By Summer Tour cast member Jessica Myer:
I can’t write about Grassroots, I can’t fully express why I needed to be a part of this company without first confessing one of my deep, dark secrets:
I’ve spent most of my life being apathetic about Shakespeare. It wasn’t a question of being exposed to it. I read a children’s story version of The Tempest and A Winter’s Tale as a kid and enjoyed them. I mean, it wasn’t The Baby Sitter’s Club, but it was okay. I watched my high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet and couldn’t care less about the title characters. I acted out Caesar’s demise in my English class with a bunch of other students who didn’t understand 2 out of every 5 words they were reading and whose pubescent, ennui-laden readings were more than enough to earn them their participation grade. I landed the part of Viola in Twelfth Night at my Community College. There were like, three people in the cast who seemed comfortable with the material and I wasn’t one of them.
It’s a secret that’s admittedly more of a dramatic revelation among my theater friends than others. In my social circle, O Lord my Bard’s canon is to be respected, quoted, revered, and revisited in time of need. I knew my indifference made me an oddity so I avoided the subject. I didn’t want to be the real-life troll playing devil’s advocate with the merit of something so universally loved. I didn’t want to seem like another proponent of anti-intellectualism. However, I secretly figured that what most people meant when they said they loved Shakespeare was that they loved feeling superior to classless plebeians [like me] who didn’t. In my mind, if there was one author who didn't live up to his own hype, it was Shakespeare. Forgive me for applying an old cliche, but that version of me would have said that he's okay, but "He's not Shakespeare."
...Except that he is Shakespeare. THE Shakespeare. And, I could never shake the feeling that it didn't seem like a collective fluke that generations of people would re-read, re-mount, and re-imagine his stories, perpetually resurrecting his work with no end in site. Why has Shakespeare's presence in our cultural subconscious not gone the way of other Elizabethan practices like shaving your forehead into a five-head or eating roasted peacock? What makes Shakespeare’s works enduring aside from the fact that they’re royalty-free? I knew I that I must be missing something and I wanted to want to understand. You know, someday. I’m a busy girl.
Which brings me to how I stumbled on Grassroots. I can’t remember why my sister and I were at Nielsen’s Grove Park that Summer night in 2011. But as we walked by the players stomping around on a provisional wooden stage, the lure of a free play in the open air on a perfect evening was too tempting to pass up. There was nothing to do but cede to serendipity, sit, and watch. I didn’t have the benefit of hearing the play’s intro, so I didn’t know this was an original practice Shakespeare company. I didn’t know why the costumes looked all mish-mosh and anachronistic. I didn’t even notice that there wasn’t much of a set. But more importantly, I didn’t know ahead of time that when the actors rehearsed the show they had plebeians, like me, in mind.
What I did notice was my own genuine belly laugh. I did notice that I effortlessly understood what the actors were saying without the benefit of reviewing the Sparknotes beforehand. I noticed children in the audience just as into it as I was. I was briefly scandalized by audience members booing and shouting answers at the actors onstage, but the performers appeared to relish these interactions, and the lines they recited in return seemed to anticipate the audience’s perceived harassment. I kept looking over at my delighted sister to make sure that she was seeing this brilliant thing happen the same way I was, that she understood it too. It wasn’t just me.
As the play unfolded so did a rush of memories from high school Shakespeare lessons detailing the messy rabble of unwashed groundlings, hecklers, the music, the poetic innuendo. The manic genius of everything washed over me. I had to see the magic to believe it, but at last, I was in on it. The appeal of Shakespeare finally clicked for me and I knew that this was my ticket to understanding and appreciating the genius of these timeless works. I wanted to share this experience with my fellow man and give back what had been given to me. I wanted to be a part of it. I had to be a part of it.
...and now I am.
And it’s exhausting. We put two shows up in four weeks and I rarely feel sure of what I’m doing. And, for anyone who has spoken publicly in any capacity, the prospect of encouraging hecklers is terrifying. And, I can be kind of a princess in that I don’t like being outside with the sun to burn me and the bugs to eat me. And I sweat a lot. I’m a sweaty, sweaty girl. And every time I get to As You Like It’s epilogue I’m completely out of breath from the break-neck, high-energy pace we maintain during our shows. But, I am having the time of my life. I have never met so many interesting, fun, talented, and creative people with such varied interests. I learned to crochet chainmail, made a pipe-cleaner mustache, and saggy rice boobs. I’ve exhausted every creative reserve I have and still feel dwarfed by the skills of the people I’m on stage with. I’m so proud of these shows and so happy to be a part of this.
So, come and hear the words, for the first time or for the hundredth. My hope is that I can give to you what was given to me: A deeper understanding of humanity, a connection with great intellectuals who came before, and a damn good time.
And if you can, bring someone you think may not enjoy it. You never know….
About Jessica Myer:
This is Jessica’s first time appearing with Grassroots Shakespeare and she couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity. She’s been involved with community theater in Utah County for a few years now and has most recently appeared as Claire in Little Happy Secrets and Dolores in Blind Date. Her favorite Shakespeare plays are The Tempest, Winter’s Tale and As You Like It.