A Favourite Shakespeare Play: Richard III

I enjoy many of Shakespeare’s plays, but I do have a few particular favourites. 

At the top of that list would be Richard III. one of the history plays and part of the series that explores the conflict between the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet family tree which we call The Wars of the Roses. 

Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard as the ultimate villain is so masterful that it shaped how Richard was viewed for centuries afterward. The fact that the history was severely distorted and, at times, entirely fabricated, and that Shakespeare’s representation of Richard was hardly realistic, has nothing to do with it. Shakespeare was a playwright, not a historian, after all, and therefore not inclined  to let the truth get in the way of a great story. 

Of course, it was in his interests to cast Richard in a less than positive light. Shakespeare was very conscious of the fact that his Queen, Elizabeth I, was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor who defeated Richard in battle at Bosworth to become Henry VII. Making Richard less worth of the crown further legitimised Henry’s claim to it, and therefore reinforced her own. In a time when conspiracies and plots against Elizabeth were numerous, the validation of her place on the throne of England was essential for any playwright hoping for royal approval, and patronage from among the upper classes. 

Thus, Shakespeare’s Richard is a man who not only recognises his evil nature but delights in it and determines to see how much he can achieve with it. 

Richard’s choice to pursue evil rather than good from the very start sets the tone of the whole play, and the audience knows they are in for one hell of a ride. His soliloquies deliver profound insights into the evil mind of a villain. They are absolutely fascinating, crafted with intrigue and malice that horrify and enthrall the audience at the same time. It’s riveting stuff. And as Richard puts his schemes into action and celebrates his own cleverness and cunning when they succeed, the audience is acutely aware that they are watching an evil genius in action. 

My favourite character, though, is Margaret, the former queen of Henry VI. She is strong, she is angry, and she is hell-bent on justice. Margaret speaks vitriol and hurls insults and curses so effectively that Cecily, Richard’s own mother, asks Margaret to teach her how it’s done. She attains a level of Shakespearean Insult proficiency that nobody else ever quite managed, not even Richard himself.

The language of the play is magnificent. From the insult competitions to the curses that burn with the brimstone of hell itself, there is not a word wasted in this play. The imagery is incredibly powerful, and the emotive language is so clever and subtle that while the audience may recognise that the characters on stage are being deceived, they don’t realise until after the fact that that they, too, have been positioned and manipulated by a master of the art. 

It is only at the end of the play, when one realises they feel a little sorry for the villainous Richard, that the audience understands how the language and drama of the play have seduced them.   

To take a man from the pages of history, craft him into something hateful, and have the audience still feel something other than hatred for him— albeit, while most likely feeling hatred for him at the same time— is testimony to Shakespeare’s genius as a wordsmith and playwright. 

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Why I Love Shakespeare

I’m currently reading a great book titled ‘Blood and Ink’ by DK Marley. It is a really well written historical fiction novel that explores, in part, one of the theories about the identity of the man we know of as William Shakespeare.

Rumours and theories that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else have abounded for a long time. Various people have been proposed as the actual author. 

That’s all very interesting, of course, but the fact is, I really don’t care whether his name was actually Filchin McFarkle. 

My love for Shakespeare isn’t about the person: it’s about the language, the writing, and the craftsmanship that combine to be the genius of the writer. What his name was doesn’t matter one bit. 

The power of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry is that they take something ordinary and transform it into something extraordinary.

Themes of love, passion, ambition, revenge, hatred, despair, desire, and family dysfunction make his work interesting and relatable to just about everyone. And while there are at least a dozen ways to write any story, the way Shakespeare tells each story is absolute magic. 

Shakespeare used rhythm and poetic devices like imagery, allegory and highly emotive language to heighten the feelings and drama of the situations his characters find themselves in. He enmeshes them in a complex web of conflicting emotions and ambitions and then exposes their innermost  thoughts in the most profound ways. He really is the master of intrigue and dramatic irony, able to hold the audience spellbound, even though they probably already know what’s going to happen and what the various characters are thinking.

To be honest, some of the storylines are pretty rubbish. There are very convenient coincidences, leaps of logic, and plot holes galore, particularly in the comedies. The history plays are at times more fiction than history. Despite all that, Shakespeare dramatises the stories and scenes in such a compelling way, and so deeply engages the audience in the dilemmas and conflicts experienced by the characters, that any issue of credibility actually doesn’t matter.  

I will still pick up a play and read it, or watch a performance, or read the sonnets and be as entranced as ever. Even when interpretations change, the magic with which the words are crafted and woven never gets old. 

Time Flies Whether You’re Having Fun Or Not.

They say time seems to go by faster as you get older. 
Today, I have two questions in response to that premise: 

  1. Exactly how ancient am I?
  2. How is it already June?

I don’t actually think it’s age that does it. I blame deadlines and responsibilities. They’re the things that put us under pressure, that make us work more than we play, and that stop us being all lackadaisy and carefree about how we spend our time like we were when we were kids.

Pressure put on us by employers. Pressure put on us by kids and families. Pressure put on us by ourselves. Pressure put on us by society to be perfect, to be leaders, to be models, to be lots and lots of things we feel we can’t be. We struggle to do it all, and the vortex of expectations and time pressure that is created by those pressures drags us into a cycle of racing against time and waking up every morning surprised that it’s already Wednesday, already June, already 2019. 

Sure, I want to be a responsible adult. But I also want to be able to relax without feeling guilt. I want to be able to slow down sometimes, and drink my coffee without actually thinking about all the things the caffeine is going to help me to achieve within a given time frame. I want to be able to fill my day doing things I enjoy doing without having to rationalise or justify how I spend my time. 

Those dratted deadlines and responsibilities keep me from doing those things. These days, you can’t even be deathly ill and stay in bed for two days without doing paperwork and announcing your impending demise on social media to account for your whereabouts. 

That was one of the many things I loved about being in Spamalot! last month. It was a responsibility and a demand on my time, for sure, but it was loads of fun, and being in rehearsal or on stage meant that I could say, “Sorry, not available” to everyone and everything else that wanted a slice of my time. Even better, I took on a role and left myself and those darned responsibilities behind for a few hours at a time.
It was wonderful. 

Another thing I loved doing in May was blogging about my favourite classic books. Yes, it was another commitment to doing something every day, but it gave me a daily opportunity for a few minutes where I could justify picking up a favourite book, leafing through it to  reacquaint myself with it, spend some time reading, taking a photo of said book, and enjoying my not-so-secret life as an unapologetic book nerd.
That, too, was wonderful. 

June promises to be a busy month with auditions and casting for the school musical, grading exams and assessments, writing reports, and meeting a bunch of work deadlines that are looming. I shall put my plans together today for possible blog topics so that I can keep up my momentum here, and for images and ideas for Instagram posts, because I really enjoy those aspects of my author/blogger life. 

June will also see the release of a new fantasy novella, which I am very excited about. Titled ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’, it was one of my stories included in the fairytale retelling anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’, and which is now back in my hands for individual release, as that collection is now only available in paperback. I’m in the process of having a new cover designed for the story, and when that’s ready, it will be good to go! That’s the advantage of having a manuscript that is already thoroughly edited!

So, a busy but hopefully enjoyable month looms ahead, and no doubt it will fly past as fast as the months before it have done. All I can do is hang on and do my best… and maybe hope for a little downtime, too.

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

A Shout-Out to my Favourite Co-Star

I commented here recently that life had been hectic with work, rehearsals and all my other commitments each demanding sizeable chunks of my time.

That has gone up another notch or two this weekend with full days of dress and tech rehearsals for Monty Python’s Spamalot, which opens on Friday May 3rd.

The sets are magnificent and the crew are great. The directors are positive and proactive and their standards are high. My fellow cast members are talented, encouraging and supportive. The band is that good, it would be worth just coming to hear them play without any of us being on stage. We’re all having a blast because the show is hilarious and great fun. There is no doubt this is going to be a sensational show.

Thus far, I have managed to keep things under control for the most part, and get things finished by deadlines and due dates. 

It’s fair to say, though, that I would not be doing anywhere near as well as I am without the consistent, faithful support of my favourite co-star: caffeine. 

It will continue to play a crucial supporting role this week— possibly even more so, given that the week ahead is further complicated by two evenings of parent-teacher conferences sandwiched between school and rehearsals, almost an hour’s drive away from where I work. 

Anyone who wishes to tell me that caffeine isn’t good for me or suggest that I cut back would be well advised to wait until after the final show, at least. 

Until then, I will continue indulging in my “morning  cup of don’t hurt people” as my husband and I like to call it, and rewarding myself with as many others as I need to get through each day. 

As for keeping me awake at night? I honestly don’t think that will be a problem. I’m beat. 

The Facebook and Instagram Outage Crisis of March 13th, 2019

Despite the crisis that had unfolded overnight as I slept, I woke this morning to find that the sun had risen, gravity still worked, and the earth continued to turn on its axis. 

I had breakfast, got ready for work, and headed into a very busy day. Surprisingly, I found that the work deadlines and professional requirements that were in place yesterday still existed today. 

My students, however, were despondent. 

Them: Facebook is gone! Instagram doesn’t work! 
Me: Imagine how much work you might get done in the meantime!
Them: You’re not very sympathetic. 
Me: And that surprises you because…?
Them: Rolled eyes and sighs. Some lovely moments of dramatic pathos that I shall try to draw on in drama class. 

This left me wondering: what on earth does the world do without Facebook and Instagram? 
It seems the general response is to complain. 

Many of the real social media junkies responded by rushing over to Twitter to complain and commiserate with their followers and the social media world in general. 

In all honesty, some of the responses are pretty funny. 

Others demonstrate that many people are much worse at dealing with this kind of thing than they should be.  
I mean, really, Australia?
Emergency services?
That’s… pathetic.

This one has to be my favourite. It cuts through the whining and combines the sublime and the ridiculous with glorious snark.
Jenny Bean Edwards gets an A+ for World Studies.

Cheer up, folks.
I’m sure Facebook and Instagram and their enormously profitable algorithms will be back soon.

Until then? You may actually be forced to either read a book or have face-to-face conversations with real people.

Alternatively, you can head to twitter and follow me!

Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

Ahoy!

HMS Pinafore is about to sail, and she is indeed “a saucy beauty”

“We sail the ocean blue,
And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
We’re sober men and true,
And attentive to our duty…”

It is aboard that trusty, much-loved vessel that I am about to embark on one of the busiest weeks of my school year. Its the week in which the the last fifteen months’ worth of planning, preparing, auditioning, casting, decision-making, organising myriad details, and the rehearsals of the past three months come together and appear on stage as the annual school musical.

This year we’re doing Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. We have a cast of about 45 students who range from 12 to 18 years old. Others of our students have been trained in sound and lighting, backstage management, while still others have helped to create and prepare the set.

It’s a wonderful show that tells a ridiculous story beautifully. I enjoy the moments of pathos, but also the delightful comic moments in which my actors really shine.

2012-09-21 17.07.03

The soloists are amazing, the chorus sounds fantastic, the dance moves are fabulous and the costumes are beautiful. The orchestra’s performance alone is worth more than the price of the ticket. When all of those amazing ingredients come together, the outcome is incredible.

I know this week will be exhausting, but it will also be exhilarating.

I’ll be back to my usual blogging and social media self after the week is done and I’ve had a good sleep. Until then, say a prayer for me. Or… just send coffee.

Quiet, But Not Idle.

In the absence of a note from my parents explaining where I’ve been, this blog post will have to suffice.

2017-09-10 14.23.24 To Do List

It’s been rather quiet on this blog lately, and for that, I apologise. Life has been demanding, and I’ve been working to meet some other deadlines and goals that are coming up quite quickly.

As I mentioned in a previous post about having to juggle different priorities, I’m directing another musical. This year, we’re doing H.M.S. Pinafore, which is a really fun show, and rehearsals are well under way. I have been delighted with the way the cast have committed themselves to learning their lines and their songs. The soloists are already proving to be amazing, and the chorus sounds incredible. The show opens on September 13, and if past experience is anything to go by, that’s going to be something that dominates my waking hours for the next six weeks.

It’s also been both busy and exciting in terms of my writing and publishing. I changed my strategy and schedule this year. My plan was that the first six months of the year would be focused on writing, and I would aim to release three new books in the second half of the year.

A Poets Curse eBook 6x9That has turned into four new books, but I’m right on target. A Poet’s Curse, a collection of dark poetry, was born at the end of July. Lac Du Mort and Other Stories is a collection of eight mid-length short stories that is set to release on August 24. Curious Times, the sequel to Curious Things, will hopefully emerge in late September, just in time for Halloween. A poetry collection which currently has the working title of ‘Masquerade’ is pencilled into the timetable for November.

All of that means I’m in the midst of editing, formatting, preparing covers, and setting up the preorders for Lac Du Mort, so that it’s ready to go. It will be available in all digital stores and in paperback. I’ll be sure to let you know where to find it just as soon as the preorders go live! And in between all of that, I’m still writing.

So, things are busy, but they are also very satisfying. It’s a great way to be.

Confirmed: I Am A Very Poor Juggler.

Life is demanding… and sometimes, something’s got to give.

lego-clown-juggling

I’ve been reminded of something important over the last few weeks: I can’t always actually do everything that I think I can. Well… at least, not all at the same time.

The past few weeks have been like someone who started juggling three or four cute, colourful hackey-sacks that could be dropped occasionally and picked up again without causing any trouble, and ended up trying to juggle five or six chainsaws that were both running and on fire at the same time.

Something had to give. And logically, that something could neither be my work, the show I was performing in, nor my mental health.

I knew things were going to get busy, so I tried to get extra work requirements out of the way early. As it turned out, it was actually a really good thing I did that, because it enabled me to find the time for the extra stuff that I hadn’t anticipated.

The show went off brilliantly, thanks to the efforts of cast, crew and a fabulous director who all worked incredibly hard to deliver a production that made showbiz look effortless. Even though last night was my first Monday evening at home in months, I spent most of it feeling sad that there was no rehearsal to go to, and missing my fellow cast members.

Even so, it’s a good thing ithat particular flaming chainsaw has finished it’s run, because the music director and I have already been running auditions for our school musical for the past two Thursday afternoons.
Rehearsals for that start in two weeks – at about the same time our semester reports are due to be ready for proofreading. No pressure, though.

All of this is why I haven’t blogged, read anything except my students’ assignments or written any book reviews. My social media has been reduced to that which I have planned and scheduled in advance, and I am very conscious of my poor engagement with others on those platforms. For that, I sincerely apologise.

Still, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water, so it is what it is. Those things will resume when I get my other priorities under control.

This week, I am going to attempt to conquer the out- of-control pile of papers on my desk that need to be graded, recorded and commented on in writing as constructive feedback for my students.
I’m also going to try to get one of my priority reads finished and reviewed.
I may even finish a poem that I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs when I’ve had a few spare minutes here and there.

Those may not sound like significant achievements, but each of them will be.

Here’s to setting goals and hopefully achieving them.