Message from Jeff Watkins: Letter for the 2003-2004 Season

2003-04 Letter

The French have a word . . . décolletage.

I think I was in college when I first heard it spoken. But I encountered its power ten years before that, in a darkened theater somewhere in the outback of America’s cultural landscape that was Texas in the 1960’s. It had been July hot that day, but cool in the theater. I was thirteen years old.

I wouldn’t be there but for the fact that my big sister Debbie and a friend
wanted to go to the movies. Utilizing a well known parenting technique of the mid 20th Century, our Mom said “You can go, but you’ll have to take your little brother with you.” Somehow in my mother’s mind, my presence added to the relative safety of the two adolescent girls.

It was an old-style movie theater. I’m not sure but that the ushers wore
uniforms with real brass buttons. There I sat, slumped into a velvet chair watching Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Suddenly in the midst of all that strange language, she appeared . . . Shakespeare’s Juliet as imagined by Zefferelli . . . as embodied by Olivia Hussey: jet black hair, luscious red lips, almond eyes, all bound up in a red velvet gown that ever so tastefully highlighted what, for quite some time became my holy of holies.


My obsession grew. My very first “LP” album was the soundtrack to Zefferelli’s masterpiece. Later, I discovered my older brother had also bought the album. I’d sneak into his room and stack the two records on the “hi-fi” so I could listen to the whole thing with a minimum of mechanical disruption.

As I lay there nestled between the speakers, the words themselves carried me places I could scarce begin to understand. They bespoke a capacity for life, love, compassion, and cruelty that hitherto had been hidden in my innocence. It was poetry pure and simple, it was life itself . . . but only the parts that really mattered.

What I stumbled on to that summer afternoon so long ago is what I still seek with every performance I bring to the stage of the Shakespeare Tavern. It’s what makes Shakespeare’s words a veritable blueprint for what it means to be human. It’s the absolute unity of language, emotion, and physical being that never ceases to draw me closer to the truth of who I am. For many of us here at the Shakespeare Tavern, it has become our life’s work.

The Shakespeare Tavern is an Original Practice Playhouse® . . . a place
where each and every production is an active exploration of Shakespeare’s own stagecraft and Elizabethan acting technique. It’s an actors’ theater where the goal each and every night is the communion of actor, audience, and playwright through poetry. It’s a place where, after an authentic English pasty and a fine Irish ale, you can experience Shakespeare’s poetry pure and simple.

But that's not all. We’ve discovered that what Shakespeare teaches us about his own way of making theater, we can easily apply to the works of other great writers.

Shakespeare or Sondheim: Great theater is life itself . . . but only the
parts that really matter.

Be there.


Very Truly Yours,

Jeff Watkins
Artistic Director, ASC

Letters from Jeff