRANT: You know, Mike, are you still there?

RYAN: I am.

GRANT: Mike, how do you know you’re doing that? Please don’t take this question the wrong way, Mike, but how do you know you’re doing that right?

RYAN: It feels good.

GRANT: I mean, I just want to make clear. It made perfect sense to me. It’s not like I was going to say, "Oh, it didn’t make sense." So, I’m just wondering if you feel something, is it almost like something you feel in your whole body, like, you know, the words are landing in the right place, or...

RYAN: Absolutely. It’s an athletic exercise. I mean, I think one of the things that Laura said earlier that really resonated with me, is, it’s not intellectual. It is very, very physical and I think that when the verse is really flowing, it carries you along with it, rather than making you feel like you have to work your way through it.

WAYTH: It’s really interesting, what Mike just said, because this is something that I have to try to explain to my students all of the time. They say, “Well, how do I know if my scansion is wrong?” And I say, “Your body tells you. Your body rebels.” You know, so Mike’s answer, “It just feels good,” made perfect sense to me. It felt good because he was absolutely on the rhythm as Shakespeare wrote it, so it just flowed. Now, for an actor like Mike, it’s easy. It’s second nature. For a newer actor, it’s a process of trial and error, and they don’t know what “wrong” feels like, until they experience what “right” feels like. And once you know what that feels like, of being in the zone, of having the verse carry you away, of having it make sense energetically, then you really know when something is off. It just sets your teeth on edge, when it’s off.

GRANT: You know, as if the words themselves, the meaning of the words, the poetry and the meter, and the scansion, and finding what the operative words are... if all of those things weren’t enough, there’s yet another thing that you have to think about from a purely technical point of view, and that’s breathing, right?

WAYTH: It’s true, and, you know, it’s so weird, because we’re mammals, and we’re equipped to breathe. And, it’s this sort of thing that you can go about it two different ways. If you’re really connected to the thought and the arc of the thought, the breath comes naturally. But the other way to go about it is by looking at the punctuation. Now, there are lots of different schools of thought in Shakespeare land about punctuation, and there are schools of thought that you’d just throw it all out the window, “Shakespeare didn’t write it that way. It doesn’t make sense.”

I come from a different school of thought, where punctuation is very, very important and that punctuation tells the actor where they can breathe, how long they should pause for, in a way that doesn’t disrupt the verse. And that’s also very dependent on who your Shakespeare editor is, and what punctuation they have decided to put into your text, and how that in turn affects the breath.

GRANT: So can one of your actors demonstrate in a little more depth, how to use breath properly?

WAYTH: Sure, I think that Bruce Avery can probably demonstrate that with a sonnet.

GRANT: Great! So, Bruce?

BRUCE AVERY: Hi, I’m Bruce Avery. I’m professor of theater at San Francisco State and artistic director of Bread & Butter Theatre Company, and I’m going to do Sonnet 71.

GRANT: Okay, we’re going to be listening to your breathing and your words!

AVERY, SONNET 71:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
               Lest the wise world should look into your moan
               And mock you with me after I am gone.

GRANT: So Laura, the punctuation that we see written into Shakespeare’s verse and prose, it certainly helps tell you where to breathe, but at the same time, on the page that language can really look breathless, can’t it? And Laura, you actually refer to that experience that the actor might encounter by using a phrase called “going up the stairs." Could you tell us what that means?

WAYTH: Sure, I call it “going up the stairs.” I’m sure Shakespeare would have called it something much, much better! But, what I mean by that when I say “going up the stairs” is, Shakespeare gave us these incredibly long, long sentences, and you can go through a whole, huge text, and there can be two periods in the whole thing. So, to make sense of that, the actor really needs to know how to build those things vocally. If you were to do an entire list, and it was vocally on the same plane, it wouldn’t really mean too much to the audience. So this technique that I’m talking about, “going up the stairs," is, how do you build it vocally, so that one item builds on excitement from the next, so that the overall picture winds up making sense to an audience’s ear.

GRANT: And do you have a demonstration of that?

WAYTH: I do. I have a little Julius Caesar for you.

GRANT: Oh, great.

WAYTH: Okay, so, you can kind of hear how it builds. I think in everything I’m doing there were maybe, like, two periods.

WAYTH as CASSIUS in JULIUS CAESAR:

You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life
That should be in a Roman you do want,
Or else you use not. You look pale, and gaze,
And put on fear, and cast yourself in wonder,
To see the strange impatience of the heavens.
But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men, fools, and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance,
Their natures, and preformèd faculties,
To monstrous quality—why, you shall find
That heaven hath infused them with these spirits
To make them instruments of fear and warning
Unto some monstrous state.

WAYTH: So, if you listen to that, there’s, I think, there were two periods in all of that text. Everything else is a colon, a semicolon. So, what I try to do, is I try to vocally separate things out so that it builds, because if you were to read that all on one line, it would make absolutely no sense to the listener.

GRANT: And when you say “build,” you mean building in pitch and building in intensity.

WAYTH: Yes, because the mistake that a lot of actors make is that, when they have a list like this, which happens all the time in Shakespeare, if they put it all flat, vocally flat, energetically flat, the audience walks away, not knowing what is being said, or what its importance is.

GRANT: So, we’ve been talking a fair amount about the punctuation in Shakespeare’s plays, but I think we should make clear that Shakespeare himself didn’t write his own punctuation. It was added later and often changed in subsequent editions by people who, you know, would pore over whatever manuscripts they had and try to sort of stitch together what Shakespeare’s intent was. This, of course, is a problem not only in punctuation, but in many choices of words and so forth, and what that raises for actors is the importance of the edition of Shakespeare that they use.

WAYTH: Absolutely. In fact, when I teach Shakespeare, all of my students are asked to bring in different editions, and what we do... it becomes fascinating, because the students will follow along while an actor is working on a piece, and invariably there’s always a different word choice, there’s a different punctuation choice, whole sections of text will be missing, and it becomes this really, really interesting exercise in trying to figure out what’s the most compelling version, what difference does it make if you have this version or this version. It becomes fascinating, so it’s one of these things I never get bored working on, because there’s always something new to find in it.

GRANT: Hmm. You know, and I’m wondering, too, I mean, the more rich that kind of discussion is and the more an actor knows that there are all these different versions that have gone into the one chosen performance that he or she does, that must also inform the performance, right? Just knowing the richness of it.

WAYTH: It absolutely does, because what they wind up doing is being dramaturges, you know, winding up doing their own research, which, if it were contemporary text you wouldn’t have to dig that deep, so you wouldn’t be confronted with having to think about it on such a deep level.

GRANT: You know, in your book, toward the end of your book, you make a kind of confession, which I think a lot of people would find surprising. Can you tell us what the confession is?

WAYTH: The confession is that I am a professor of theater, I’m a Shakespeare actor, and I have never read a Shakespeare play. And this is where everybody should gasp. But I’ll tell you why...

GRANT: Let’s get a cued gasp from your actors! Come on, you’ve got three actors in there with you.

WAYTH: I have never read a Shakespeare play!

FOSTER: What? Surely not, no!

AVERY: [GASP]

RYAN: [GASP]

WAYTH: And, the reason is this, in my own defense, they were meant to be performed. And the way I learned Shakespeare and encountered Shakespeare, when I was an English literature major in college, was I would actually go to... this is how old I am, I would go to the sound room at my library. I would get these big, giant headphones, and I would listen to actors from the BBC speak the plays that we were working on that week, because if I sat there, and I tried to read Henry V  I wouldn’t really understand what was going on. But when I would sit there with the text, and the actors from the BBC would act it while I followed along, it jumped off the page.

GRANT: And the kind of close listening you did probably helped you with another idea that comes out in your book, and a tip that you give to your students, which is, even in an audition, you have to have a sense of who you’re talking to, in the context of the scene. In other words, not the person evaluating you, but in the context of the play. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

WAYTH: Sure. It is the one thing that usually goes out the window, because actors are nervous and they’re thinking about so many things, but as an actor, you are always on stage, I believe, trying to change another person, and trying to get what you need from that person. And whenever an actor is in an audition, they have to create that imaginary person that they’re speaking to, and know exactly what they need from them, and how they’re trying to change them, in order for their audition to be, you know, anywhere near successful. And it’s something, you know, actors forget to do.

GRANT: Hmm, yeah. So, you always have to envision that person... and you have to, I guess you don’t look at the person who’s evaluating you, the director, whomever.

WAYTH: Yeah, if you’re looking at the director, then you’re making them your silent scene partner, and nobody wants that job. So, you’re really creating that person very specifically, you know, somewhere past the director’s head, or the casting director’s head, and really trying to see that person, and making that person specific, and that that’s true if you’re talking to a crowd. You know, if it’s “friends, Romans, countrymen,” right, that you were speaking to specific "friends, Romans, countrymen," not just some sort of generalized sense of that.

GRANT: What if it’s a soliloquy?

WAYTH: If it’s a soliloquy... now that’s always a tricky one, but I believe that everybody talks to themselves in life. At least, I talk to myself all the time in life, and it’s usually because I’m trying to change myself or convince myself of something. So, when an actor is doing a soliloquy, it's because they’re really trying to convince themselves of something or change something in their behavior, or something, so they’re really having a confrontation with themselves. So, in a sense, that’s a scene partner.

GRANT: So, right. So, it’s important to envision who you’re talking to, even if you’re in some sterile audition room somewhere. Do we have someone who can maybe demonstrate that and flesh that out a bit for us?

WAYTH: Yeah, I’ll have Stephanie Ann show you how it’s done.

FOSTER: I can do that.

GRANT: Hi, Stephanie Ann. Welcome back.

FOSTER: Hi. I’ve got a bit of Rosalind here from As You Like It, and in this short excerpt, she’s speaking to Phoebe, who has been very disdainful of her love interest. And when I first approached this little section of text, I tried to imagine my Phoebe as some of the women I really know, who can be a bit disdainful, and that, I found, really drained a lot of the fun and a lot of the compassion out of it. So when I changed my specific Phoebe into a cartoon character, the babysitter from The Incredibles, I found that it added a lot to the piece for me and made me able to  show her how ridiculous she’s being, while still having compassion for her.

GRANT: That’s great. Okay, let’s hear a little bit.

FOSTER as ROSALIND in AS YOU LIKE IT:

And why, I pray you? Who might be your mother,
That you insult, exult, and all at once,
Over the wretched? What though you have no beauty—
As, by my faith, I see no more in you
Than without candle may go dark to bed—
Must you therefore be proud and pitiless?

GRANT: Okay. So, Laura, it’s the night before your audition. Your student has done all of his work, but he’s still, let’s face it, freaking out a little bit about what he has to accomplish on the next day, when he goes into the audition room. What’s going to be in your final pep talk?

WAYTH: To let it go. There’s a wonderful theater director, who is one of my theater heroes, named Anne Bogart, and she says, “Know when to do your homework, and know when to stop doing your homework.” At a certain point, you just have to let it go and have fun, because at the end of the day, the actor who plays is the successful actor, and I think I would also remind them that this isn’t some distant work in a museum, behind glass. This is something that lives and breathes as part of our human experience and to play and to embrace that.

GRANT: Laura Wayth, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it.

WAYTH: Thank you so much, I enjoyed it, too, and I enjoyed having all my actor friends come with me, too.

GRANT: Thank you so much to you and to your actors: Stephanie Ann Foster, Mike Ryan, and Bruce Avery. Thank you, all of you, for joining us.

WAYTH: Thank you.

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WITMORE: Laura Wayth, assistant professor of theater at San Francisco State University, is the author of The Shakespeare Audition: How to Get Over Your Fear, Find the Right Piece, and Have a Great Audition. She was joined by actors Stephanie Ann Foster, Mike Ryan, and Bruce Avery. They were interviewed by Neva Grant.

“A Poor Player that Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Stage” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had help from Melissa Marquis at NPR in Washington and Darren Peck at the Sports Byline studios in San Francisco.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.