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Q & A with Barbara Houseman about Shakespeare

If you’ve been in a room with me, you’ll know how much I respect (and adore) Barbara Houseman. She is a stunning human who is a phenomenal voice and acting coach to boot, who has hosted a number of retreats at Bodlondeb Studio & Retreat over the last year with many more planned for 2023. I sat down with Barbara to chat through her upcoming retreat: Unlocking Shakespeare with Barbara Houseman, and why she thinks there’s still a place for Shakespeare in 2022. ​

You’ve led a number of retreats at Bodlondeb Studio & Retreats before, and your upcoming retreat is Unlocking Shakespeare in November. What’s the point of working on Shakespeare in 2022? First and foremost, Shakespeare was an actor’s writer. Working on Shakespeare’s texts builds skills that can be transferred to any script, whether for stage or screen. Ultimately, it builds a deep connection to language, a deeper understanding of form, it allows an actor to fly: stretching them mentally and emotionally. And more than all this, Shakespeare has a deep understanding of human beings and how they work. His language is great but his plays have lasted because of his humanity. There are loads of Shakespeare courses - what’s so special about this one? What’s special about this one is that I will be helping actors make Shakespeare their own AND honour the language. I think it’s vital that Shakespeare remains accessible. I’m a fierce advocate of Shakespeare being spoken by actors in their own accents! I’ve spent 6 years in the world-renowned voice department at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), working alongside Cicely Berry, where I worked on countless productions.

What are some of the productions you’ve worked on? I worked with Jaime Lloyd on his Macbeth with James McAvoy and Richard II with Martin Freeman. I was also fortunate enough to work on the ground-breaking Donmar all-female productions of Shakespeare directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Most recently I worked with Cush Jumbo on Hamlet. The reality is that every actor I have worked with has had a different relationship with Shakespeare. I’ve worked with people who were afraid of, or disinterested in, Shakespeare who then became comfortable and confident with it. I was able to teach people to love working with Shakespeare text and produce wonderful, relevant work that audiences want to watch. What will actors learn from your retreat? They’ll learn a great deal. A few things include

  • How to interact with Shakespeare’s text without the need for an “expert”

  • To feel confident approaching and performing Shakespeare in a way that is fresh and relevant

  • To explore and handle all the structures, language and imagery in the text and understand that these are behaviours and not rules

  • To be free from all the rigidity and remoteness that can surround Shakespeare

  • Greater vocal freedom, range and responsiveness

  • Whatever else you personally need

And how will this help actors? Well, it will give you confidence and skill with Shakespeare. It will also give you skills that can be applied to all texts, whether for stage or screen. Importantly for actors, it will widen your range. Who should book on to this course? Those of you who are terrified of or unconfident about Shakespeare but would nevertheless like to learn about it. It’s also for those who feel rule-bound and would like to discover a new freedom and vibrancy around Shakespeare. And naturally, it’s a great course for any who feels stale and feel they would like a complete refresh in the way they approach Shakespeare. Thank you very much for answering my questions, but also generally for being incredible and changing my life and I know many others too. We love you very much. ​

Barbara runs courses at Bodlondeb and Both Feet actor training.

Interested in training with Barbara? Check out our calendar for her upcoming courses, masterrclasses and retreats!

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