Actor Micheal Zacharias, on the set of Hamlet, SITC (Amanda Smart)
I believe that people need a place to express themselves. It is really needed. Arts are not just for the wealthy. - Michael Zacharias, actor in SIC
For the fourth year, ten clients of the Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank are presenting a "one night only" performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet through a community theatre program called Shakespeare in the City (SITC), a free 12 week program developed by Shakespeare In The Ruins (SIR) and facilitated by Winnipeg actor, director and writer Claire Friesen.
SCENE had the chance to meet up backstage with Director Claire Friesen and one of the participants, thespian Micheal Zacharias.
Michael, how did you first get involved with SITC?
In 2009 I was sitting at work having a break and there was a brochure sitting upstairs at the Andrew Street family centre, and I was a client of Winnipeg Harvest so I called. From there I had a choice between 2 parts, between King Duncan's friend and Macduff. I chose to go with Macduff because I thought "I want to play a hero". I've never played a hero in my life. It was a stretch for me. It is easy to play a villain. It's harder to play a hero.
What was it like to do theatre for the first time?
I felt like my body was going through aerobic class, spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally. I was being stretched in ways that I didn't expect. In playing Macduff, who is a very sad character, I could relate to that because I'd been sad a lot of my life. I went through a lot of depression. Here is a guy who rose to the occasion and in the end he becomes King, which I don't think he really wanted. He wasn't a vicious person; he just wanted to do the right thing.
How has the program changed you?
Micheal: My pronunciation of words. I was told by the text coach, Andrew Cecon that my pronunciation of words are now much clearer. They could understand me much better. I also took a 1st year intro to performance theatre at the U of Winnipeg. I learned a lot in that course like how you walk, makes a difference, even having your mouth open for examples helps you relax and breathe. I learned about movement. It helped me focus. I was the second oldest student in the class.
Claire, with your professional background as actor and writer and now director what have you learned from this group?
I think that if they can do it, anyone can. Many of my students suffer from major anxiety. Last year it was a struggle to get one of my students here every week. I feel that their approach to Shakespeare is so honest and that's what's so cool about working with SIR is that I have always thought that it is a company that tries to make Shakespeare very relevant for people, very approachable. My students have really big obstacles in their lives and it takes a lot for them to come here and for me, I think that the 1st year that they did it, right before they went on stage I just started bawling because i realized: we're going onstage!
Claire, how do you see Micheal?
When I first met him had this incredible stutter. It was really amazing in the first year just to see where he came from, not being able to really get through a sentence to being able to actually do the play. Every year I watch him become so much more confident with his speech. Shakespeare is not the easiest thing to tongue.
Micheal, how do you see Claire?
I see Claire as my mentor, my hero in the theatre community. She has taught me a lot and she has done amazing work in my life.
Michael, what do you want your audience to get out of the performance of Hamlet?
How much work that has been done and the fact that anybody can do this. Hopefully some people will think "maybe I could be involved next year". I want them to see how much we have grown through the whole process.
Actors Frances Matlock, Sandi Reimer, Director Claire Friesen (SIR).