By Catalina Righter
According to Louis Butelli’s biography, he is “honored every day he is able to go to work in the service of a great story.” On Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2005, the actor, teacher, director, and writer came to WC to teach students about performing Shakespeare, a writer whose stories he has been working on for 18 years.
Butelli has worked for 10 years as an artist-in-residence and company clown for the Aquila Theatre Company where he toured widely and performed in over 25 Shakespeare productions.
He has since taught at the University of Southern California, hosted hundreds of master classes, performed at numerous notable venues such as the Folger Theatre and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Performer for his work in “Henry VIII,” and appeared on TV in more contemporary fare such as “Law And Order.” He also works as Executive Director of Psittacus Productions, which he co-founded with WC alum Chas LiBretto Class of 2006.
English Department Chair Dr. Kathryn Moncrief and Assistant Professor of Drama Brendan Fox worked together to coordinate his visit. Both are teaching a Shakespeare focused classes this semester including Shakespeare II, Acting II, and Hamlet and its Afterlife: Adaptations and Appropriations. Butelli’s visit is the first of several that will occur throughout the semester, all tailored to students learning about Shakespeare’s works.
“We felt that it was important for both of us to expose our students to artists outside of the College who have spent many years working on Shakespeare,” said Fox on the reason for hosting the guest workshops.
This workshop was not the first Butelli has led at WC; he came to provide a workshop for the cast of the College’s 2013 production of King Lear.
“The students really enjoyed it, and as [Dr. Moncrief] described him and his perspective on Shakespeare, I became increasingly excited by the opportunity to have him return and engage with a new group of students,” said Fox.
“He is an energetic, creative, and thoughtful teacher… I knew he could bring the text alive for students by approaching it through performance,” said Dr. Moncrief.
Butelli hosted two workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, where he focused on the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. In addition, he sat in on the Hamlet class to give its students a very focused look at one section of the play they will spend the entire semester dissecting.
For Fox, Butelli’s teaching style was energetic and informative. “Activities included warm-ups focusing on being connected with a scene partner to breaking down a famous Hamlet soliloquy into bite-size pieces to make it more comprehensible and connected to modern students,” he said. The afternoon session was particularly large, including around 40 participants.
“I believe all of this helped my students lose some inhibitions and feel more comfortable speaking Shakespeare out loud in front of their classmates,” said Fox. “Mr. Butelli has a gift for inspiring students to ‘bungee jump’ and take a chance. He created an environment which took the language seriously, [demonstrating that] the words of Shakespeare have power, but approached it all in a grounded and specific way.”
Following the workshops, Butelli held a question-and-answer session open to all, especially English and drama students.
Dr. Moncrief hopes that all involved “benefited from Louis’s experience, dedication to his craft, and passion for Shakespeare.” She is especially fond of “his advice for succeeding in the theatre. ‘Be nice. And be the solution, not the problem.’”
Those who missed Butelli’s visit can still learn from him via his Production diary at the Folger Theatre https://folgertheatre.wordpress.com/author/louisbutelli/ or find him on twitter @louisbutelli .
In addition, three more experts on acting and reading Shakespeare will visit this semester to host workshops and question-and-answer sessions. The next visit will be held on Thursday, Feb. 27 with more information to be announced soon.