It started soon after college, through a professor-turned-dear-friend, Paul Guay. After having my mind cooked and then blown – just like the big bang – by his introduction to Plato in his Philosophy of Religion course, I eagerly took all of his other philosophy courses (Intro to Western Philosophy, Intro to Eastern Philosophy, Logic, Ethics, directed studies on Plato's Republic, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Zen Buddhism). But I missed his Intro to Western Literature. One day, I proposed perhaps I should read something from that course's suggested reading. He had given me five options, and I chose The Tempest. I was hooked. After I read it, I cried and cried and cried: I was weeping with the complete joy of being alive, of knowing that I had finally found meaning, of the realization that all my blood cells were as if made up of thousands and thousands of tiny little monks, full to the brim with compassion (even if, or better yet, apropos of having learned at the same time that I, like most of us, can only attempt to navigate through life, fluctuating between the waves and keeping afloat with barely a mast and a couple of sails to help us through: the sails, our moral weaknesses and – merely-potential – virtues; the mast, our capacity to acknowledge and learn to cope with them). Still, all this compassion could only but bring hope...
I had caught the bug and it set up camp somewhere in my heart and whatever is the part in my brain that deals with curiosity. I proceeded to read other plays: A Winter's Tale (also a favorite), Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, etc. I became a regular sitter on the dirt roads by the Delacorte Theater in Central Park over the summers (a Guinness record of "most standby-lines taken" might just be in order, though I didn't get to compete with the real hardcore fans either: when Al Pacino was announced to play Shylock, I drew the line there: I didn't sleep over on the sidewalks surrounding the park, just put my alarm clock at dawn – I almost hesitated to buy a ticket from some homeless guy who had actually spent the night drinking with his homies on Central Park West & 82nd Street: "Hey man, it's not 'free theater'! It's a job! I stood for you in line all night! Ten bucks. Take it or leave it." Just to see two true New Yorkers fight over civic principles was a thing in itself!). I would go to as many productions as I could get a hold of at BAM and the Public, a Theater for a New Audience, the works (what a privilege to have lived in New York!). When the Royal Shakespeare Company came to do a six-week residency at the Park Avenue Armory in 2011, I took the credit card I had just cut with my scissors and broke all promises to 'never again act compulsively' and taped it together and bought me tickets for all five of the plays they were performing (to my delight, after their last performance, the actors ended up hanging out at my local bar in Williamsburg, I was thrilled for the opportunity to thank them in person and offered them a bottle of water, for they "didn't drink alcohol while on tour").
By then, I was feeling itchy and wanted more. I thought of perhaps undertaking studies in comparative literature or the like, to find a good scholar and dive deeply in the books. But life took me in a different direction. I had started shopping for schools and thought of taking a few smaller courses to see if that was something I would want to commit to. I took a summer course in NYU's Continuing Education program. Then I found Rhona Silverbush through the New York Shakespeare Society, and things took off from there: thanks to her (now another dear friend), I took a weekend intensive with Shakespeare & Company, then a week-long intensive with the Linklater Center, where I met Craig Bacon, Merry Conway and Daniela Varon, with whom I continued to study. Then it was the month-intensive training, again at Shakespeare & Co., which I was able to crowd-fund thanks to many a generous friend and contributor (if you're reading this: again and again, THANK YOU!!!).
While I was working on my Edmund monologue in my "Shakespeare at Bacon's" course with Craig Bacon, he had a brilliant idea to help 'break the actor in me.' He sat me in a rotating stool (like a drummer's stool, if you will) and had the rest of the students surround me as he would give me instructions (for which I wasn't prepared for). I was to have my viola at hand. As the students spinned the stool (and me on it) in one direction, Craig would tell me to 'play Edmund' on my viola. "But what should I play?? If I had known about this exercise, I would have prepared something in advance..." I said, all shy and embarassed. "It doesn't matter: DON'T think, just play, even if it's just noise." As I started improvising, I would get into a kind of performance and I would let my musicality losen up and be free. As soon as I got into a zone, the instructions went to the students to 'spin me the other way.' Then it was "whatever line from Edmund you remember, bring it out!" This game went for some time, as the spinning kept alternating directions and me alternating between my monologue and my music. By the end of the exercise, I was standing on my two feet, arms in the air, screaming at the top of my lungs, at once enraged & most happily realized: I had succeeded for a minute to rebel against all my fears.
We loved the idea of mixing music and Edmund together, so much so, that Craig asked me to actually prepare a piece of music of my choosing: at the end of the course, when we would perform our scenes and monologues for the public, I would perform my piece on the viola and jump right into my monologue. Well, what happened beyond my own little act was that I invited my friend Nikolett Pankovits to play and sing with me, and we prepared additional music to transition and accompany the rest of the crew. By the time we had our last class and were ready to do our public performance, Craig decided he would cook and the invited audience would feast on food & wine while we would perform. The event was such a success and delight that we all decided to do it all over again, only that perhaps we could work on various scenes and monologues from a single play. So, on the first session of our "Shakespeare at Bacon's – 2nd round" course, we set out to 'read a few excerpts' from Twelfth Night. "Who are we kidding: let's just read through the whole play!" New Place Players was born. Now, it is an established theater company in NYC, with six years under its belt and three very successful productions...
Here's a mini-documentary about the company:
Here, a slideshow with photos from our production of A Midsummer Night's Dream:
And here a video trailer from our latest production of The Tempest:
I kept going to see plays around the city and imbibing in as much Shakespeare as I could get my hands on. Little would I know that I would have such a strong reaction to one particular performance of Love's Labour's Lost (at The Public). It was the princess of France's emotional shock, towards the end of the play, while she and her train (Rosaline, Maria and Katherine) were much enjoying their flirtatious games with the king of Navarre and his friends (Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine), when suddenly she learns of her father's death: it was this new solemn perspective on love that – in performance – radically moved me, yet again. "I also must return to my family," I said. Not long after, I found an opportunity to leave my life in New York and move to Chile with my folks. How ironic then, after having settled in Santiago, that I would meet my "princess of Bordeaux," a lovely French woman who is now my life partner. Shakespeare brought me home and brought me love.