Midsummer in Oxford, the British and Canadian Academy of Dramatic Art. Some PR type thought it looked good on the letterhead, but everyone here calls the students the Bacardi kids. A year ago Geoffrey might have been one of them.
Who is he kidding, might have been? He’d have sold a kidney for the chance of studying in England with guest directors and tutors from the RSC. Now he’s on the staff, assistant to Professor Groves who runs the summer course for a bunch of Canadian universities. It’s not much of a job, but it’s got him here, and maybe there’ll be a way to stay on, try to get work as an actor in London. That’s what he wants, more than anything.
Today’s masterclass director is a British theatre legend, as famous for his mishaps and absentmindedness as for his revolutionary approach to Shakespeare. The rehearsal room was buzzing for an hour before he arrived.
“One time when he was giving notes he fell off the stage into the orchestra pit, landed flat on his back and just went right on talking…”
“I heard he broke his ribs doing stage combat with Peter Hall at Cambridge…”
“Julie said last year he set himself on fire in the middle of explaining Sonnet 144, didn’t even notice…”
Geoffrey slouches against the back wall, trying not to look like just another starry-eyed kid. He’s too old for that: a performing arts degree under his belt, and a season of rep in Calgary. Still, he has to remind himself to breathe. This director makes you look at the text in a whole new way. Words bow and stretch under the pressure of his attention, till it seems they might snap under the weight of their own meaning. Part of Geoffrey wants to resist, to focus on what’s not said, as perverse as that feels right now. But he’s mesmerized like the rest of them, unable to look away.
You can see what an actor the man must have been, holding an audience spellbound. Geoffrey can’t imagine ever wanting to direct instead of acting, but he supposes it’s about power. He has that in abundance, this wild-eyed, unkempt man, even when he says nothing. See him now, as he leans forward in his chair to watch the students perform Hector’s meeting with the Greeks in Troilus and Cressida, a razorblade glinting between his teeth.