Shakespeare seems to have been a constant presence throughout my life, in some form or another. And he came to me in simultaneously both one of the likeliest and one of the unlikeliest places. Likely, because I was introduced to him in school. Unlikely, because that school was the Escuela Europea De Alicante (The European School of Alicante), found in the Costa Blanca region of Spain.
When I was six years old, my mother and I moved to France. At the age of ten, we then moved, alongside my little sister, to Spain. And that year so happened to be the same year where Shakespeare came into my life.
How lucky I was. I could have been given an old, dusty book with the words Macbeth or Hamlet written in big bold letters and been told to read out loud meaningless monologues whilst sitting in rows and columns of desks amongst my other classmates. Instead, I was given a colourful, engaging and extremely fun book that we read out loud whilst standing on our feet, that we even performed a little of wearing funny costumes and that has since stayed with me some sixteen years later. The play had everything; magic, fairies, mixed up love potions, a man's head turning into a donkey. I am of course talking about A Midsummer Night's Dream- to this day, my favourite play (as cliché as that sounds). That was the year I decided to learn my first Shakespeare monologue (admittedly because our teacher showed us the movie and Stanley Tucci's rendition of Puck's closing monologue moved me so much).
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
That school was the place where my love of Shakespeare was birthed. At that same school, we read my second Shakespearean tale: the Merchant of Venice and I learned my second Shakespeare monologue- the famous, "I am a Jew" speech (admittedly, at the age of thirteen when this happened, I was also blown away by Al Pacino's rendition of this speech in the movie and that was a huge driving force for me.) Then I didn't stop- doing Hamlet, Julius Ceasar and Henry IV monologues for my LAMDA Acting exams, studying As You Like It for my A-level English Literature at the Lady Elizabeth School in Jalon and choosing speeches for drama school auditions. I was in love with this English playwright and my acting ambitions were moulded by my love for him.
And yet, there was one thing that was denied to me until two months after I graduated drama school in New York City at the age of twenty-four: I had never been cast in a Shakespeare play. (Ironically, the first Shakespeare role I got cast in was that of Frances Flute in none other than A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Classic Theatre of San Antonio).
Photo Credit: Siggi Ragnar
Why was this? I remember at nineteen when I was studying my Foundation Diploma in Acting in London, telling one of my classmates that I had never been in a Shakespeare play. "But...you scream Shakespeare," she replied. And this was true, of all the classes at both drama schools I attended in both London and New York, Shakespeare was always the one I looked forward to the most.
The truth was simple. Despite being taught in my schools, despite there being so many English theatre groups in the Costa Blanca and despite Shakespeare being such a prominent part of British culture- there was simply no Shakespeare being produced in the Costa Blanca, professional or otherwise. Plenty of pantomimes, Oscar Wilde plays, Musical Theatre (I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I was cast in a production of Cats over there, but we shan't speak about that), Murder Mystery Dinner Parties, Victorian Melodramas, new writing, old writing- I even did a bit of Geoffrey Chaucer, playing one of the three brothers in the Canterbury Tales. But Shakespeare? There simply wasn't any.
There are so many schools British/International schools in the Costa Blanca and throughout the rest of Spain due to the every growing British expat community. Most of them have to study Shakespeare in some form or another- be this in their English Literature classes or their Drama classes. However, with no professional Shakespeare to see, they are somewhat like music students who are studying music without listening to any. Their only opportunities to do so would be to travel to England. And I fear that the result is many students will leave school loathing Shakespeare, associating him with the hours spent on analysis and "translation" for their exams without fully understanding the joys that can come from really experiencing him; both as an audience member and as an actor. And what's more, one does not have to be English to enjoy him. Many actors I have had the pleasure of working alongside in my Shakespearean adventures have been from all walks of life, including Spain, yet the wonderful community I grew up with has no opportunities to discover these beautiful joys.
I mean to change this. That is why I have founded the Blind Cupid Shakespeare Company and, COVID-19 restrictions permitted, I intend to bring a multicultural team of professional actors and theatre makers to Spain. In doing so, I hope to prove once and for all that Shakespeare has a place in the Costa Blanca.