Forum: Learning on accident

McKay Proctor

Until three months ago, my stage experience consisted of a show-stopping performance as the Third Little Pig in Mrs. Reinhardt’s first grade production of “Making a Difference.” Allyson Proctor of the McKay’s Mother Gazette lauded the performance as “so precious.” Anna Proctor of the Kindergarten Little Sister Times-Herald was less complimentary, writing in pink crayon, “That was so embarrassing. Why do I have to be related to you?”

Lack of experience aside, this summer I leapt into the world of student theater with little regard for how “embarrassing” or “related to Anna Proctor” I may be. I traveled down Highway 290 to learn everything it takes to put on a play in the English department’s Shakespeare at Winedale program. (Winedale, Texas, is outside of Round Top, which is outside of Brenham, which is just south of the Middle of Nowhere.) 

Under the tutelage of part-time volleyball wizard and full-time Shakespeare savant Dr. James Loehlin, my class staged “Twelfth Night,” “Henry V,” “Pericles,” and John Webster’s ornately grizzly “The Duchess of Malfi” over two life-altering months. I would need a few thousand more words to describe the experience in full, but using this space just to talk about putting the Bard’s work on stage in a barn in the Hill Country seems like only a minor travesty. 

Living inside a play taught me about the way Shakespeare wrote — the way his plays live, breathe and move. Any of my classmates could tell you more about his genius than I can, but as the least experienced member of our troupe, I can tell you how much looking at Shakespeare’s work from the inside out can change views on literature and life. 

My foray in the theatre tested me. I leaned on my classmates on a daily basis. Sometimes I felt insufficient to my task, as if summiting Mount Shakespeare was for the titanic actors and scholars around me, and I was just a pack mule to carry their supplies. Sharing the stage with Renae Jackson’s regal, heart-rending Duchess; or Noah Sgovio’s playful, visceral King Henry; or Nell McKeown’s sparkling, clever Viola; or Rachel Abbott’s lovely, conspiratorial Maria (or any of my classmate’s performances that humbled me this summer) made me feel like the thespian novice I am. It inspired me to chase the best version of myself every day. From the 6:30 morning sports bell until our triumphant “Huzzah!” at the day’s end, life and learning merged. I worked hard to be good at both.

If a humble hay barn can be the scaffold for the triumph of Henry V, and I can be the lowly servant of Shakespeare’s works, then I know that anyone can do the same thing anywhere in the world. Acting empowers people to learn about themselves and their language the world over, and student theatre stands as a pillar of that noble quest.  I encourage anyone, no matter their goals, to audition somewhere or at least pick up a play and read it aloud and hear the words artfully  bounce off one another. 

When Allyson Proctor saw one of my performances this summer, she declared in the McKay’s Mother Gazette I was “still cute.” Anna Proctor’s review maintained that I was still “embarrassing” after all these years, but I guess I can’t please everybody.

McKay Proctor is an English and business honors junior from Nashville.