Instant Shakespeare

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Louis Fantasia developed his INSTANT SHAKESPEARE technique over the past two decades during which he not only taught at the Shakespeare Globe Center in London, but directed Shakespearean productions and workshops around the world. "The book is therefore the result of my own, very personal Shakespeare odyssey," he notes. "In it I have tried to balance my own experience teaching and directing Shakespeare with other techniques and approaches. I have also tried to encourage actors and directors to make their contributions and their choices, as long as these choices are informed by study, practice and commitment."

Fantasia certainly didn't begin life as a fan of Shakespeare. "Reading him had always put me to sleep," he admits. "In college I flunked Shakespeare as an undergraduate...I avoided Shakespeare like the plague in graduate school. I was interested only in modern theatre and making films."

What turned him around was directing a French production of Macbeth, which was triggered by Kurosawa's film version of the same play. "I returned inspired," he says. "I would direct the play as if it were a film project. I set the play in World War I, Lafayette escadrille period. To me Macbeth was about personal honor more than ambition."

Fantasia's first experiment with Shakespeare led to his immersion in The Bard and to the convictions and principles that have powered his thinking and teaching over the years. He has always remained down to earth and pragmatic, as evidenced by these suggestions on how an actor should speak Shakespeare's lines:

1) Make the nouns sound like what they mean.

2) Push the verbs.

3) Leave the adjectives and adverbs alone.

4) Play the "I/thou" and "I/it" relationships.

5) Repunctuate for breath."

INSTANT SHAKESPEARE gives equally precise advice on how actors can define their character choices, hone their diction, quicken their timing and sharpen their physical stamina. Fantasia emphasizes above all the importance of actors taking responsibility for their choices and actions, of "making a commitment to the text and to a character and following it through."

The ultimate test, though, is how an actor handles the "why" of his character's specific choices of action, language and impulse. Without understanding this, acting all too often comes out as "generic, wallpaper Shakespeare, iambic pentameter Muzak."

"When it comes to Shakespeare, there are no experts," Fantasia adds. "Each of us, if we read intelligently and without fear, has the right to our own Shakespeare, whether we love him, loathe him, are bored by his plays, or believe them to be the most compelling expression of genius ever written. There is no authority that can place the seal of authenticity on Shakespeare. Each of the many institutions and individuals who produce, edit, and play Shakespeare offer only an interpretation of a constantly challenging and changing text."

Thanks to Fantasia's commonsensical, demystifying approach, Shakespeare can be grasped not just by actors but by the ordinary person. (Ivan R. Dee Publisher, (312) 787-6262 or visit