Shakespeare for the Singing Actor

Shakespearean verse and song have so much in common, and yet aspiring singing actors rarely foray into the world of the Bard. Let's change that!

Recently, an actor friend told me there was an audition that night for a Shakespeare show. I hadn't performed Shakespeare since high school, but I found myself walking into the audition that night anyway, monologue in hand. Why? Well, I have always loved Shakespeare and I was curious to see if my training as a classical singer could be applied.

The first thing that struck me was how many of the skills of a classical singer were required to handle the text. Diction, strong text delivery, breath support and resonance all immediately presented themselves as invaluable tools in the process.

The next thing that struck me was how much the vocalization fed into the acting of the role, and vice versa. I found that a change in vocal register created a change in the intention, and that the was I chose to enunciate a word was crucial to the discovery of character. By the end, my approach to the character was driven in large part by my approach to delivering the text.

How much can be learned from this and applied back into acting for singers? We might scrap tons of acting jargon and complicated discussions of Stanislavski or Chekhov, and do just fine solely with a relaxed body and a complete commitment to the text. 

In that spirit, I encourage all my fellow singing actors to tackle Shakespeare. Lord knows it's not hard to find a production in your local community, and it looks great on a resume. But beyond that, approaching Shakespeare will change your approach to singing fundamentally, if you're like me. Not to mention, many of the best composers were influenced by Shakespeare in their attempts to create characters of their own. Verdi and Mozart, for example, idolized the tragedies of Hamlet and King Lear. 

I'd also say, in closing, that singing actors shouldn't be afraid to step out into the world of classical theatre. There is so much in common with what we do, and so much fun to be had!