Laura Rose is a total Shakespeare nerd. She fell in love with the Bard at 14, started her formal training a few years later, and earned an M.A. in Shakespeare studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1993. She's currently working toward completing her PhD remotely at the institute. Her dissertation will explore productions of Richard III from the last 50 years.
When she moved here in 2007, Rose was understandably a bit miffed that Charleston didn't have a Shakespeare company. So she decided to start one herself. Holy City Shakespeare will produce educational programs, acting workshops, and regular productions starting with Much Ado About Nothing in the spring of 2012.
"What I love about Shakespeare is that it's able to speak to so many different kinds of people even today, when it's been in existence for so long," Rose says. "I wanted Charleston to have access to this art that speaks to us, that says something about our world."
Serving as artistic and educational director of the company, Rose plans to take cues from the UK's Royal Shakespeare Company.
"Their founders said their goal was to make Shakespeare's plays more meaningful to a larger audience while still respecting the integrity of the play. They didn't change Shakespeare's language. They just changed the actors' and directors' approach to it," she says. "What I think Shakespeare does is reflect life as we can recognize it today ... But it also takes us somewhere new. It heightens our experience of the everyday."
Not surprisingly, Rose has strong opinions on how Shakespeare should be performed.
"Anyone who's seen Shakespeare done well has found it a powerful and entertaining experience. It's insightful as well," she says. "But not everybody has had the chance to see Shakespeare as it was intended to be performed, and further, not many people get to see Shakespeare performed well."
A common pitfall, she says, occurs when thespians don't take the time to understand their lines. She believes an actor can make or break a show, and she intends to offer training workshops and lectures to the public to help create a deeper understanding of Shakespeare's works. Guest experts from around the country like Julian Rozzell, Christopher Marino, Marcus Kyd, and Lise Bruneau will teach aspiring actors how to explore and draw out all of the text's possibilities.
"A lot of times when actors are flustered they tend to rush through a passage or turn off their characters and just speak the words to get them out there," Rose says. "But like so many trainers have taught us, there's no separation between characters and the words spoken. The sound of the word can't be separated from its living context. It's the responsibility of the actor to make sure the audience is following."
Rose also believes that many directors fail in attempting to make Shakespeare contemporary by altering the setting or context.
"It distracts from what's already in the play, which is relevant and contemporary to us," Rose says. "It degrades the process. It's putting on something else other than Shakespeare. I don't think there's a reason to fix something that isn't broken."
Rose says that the main thing that keeps Shakespeare fresh centuries later is his understanding of human psychology.
"People are a lot of different things," Rose says. "We're greedy, we're generous, we're hopeful, we're despondent, we're social, we're private. He had it all in there. And none of those things change over time. Our context changes, but people and their psychology are basically the same. I think that's why he's still relevant.
"As an artist, no one has been able to capture those truths about what it means to be human in such an eloquent and beautiful way," she adds. "That's why the words are as important as they are."
The company is currently seeking funding and local supporters. "People are coming on board one at a time because I think people are excited that Shakespeare's going on here. It's amazing how hungry people are for this, not just theater people but audiences, too," Rose says. "And all I had to do was say, 'Holy City Shakespeare's here now.'"