37: “All The World’s A Stage” (Shakespeare & Whitman)

“All the world’s a stage.” -Our own Billy Shakes, As You Like It

“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” -Walt Whitman

                Today, in my class, is Theater Day. It’s one of my favorite activities all year. Here’s what we do: first off, we give Mr. Gillmore, who is in charge of the theater, a really, really, really big smile, so that he clears off all the saws and ladders and impact drivers, and lets us use the stage. (Our stage is also our scene shop, because we don’t have a scene shop: so the buildings and backdrops grow where they’ll live. All in all, a magical place, to be sure). Mr. Gillmore is also susceptible to take-out Chinese food. It’s good to know. 
                Next, I walk my class over, and step onto the stage to explain what we’re doing. As I do, I feel the space itself. The space says,
something’s happening.  The space says, look here. It’s like the whiteness around the poem, the silence before a symphony; the breath you take (you have to take) before some really good cheesecake. The stage says, listen. It says, we’re about to grow, become. As I said, it’s a magical place. 
                I start, each time, with Shakespeare’s line: “all the world’s a stage.” How many of us struggle to say what we truly mean? How many of us struggle to feel our own emotions, to know our lines, and to step into our role? How many of us see the whales and dolphins of our ideas go dashing by, and reach out a hand to point, only to find ourselves spitting sea spray instead of saying clearly the direction of those thoughts–or the joy of their movement–or even, perhaps, where they’re headed? Today, this is our stage, and today we’re going to try. 

                I give the students a paper with prompts on it. The prompts each put them in an imaginary scenario, and ask, “What would you say?” One by one the students walk up on stage; they climb to a place that says, pause, here, and breathe, and try to speak. And then they raise their voice. 

                Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they find poetry. Almost always they pause, and stumble, and then move forward with a rush, and watching, we realize that stumbling and flowing forward are equally important. The pauses say as much as the words, when both are meant. I’ve had a student, wise and determined, who planned everything out–and then realized, as he watched his friend cry and feel and try, that he’d somehow missed his chance. He’d charted a course. She’d stepped into the unknown, where all possibilities swirl and wait, washed by the raw stuff of living. 

                The prompts put us in imagined circumstances, but in imagined circumstances we find our own hearts–our hopes, our fears. In imagined circumstances we find our connections. So I wanted to share a few of my prompts (in the comments), and to invite you all, today, to walk up on stage, breathe, and speak–not just for yourself, but for us all. 

                “All the world’s a stage.” 
“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

4 thoughts on “37: “All The World’s A Stage” (Shakespeare & Whitman)

  1. Here are a few of my prompts. I’m always looking for more, so if you have an idea, I’d love to hear it.

    1. You’re broken hearted. Everything you’ve tried doesn’t help and the whole world seems like an empty, endless blur—one day, and another, and another, and none of it (and nothing you do) means anything. What do you say to show me what you feel?

    2. Your friend has started doing something that really scares you: perhaps drinking, or an eating disorder, or something else. (Choose the behavior in your head). You’re scared they’re going to get themselves hurt. What do you say?

    3. You asked this person out. Before that you were good friends. You were really into them. They turned you down. It hurt, some people knew about it and teased you, but now this person moves around you like they’re walking on eggshells–and you’re not broken. Sure, you were sad. But you’re okay now, you’re still friends, the world hasn’t ended. What do you say?

    4. You’re about to die, and a friend, a family member, or the nurse is there beside you. You want to ask for forgiveness, for all the things you’ve done wrong. What do you say?


  2. OK Azlan, and happy belated birthday too, by the way: you’ve rummaged around in my actor’s heart. And also spoken to my weekly womens’ support group query of the week: how do you honor your own inner wisdom? With your permission, I’d like to share this week’s Uproar with them.

    I love you,



    1. Dear Rosie,
      Of course: please share whatever part you would like, and thank you for your question in return. It is a question I could use, and now I have it to support me.

      How do you honor your own inner wisdom?


  3. Were you going to share some of the prompts you gave your students with us? Or were they the quotes from WS and Whitman?


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