Director Marlene Johnson and Associate Professor Ron Hubbard offer advice to Atom Bennett and Pete Moffit during rehearsal of a fight scene for "As You Like It." The play opens March 1.


Assistant Professor Marlene Johnson is a voice, dialect and text coach and a director with more than 20 years of experience.

She is directing the Shakespeare play "As You Like It" in the Odess Theater March 1-2 and 4-8. The play asks the questions: What is real love? What is false love? What is the nature of a vow or promise?

"As in most comedies, at the center of the play is disturbance, disorder and pain," Johnson says. "What makes that messiness comical is the unquenchable spirit to survive — to get up after being knocked down."

Johnson and her students have been preparing the production for months. She recently spoke to the UAB Reporter about the play and the nuances of William Shakespeare's works.

Q. What are some of the challenges of directing a Shakespeare play? 

A. Some of the challenges are getting students comfortable with the language and the language structures in order to make the meanings clear and to find and use the imagery — getting them to discover what acting clues are contained right in the language. Then finding actions, movement, but also getting actors comfortable working in stillness without a lot of clutter. Working in stillness is movement.


Q. How is Shakespeare's view of comedy different from ours today?
A. I don't know that it is. He makes use of rhetorical arguments, puns, antithesis, word play and lists that we don't use as much now. A lot of the humor is batted between witty opponents. Our language has become so flattened musically that it is challenging for an actor to make clear these little punch lines and punch words.

There is a lot of commedia influence as well, so there is opportunity for physical comedy as well as a more presentational style sometimes, getting away from strict realism. This is one of the joys of working on Shakespeare




Q. You have taught an Acting Shakespeare class before. What does it take to be a good and entertaining Shakespearean actor, particularly for this play?
A. A good Shakespearean actor uses technique in the service of playing the story and finding the character's throughline and objectives.

The language structures release the actor to play; tells a clear story; makes clear an argument from a persuasion point of view. He listens and responds to his partners.

He doesn't chop up long thoughts in sound-bytes of five to seven words, but instead learns to play the throughline of the thought.

The audience cannot follow the thought if the actor breaks it up or pauses a lot in between.

Shakespeare requires an actor to act on the line rather than create lots of subtext and take lots of time between the line to act. Whatever subtext there is happens simultaneously as the actor speaks.

This means that the actor has to make active discoveries moment to moment and process what she is thinking right no at this minute rather than thinking and then speaking, which is what we get used to often with realism or with film acting.