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BWW Blog: The Generous Spirit of Mark Rylance

BWW Blog: The Generous Spirit of Mark Rylance

For the past 22 years, one of the personal on-stage inspirations and models, perhaps the singular of these, has been Mark Rylance. I am hardly alone in feeling this way. Mark is world-renowned and a multi-award winner, though I don't imagine he puts much stock in such things.

Mark was the founding artistic director of The Globe Playhouse in London, after Sam Wanamaker, and he continues to this day the aesthetic he established there on stage. That aesthetic includes an Elizabethan spirituality, an intimate actor-audience relationship, men playing the women's roles, and period costuming and scenic elements.

The first time I saw Mark on stage he was doubling between Hamlet and The Seagull. I could never take my eyes off of him. Every thought for him appeared new. He also brought a Cymbeline to Brooklyn Academy Of Music years ago in which he achieved an impressive double and re-imagined the usually thankless role of Cloten for me.

Last week I had the sheer delight in experiencing his double between Richard III and Twelfth Night in New York. He plays the title role in the former and the Countess Olivia in the comedy. I urge you to see both if you are there by mid-February.

His Richard is a genuinely funny, crafty clown who ultimately goes mad - though his clown isn't all that stable to begin with. The performance is audacious, and, as is always the case with Mark's work, rooted in the text and quite likely almost wholly informed by what informed Shakespeare at the time of writing. So that what may appear as fresh inspiration to modern senses may well be the original at work.

It is this latter element that is so refreshing and beguiling in his Twelfth Night, a play that has not always endeared me to it. So much of the comedy in Mark's company of actors is as a genuine result of the situation at hand; and particularly in the scenes with Olivia, this genuineness becomes ticklish for everyone when the happenings on stage are encouraged to press into the watchfulness of the audience. Mark firmly places himself between the two, always finding a wonderful tug-of-war between how he should act for his fellow actors and then for us, and what he should say as a result. Modernity figures little in the comedy, proving how unnecessary its inclusion is for a 21st century audience to appreciate the play. The text here and visual focus are crystal.

And in the sweet, transparent underplaying also of Angus Wright as Aguecheek, Paul Chahidi as Maria, and Samuel Barnett as a guards-down, remarkable Viola, this absence of modernity is paired with a courageous absence of mask. None of the three play at their roles. They make no excuses. In these productions, as I would imagine was so on Shakespeare's stage, the beauty of any unique set/lighting design is replaced by the unique creation that is each human being. In this far too rare instance, live, classical theatre becomes something to be awed by at a distance so as to remain safe but then ultimately warmed by at a drawn-in closeness that happily is allowed to inform the playing.

Years ago, when the Globe was relatively new, Mark offered to tour Tina Packer (Shakespeare & Company's artistic director) and me under and around the theatre's stage, which we gladly accepted. He was compelled by the nooks and crannies that were not on stage, for which I remember having great affinity. But then, and I trust he would not mind this being written, he stopped to indicate an obscure area that he clearly felt some ownership with as a space he came to prior to each performance. My sense is that he shared this with many he toured. And my sense from years of watching him in pre-shows on stage, recently in his two shows actually getting into costume on stage, is that he willingly shares his spirituality and his personal space with you and me. I deeply admire this sharing and aspire to it. Imagine going through your pre-show or pre-workday routine in the bathroom, including getting dressed and coiffed, to play something you are not, and letting the world not only watch you but participate with you, speak with you, permitting you to be part of the transformation.

That's a generous and mighty spirit, and, for me, that's Mark Rylance.

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Guest Blogger: Dan McCleary Dan McCleary is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Tennessee Shakespeare Company, the Mid-South’s professional, classical theatre and education organization based in Memphis.  Dan has made a living as a classical stage actor, Shakespeare master teacher, producer, artist-manager, and stage director around the country for 25 years. Memphis Magazine named him among the “Who’s Who in Memphis” each year from 2009-12, and the Germantown Arts Alliance honored him with its 2009 Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Performing Arts.  Dan is a published poet, and he holds a B.A. in Advertising and Journalism from Temple University.  Dan is the proud father of three-year-old twin boys, Sullivan and Collins.

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