Past Midsummer Night’s Dream: Shakespeare’s a Liar!


It would truly be awesome if my life were like a Shakespearean comedy. Where no matter how terrible things got I ended up with the lover by time’s end. Who knows maybe my life is one prolonged comedy and the Gods are laughing from on high and it won’t be until just before my death that something finally goes right. Har, har! I’ve always been drawn more to Bill’s tragedies because of the many unfortunate events that have followed me in my romantic life or attempts at a romantic perhaps is more appropriate.

That’s why in deciding to be a part of my theatre company’s (Write Act Repertory) rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I really had nothing to cull from my past. Thankfully I was chosen not to play a Lover but to play Peter Quince the leader of the mechanicals, or the writer of the play within a play. So I’ve been saved from pretending that falling in love is an easy thing or a worthwhile thing.

Like most things in my life I’ve decided to play Quince in such a way that hurts me, only physically this time. Everything I’ve written for myself to act in, shorts films mostly, I’ve always written some form of self-torture into the character. One of my first films called “Snow Angel” took place outside, at night, in the snow and I specifically wrote that my character doesn’t bring along gloves. Obviously, the character then finds himself in a snow ball fight and building a snow man with a mysterious blond angel like woman, tragedy and sadness ensue, but not before my hands froze every night while filming the Charlie Chaplinesque tom-foolery. In my most recent short film, “Company Auditions”, which I’m in the process of editing, I wrote the character I briefly appear as, as someone who wears high heeled shoes. Why? Because I love to torture myself. My love life is no different and therefore Peter Quince should also be no different. I’ve found a way to physically mangle my body in order to play a character that probably in the end doesn’t need it. There is a reason though: to play an inept character for the stage, I find it helps to show the tragic trodden upon past of the character in his/her physicality. And with the amount of twisting I do with my own body, it’s an easy bet that Quince had a harder time than I did, really poor guy.

To compare the women I’ve fallen in love with one needs go no further than imagining the playful and mischievous fairies written by Shakespeare himself. A mystery of emotions and sexual desires that are there merely to tease and then find reason to disappear when Puck (or fate in my case) swoops in to scare them away. The funny thing is that when these fairies appear they have no rhyme or reason to be there, they make you happy and when they make you sad or scared it doesn’t seem like they had a reason to make you happy in the first place; they represent that darker, unknown side. If that’s what the women I go after represent, I need to seriously reevaluate. And the forest they live in a place a dark and twisting forest with no way out. I find myself there a lot.

And in signing on to play in a happy comedy with a happy ending the fact that my own personal life has again fallen into treacherous and familiar and already tragic holes (more than once recently) means that all of those unattended to desires have merely been amplified. Two months of realizing that I still have no idea what I’m doing or what women want. I thought I was starting to get the hang of it, that I was coming around, that women wanted me! Good joke on me, oh Gods! It’s a good thing though. It allows me to throw up those walls, to separate myself completely from my personal life and focus on one of the only things that gives back and has ever given back in more ways than any woman ever has…my acting. And it means my next script will be that much more potent. Have I really become this cynical. I guess like the Hermia, even though I’m being throttled, I still desire that which hurts me.

3 Responses to “Past Midsummer Night’s Dream: Shakespeare’s a Liar!”

  1. Josh Says:

    The worst thing about this kind of self reflection is that you honestly don’t know where to go next. I’ve been there. One thing I found helpful and lasting was to think hard about those autobiographical characters, and then write their sequels.

    It’s easier to be harsh with a paper character and watch them fail–in fact, force them to fail, drown them, blind them–whatever it takes, to push them to the place where they simply cannot act the same way anymore and survive. Then, in the same way that your experience informs the character’s misfortune, their rebirth, or lessons learned will only come in terms that you will understand, because you’ll reject them if they’re fake or don’t feel right. When you’re done, you’ll probably find that you’ve discovered something you didn’t know. I remember being floored by how annoying, pathetic, and offensive one of my autobiographical characters was to me, and it was something that helped me see that part of myself in a clearer light.
    I don’t know how acting fits into this process or if it’s similar, but something in your post made me respond with this.

    On the other hand, maybe you really do want the drama more than you want relationships. Lots of people are like that; things only change when people truly decide to stop pursuing their hobby of perpetuating emotional tragedy. It is a very satisfying hobby, though, at least until people put it on paper and see that their real-life character is an idiot.

  2. Phillip Says:

    Josh, Some interesting thoughts. I’d say it’s less the latter and more the first. While any drama in my life certainly perpetuates my art, it’s in the separation from drama that I see everything clearly. Drama is exhausting and when it starts happening I run away into my art. I rarely linger or look for it. I always hope for the best walking in, it’s like holding a sandcastle in my hand that’s hit by a giant wave – every time. I keep not expecting the wave, but there’s so much I just don’t get about women and dating I could be standing in the middle of the ocean and not know it.

    In acting it’s with every character I find out something more about myself or humanity in general. There’s a sense that you have to stay open to an emotional understanding that you may not like or feel yourself. Relating, it’s about relating and relationships. On the other hand writing is many times more about the discovery of the self, as you put it. But who would want to watch or to read a story in which the character didn’t go through the worst of what they could possibly go through? That’s why I don’t always like Shakespeare’s comedies, it hardly feels like they could go through anything less easy than what they do. In my basic screen writing class one of the first character development tools we were taught was to write a monologue for the character at the point in which he’s pulled to his deepest emotional base, when the only thing that he doesn’t want to happen happens. How does he react or speak? Then you build that into the character, underneath, until it’s necessary to pull it out.

    In the end acting, writing, directing, editing…it’s all storytelling, so many of the same things intersect. Just in different ways.

    And so we’re on the same page; my wondering if I look for tragedy is rhetorical cynicism. I know it’s not true, but sometimes it’s the only answer that makes sense. The reason for these posts is that I’m working through my next writing endeavor in my head. So thoughts like these do help.

  3. Sea Says:

    Well, Phillip,
    You’re quite a feller. My interest is piqued, peaked and peeked. I’d love you to audition for me. Drop a line.
    A Fan,

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