What an apt way to finish this evening’s rehearsal, huddled together, our first night on the set, singing “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” while outside the bitter winds whited-out the icy roads. One of the themes of AS YOU LIKE IT is that the world of Nature, while harsh and rough at times, is more honest and pure than the cut-throat world of men. That in Nature we find a sacred space where we can seek the eternal and meaningful. Almost all of the characters in the play escape to the Forest of Arden during the play, fleeing persecution, tyranny or ill-fortune. In the forest they find solace, rejuvenation, new perspectives, new identities and (of course) Love.
The exiled Duke Senior has a beautiful speech that introduces us to the forest. Not to give anything away but I think it can only help to know this one beforehand:
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity.
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
Here is a man who has had his dukedom usurped by his own brother, who had to flee to the forest after living in a palace, and these are the thoughts he shares with his compatriots.
Like I said, everyone in this play flees to the woods at some point and there they find lives more enduring, more vital than what they had known before. One of the things I embraced early on was our director’s idea that everyone, even the long-term residents of the forest, fled from somewhere. This place unites all who come to it because it serves as a sanctuary for them all. I play a shepherd (Corin) who has lived here longer than anyone else we encounter. This idea that at some point I fled something and came to the Forest of Arden was very powerful for me. I could go into great depth about the history I have created for Corin, but what I really want to point out is that this idea brought me to the revelation that Corin chose to be here. Chose this life specifically. He could have moved on, gone somewhere else, maybe even returned home, but the forest became his home and he has embraced this life. This opened up a deep well of meaning beneath the lines that Corin speaks and connected me to my character. Part of bringing a play off the page and to life is finding those notes that resonate, when the words you have to speak become the only possible words to use for that person. When you come upon one of those notes you know it because it echoes in your bones and everyone stops whatever else they are doing and looks. Ultimately we are arranging a series of resonant notes, making a song of moments and connections that fuel the poetry and open up a space for life to happen.
Sitting around on our stage for the first time tonight we all found a resonant note. While the winter wind raged outside we were finding something eternal, enduring and vital here in our space, in our theater, in our Forest of Arden.