A handy guide to understanding Shakespeare

It's really just much ado about nothing

A handy guide to understanding Shakespeare
Whether you’re struggling to make sense of what’s going on, or wish to embark on a career on the Shakespearean stage, here are Julie Wee's top tips

In her fifth Shakespearean role, Julie Wee gets a lot bolder. She's contending with performing in Fort Canning Park and the weather, understanding how to work the stage, as well as knowing the muscle memory needed to remember Shakespeare.

After Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet, the local thespian plays 15-year old Miranda. She's played teenagers before — in local television shows Lightyears and Moulmein High — but this time, she plays one who's deserted on an island with her father and Caliban, their slave. Is it a feat to play a feisty teenager? We'll never know — the local actress refuses to reveal her age.

 "Can we not say? Age is irrelevant!" she jests over the phone, laughing in the middle of our interview. She does, however, reveal throwback days to when she was discovering things for the first time as an adolescent. With any role, Wee draws from life experience but also a projection of what she thinks her character's experience would be.

Sexual tension is one. "You learn about sexual awakening where you see boys and you're like, woah!" she exclaims. It happens to all young people, but this happens to Miranda in an instant — all within six hours."

Look forward to Wee's performance in this annual Shakespearean ritual produced by the Singapore Repertory Theatre. But before you catch the show, here are the actress' top tips.

Julie Wee in Merchant of Venice

1. Start with the monologues and audio books

"I find it really difficult to read straight from the text. Start easy with the monologues. There's a rhythm and structure, which are very clear. Before I start rehearsing I read the play, but more often than not I listen to the audio book. I prefer listening to Shakespeare. Once I understand what everything is — for example I'll look it up in the dictionary or read an edition with notes — then I'll memorise my lines. You don't have to read the whole show. I try not to read all the way to the end, because I don't want to spoil the surprise."

2. Repetition, repetition, repetition

"It's repetition, it really is. It's best to say it out loud. When I'm at a café, it doesn't really work.  But when I'm in the shower and saying it out loud, it's wonderful. Sometimes I stick up pieces of paper with the speeches in the bathroom walls."

3. Relax into it

"The director has been saying that in the first 10 minutes of a Shakespeare production, the audience is in a panic. So just relax. Just listen and let the sound wash over you. If the actors are doing their jobs properly, the language will lead you to the story. You may not understand a lot of what is being said, but you will understand the meaning if you don't think too hard."

4. You might get doubly-insulted

"Shakespeare has wonderful insults. The expressions and phrases are very unique, and more complicated than what we'd say in a swear word today. He would expand an insult to five swear words. You're doubly insulted, because you don't get it. In the play, Caliban asks, 'What a thrice double arse was I'. He basically asked what a three times double idiot he was. Oh how wish I could say that line!"

5. Pack the right goods.

"I also love bringing cheese, crackers and grapes. Red wine's better, then you don't have to worry about it being chilled. If you want to go in the vein of the drunken butler and the fool in the show, then hard liquor. They spend the entire show drunk...acting drunk I hope!"

Shakespeare in the Park — The Tempest plays at Fort Canning Park till 24 May. Tickets from Sistic

Text: Adibah Isa

  • Image:
    Getty Images,
    Singapore Repertory Theatre
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