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Fredonia grad’s book takes deeper look at Shakespeare works

Ron Destro conducting a class with Dame Diana Rigg.

Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) writes in the Foreword to the new book, “The Shakespeare Masterclasses,” by SUNY Fredonia theater graduate Ron Destro, that it “should be required reading in every theater course, acting class and directing class. And should be in the library of every critic as well, because it describes, as no one else can, ‘how to do it.’ I don’t know of any book as detailed and as all-embracing as this one. I wish it had been available when I started out 55 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of heartache. Also, it’s a great read.”

The book is a compilation of 13 rare masterclasses and interviews conducted by Destro at his New York and London-based drama school, the Oxford Shakespeare Company, which holds masterclasses with many of the world’s most renowned Shakespearean and Broadway actors.

It features the wisdom, technical advice, character and play analysis, personal and professional anecdotes and humor from the distinguished group of Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Olivier Award-winners Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Diana Rigg, Michael York, Jeremy Irons, Glenda Jackson, Frank Langella, F Murray Abraham, Tim Pigott-Smith, Ron Cook, Malcolm McKay, Priyanga Burford, John Barton and Cicely Berry. Plus an in-depth step-by-step introduction to Shakespearean acting by Destro, and a chapter of his favorite movement and acting exercises.

Some of the works covered are “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Richard III,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “The Tempest,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Twelfth Night,” “Henry IV Pt 1” and the Sonnets.

Highlights of the book include:

¯ Sir Derek Jacobi talking about how he struggled to overcome a debilitating mid-life stage fright that almost ended his career. He, along with Glenda Jackson and Frank Langella, discuss their very different approaches to portraying King Lear. Jeremy Irons reveals an interesting physical approach he uses to create assorted characters.

¯ Tim Pigott-Smith takes us scene-by-scene through “The Winter’s Tale,” and contrasts the different approaches to Shakespeare’s meter taken by famed directors John Barton and Peter Hall. Dame Diana Rigg offers much inspiration and insight, and discusses her training at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and her varied career, from collaborating with Laurence Olivier, to her television series “The Avengers.”

¯ Abraham, in addition to working several scenes and speeches from The Merchant of Venice, teaches actors how to focus when working on a hectic and noisy film set. Ron Cook gives invaluable insights into acting Shakespearean roles, especially the character of Richard III. Malcolm McKay details the approach taken by the world’s most famous drama school, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and leads an enlightening analysis of Hamlet’s dilemmas. Priyanga Burford reveals how acting on the Globe stage gave her a great insight into how the plays can successfully be performed.

¯ Michael York provides a vast array of insight into many Shakespeare plays, and works with actors on several monologues.

The legendary RSC voice director Cicely Berry takes the class through some of her most useful text exercises. And famed founder of the RSC, John Barton (Playing Shakespeare), illustrates the demands and clues of Shakespearean acting by working in detail through seven representative sonnets.

Destro, who studied acting as a child at the Little Theatre of Jamestown (now the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown), under the direction of Madelyn Jones Osgood, who had taught Lucille Ball when she was a young girl, later went on to study theatre at SUNY Fredonia and the University of Southern California, and then with Lucille Ball herself in Hollywood, before Shakespeare training at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Marymount Program, and receiving an MFA in directing at Brooklyn College.

In addition to his role as actor and director, Destro’s work as a playwright won him the Kennedy Center New American Play Award for his drama Hiroshima, which received a New York City production and featured an original score by Yoko Ono.

Destro founded the Oxford Shakespeare Company in New York and London, which hosts masterclasses with world-renowned Shakespearean and Broadway actors, and also conducts 10-day summer overseas performance workshops, where actors take classes, culminating in a full Shakespeare performance in the play’s original setting, such as at Hamlet’s grave in Elsinor, Denmark (Hamlet), the witches’ lair in Birnam Wood, Scotland (Macbeth), the palace in Venice, Italy (The Merchant of Venice), Flint Castle in Wales (Richard II), and on the battlefields of Azincourt, France (Henry V) and Bosworth Field, England (Richard III).

The first chapters of The Shakespeare Masterclasses can be previewed on the Amazon website. More information on the book and on the Oxford Shakespeare Company can be found at oxfordshakespeare.org.

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