Sara Topham Keeps Shakespeare Alive

by Olivia Krusel, Grade 11

Imagine that it is a dreary Wednesday afternoon; halfway through the week and the weekend is only just peering from beyond the horizon. With a sigh, you plunk down your 20-pound stress-filled, homework-overflowing backpack, open the heavy glass doors of the lecture theatre, and walk down the carpeted steps until you find a seat with your friends. The excited chatter of students all around you immediately lifts your spirits. A young, beautiful woman sits upon a table with her legs crossed, and calls you to attention. Her name is Sara Topham, a renowned Shakespearean Actor, who has been working with the Stratford Theatre Company for what is now 11 seasons. She has come to SMUS to talk about Shakespeare, but with such passion that it moves the audience. Sara’s Shakespeare is not the literature that you plough through for hours, frantically trying to make sense of the many “Thou’s and Thy’s” in a line. No, Ms. Topham’s Shakespeare is one of colour, brilliance, and provocative stanzas, subtly teaching you how beautiful the English language can be.

Ms. Topham introduced her thesis of “Shakespeare from the Inside.” She communicates that Shakespearean literature has been written for all of us, each individual living today, and that it is our right to read it, analyze it, and comprehend it. Ms. Topham also talked about how Shakespeare is nothing more than “two-dimensional” if you do not bring anything to the experience. She compared someone reading Shakespeare for the first time to a non-musician trying to play Mozart off a sheet of music. Just as an experienced musician uses clues such as timing, articulation, and dynamics to decipher the page, a reader is given tools to decode Shakespeare’s messages. For example, Ms. Topham gave five quick and easy tips on how to Ace an English Paper on Shakespeare.

First, was the importance of the meaning of words, and the impact that each one has on the significance of the sonnet/monologue/play. Next at number two, was the why. She motivated us to ask questions about anything and everything, helping us to uncover a deeper meaning behind Shakespeare’s cryptic phrases. For number three, we learned that the first and last words are extremely important in understanding the tone of the literature. For her fourth point, Ms. Topham suggested that we all speak Shakespeare aloud to bring the words to life. Finally, as her fifth idea, Sara urged us to watch specific words to clarify our discoveries.

My favorite parts of the lecture were when Sara Topham related the Shakespearean analysis back to her passion for acting. As a performer myself, I loved how excited she became when one of the audience members had a “light bulb moment” and understood her ideas in a profound way. Sometimes in her exuberance, her large eyes would illuminate and she would recite a Shakespearean monologue at the drop of hat with impeccable diction and such clarity of character that you could almost taste the character’s feelings as flavours on your tongue. Ms. Topham talked of the importance of individual words and how the inflections in an actor’s voice can portray to the audience the depth of a character’s feelings toward someone or something.

It was exciting to learn that Ms. Topham had danced ballet for many years and was able to demonstrate the physical aspects of movement in Shakespearean acting. As a challenge to the audience she suggested we apply a different physical reaction for each punctuation used in a given monologue.

The enthusiastic applause for Ms. Sara Topham’s presentation provided clear proof that any earlier thoughts of mid-week dreariness had long been expelled from the minds of the students. The passionate display of the Shakespearean word was brought to life with such energy and conviction that we all lived and breathed the words of Sir William Shakespeare as if he were still alive today. The day suddenly felt bright and exciting.


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