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Shakespeareans Do It Better

Forbidden-planet Back Stage readers should remember that in last week's cover story about Patrick Stewart, the veteran actor touched briefly on some of the similarities between acting for Shakespeare and for Sci-Fi. Stewart, of course, has performed in numerous productions of Shakespeare's plays, while also taking lead roles in X-Men and Star Trek. Chief among the similarities: fancy talk and fancy pants.

Stewart said:

Use of language and the importance of language and the potential in language to deliver complex thoughts and ideas and emotions simply. What authority means on stage. Even just how to stand and move and sit was important. I know how to sit in the captain's chair of the Enterprise. I know how to give orders. I know what it's like to be in charge of a country, to run a dictatorship. I've done all these things. This actually isn't very different except we're wearing different, funny costumes. [Back Stage]

Seems plausible. Anyway, how is Arden or Illyria so different from Mars or -- I hate to say it -- Pandora? Forbidden Planet is, after all, essentially The Tempest. There have been post-apocalyptic King Lears, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine Hamlet or Coriolanus... in SPACE.

Yesterday, Io9 took up the same theme, highlighting another interview in which Stewart names a couple more Shakespearean actors who seem to do a lot of Sci-Fi work as well, including his MacBeth co-star David Tennant (who has an absurd number of YouTube fan vids for a guy who's name doesn't start with an "R" and end with an "obert Pattinson") and the great William Shatner.

From Patrick Stewart's recent Bullz-Eye.com interview:

BE: Since you've brought up David Tennant, you touched on this earlier when discussing the sci-fi similarities, but what do you think it is about Shakespeare and sci-fi actors? I mean, there's you, David, Ian [McKellen]'s obviously done his share, and Brian Blessed, a longtime friend of yours, I remember from "Flash Gordon."

PS: And don't let's forget William Shatner.

BE: Heaven forbid.

PS: Bill worked at Stratford, Ontario. He's a classical Shakespearean actor. I think that the experience that we get in making a 400-year-old text work is exactly what you need for giving credibility and believability to fantasy, science fiction, and the like. I think that's why I was so good at it! And in Bryan Singer's "X-Men," there are a lot of stage actors in there as well.

But Shakespearean actors -- or stage actors in general -- might have another Sci-Fi crossover advantage that often goes overlooked: comic convention crowd control.

Having attended the San Diego Comic-Con four summer in a row, I have to say that actors who have cut their teeth on stage can play to a couple thousand screaming people with much more ease than those accustomed to the camera.

Hugh Jackman, who got his start in musical theater, was able to launch the panel for Wolverine all by his lonesome, acting as MC and revving up the fanboy crowd with more panache than a hundred boys from Oz. Similarly, Mark Wahlberg -- who you might have forgotten was the frontman of chart-topping Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away -- did a better job of managing the 6,000 Twilight fanatics than R. Pat & Co., who looked uniformly terrified, when his panel had the misfortune of being scheduled almost directly in front of that abomination.

Okay, you might be right that if you argue that A) convention demeanor doesn't have much to with the actual performance an actor gives, and B) the evidence I put forth is hardly a fair sample -- but this isn't a phenomenon associated with just Jackman and Wahlberg. Go to one of these conventions yourself, and you'll notice that the screen actors seem on average more uncomfortable with the fans. There are exceptions, of course, but the stage actors do tend to stand out at panels.

Bs april 22 And this does go back to the question of craft. As Stewart said, he knows "what authority means on a stage." And that is a skill that can translate to any stage.

Read the full Back Stage interview with Patrick Stewart at BackStage.com.

--Alice Wade

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David Tennant was in Hamlet with Patrick Stewart, not Macbeth.

I enjoyed this. The comparison between Sci-fi and Shakespeare has been made a lot recently. I have acted a lot for BBC Radio (over here in the UK) and there are they always say that there are two things you can do incredibly well on the radio - Sci Fi and Shakespeare.

I think it is to do with what Patrick Stewart says about "delivering complex thoughts and ideas simply". Plus both sci-fi and shakespeare require a certain degree of imagination. or "suspension of disbelief" as they say.


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