Journal entry: The Bard
“I want everyone to pair up with someone in the class who you don’t know.” It was the first day of my first acting class at SUNY Oswego. I turned to the girl next to me and introduced myself. She replied, “I’m Chaneeta,” and we shook hands. In most social situations, that would have sufficed as an introductory level of physical contact. But our professor, a brilliant but quirky man named Mark Cole, had something else in mind.
“Now you and your partner are going to wrestle. In slow motion.”
In response to our gaping mouths and bulging eyes, Mark took a surprised student by the hand and initiated a bizarre, glacial grapple. Gradually, the rest of us began our own tentative moves, in a style somewhere between Greco-Roman and Hulk-Hoganian. At Mark’s urging, most of us were soon on the floor – a writhing, thespian army engaged in a fierce hug of war.
Now we’re a few weeks into the class, and I’ve already learned a lot from Mark. He’s pushed the boundaries of my talents, and challenged my conceptions of acting and the theatre. I’m used to playing the ham in school plays, where the overarching ethic was “My old man’s got a barn – let’s do a show!” Mark’s approach is more like “The object of my Oedipal rage is having an existential crisis – let’s broker a protean catharsis through his animal totem. And puppets.”
For the past week, our class has been split into pairs to rehearse a scene from Romeo and Juliet. It takes place at a masquerade ball, where the star-crossed lovers meet, and kiss, for the first time. I’m no looker myself, but I have to say it was difficult to summon the necessary passion for my assigned partner. I can say that my lips were two blushing pilgrims, but they did not stand ready to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. But today, we were performing for a grade, so I planted one on her, good. Then I raced back to my seat, thinking the assignment was complete. But mark Mark’s words:
“That was good, but I want you to do the scene again. This time, Tim, instead of kissing her, I want you to bill and coo.”
Thinking he was joking with me, I snorted and said, “You mean like a bird? Mark, I absolutely refuse to bill and coo!” After the collective laughter of my classmates faded into an uncomfortable silence, Mark spoke in a soft voice, but one that was both lower and more commanding. “Oh, it’s not funny, Tim. Do the work.”
With a mixture of incredulity and terror, I shuffled back in front of the class. My Juliet and I limped through the scene, wooing rather more woefully than before. In anticipation of the scene’s climax, my trembling hands grasped hers; our flushed faces now just inches apart. I began making small, darting movements with my neck, alternately brushing her right and left cheek with the beak of my nose. I punctuated these jerky head bobs with a pathetic, almost mournful warbling. When it felt as though I had sufficiently billed and cooed my co-star, we returned to our seats.
Mark was solemnly nodding as he intoned, “Ooo. Much better.”