This week Sir Patrick Stewart delivered the Shakespeare Birthday Lecture in Stratford, England. The actor spoke about his Shakespearean experiences, his upcoming performance in “The Merchant of Venice,” his recent trip to the Middle East and his time on Star Trek. Stewart is also being awarded with a Shakespeare Prize tonight. Report and details below.
Patrick Stewart’s Shakespeare Birthday Lecture
Report by Marty Fields
This year’s Shakespeare Birthday Lecture (sponsored by the Shakespeare Birthday Trust) was delivered by Sir Patrick on Tuesday (04/26/11). The title of the lecture was “Playing Shakespeare; Playing Shylock” and was a precursor to his playing the role (for the third time) in “The Merchant of Venice” in May. This was therefore the main focus of a discussion led by chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and eminent author, Sir Stanley Wells. Stewart joked about one of the advantages of doing a role he has done before is that there was no need to learn the lines, but immediately admitted to still being a human being after recently discovering that he had been misquoting a segment of text for years.
Sir Patrick felt he had missed out on witnessing first-hand the revolutions of recent times: the fall of the Berlin Wall and apartheid etc. so he travelled to Egypt to experience the dramatic political change it was undergoing. As he was near to Israel, Stewart decided it would be a good idea to visit in order to research the role of Shylock as well as Jewish feeling on the play’s anti-Semitism. His first thought was to drive across the Sinai Desert, but his son pointed out that passing through Gaza might no be the best idea so he flew to Jerusalem instead. The conclusion was that, although there were clearly anti-Semitic elements, it was not itself a racist play and, ironically, it remains the most often performed Shakespeare play in Israel. Stewart tantalizingly promised that this new “Merchant of Venice” will be controversial and has hinted at an unusual ending.
On discussing the differences between film and stage, Stewart remarked how, in 1986, he complained to his theatrical agent: “I had done something that had embarrassed me” and that he could never improve as film actor unless he spent many hours in front of the camera. He quickly followed with “Be careful what you wish for…!” referring to the 178 hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation he did over seven years.
He then briefly recounted some of his experiences filming The Next Generation: “Most directors know nothing about acting” he stated. “It is rare for a director to see you act” he followed, but added “they let me play with the camera sometimes.” The one person’s opinion Stewart did trust on set was that of camera operator Lowell Peterson, ASC, more recently employed as camera operator for Desperate Housewives. According to Stewart, Lowell has “knowledge of what he is looking at” and impressed on Stewart that “the camera is your friend”. On the director calling “Cut”, Stewart would look at Lowell for an opinion and receive a slow subtle nod of approval or shake of disapproval. If the latter occurred, Stewart would make some excuse to ask the director to reshoot the scene.
When it was time for questions from the audience, Stewart was asked if his work on science fiction had been problematic for his career, being seen as a “lower order” by some. Stewart replied that Star Trek had not hurt his stage career, but he had expected Hollywood to provide a “level society” only to find that this was not the case. Being on a TV show, and a syndicated one at that, meant that it was difficult to cross over into films. Stewart did stress that things have begun to change on this front, though he did imply prejudice against the science fiction genre may have been responsible for The Next Generation never obtaining an Emmy nomination over its seven year run.
Patrick Stewart Gives Shakespeare Birthday Lecture – April 26, 2011
The Merchant of Venice starring Sir Patrick Stewart runs from the 13th May to the 4th October at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Stewart Honored With Shakespeare Award
Today (Saturday April 30th) Sir Patrick Stewart is being awarded the George Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Prize for “outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare and in the general advancement of Shakespearian knowledge and understanding.” He has certainly done that. Past winners of the award include Dame Judi Dench and Stewart;s close friend (and X-Men costar) Sir Ian McKellen.