Human beings love stories.
It was our first method of passing on our history from one generation to the next, it is why we create art, and it is why the performing arts in particular have withstood good economic times and bad throughout the centuries. Human beings not only love stories, we love becoming part of the story through connecting with the storytellers in a personal way. Such connections enable us to empathize with the experiences of others and help us place ourselves on the continuum of the human condition. Through witnessing others’ stories, we better understand our own.
Modern theatres often cut us off from our actor-storytellers due to contemporary performance conventions like psychological, internalized acting, lighting design that darkens the audience, seating arrangements, or sometimes the scenery itself. Shakespeare’s theatre, however, did not have any of those luxuries: The Globe and the Blackfriars were thrust stages surrounded on three sides with people, lit universally either by sunlight or candlelight, and had little or no large pieces of scenery behind which an actor could hide. Instead of chafing under what some today might consider “limitations,” Shakespeare repeatedly used those circumstances to his advantage through moments of direct address between character/actor and audience.
When an actor makes eye contact with someone in the audience, and speaks to them in a room where all the lights are on (rather than a darkened audience), the result is a heightened personal connection between actors and audience, and members of the audience with each other; suddenly, everyone in the room is part of the story on stage! We become part of Henry V’s army, Iago’s confidants, or Portia’s failed suitors.
We have a place in the story, and therefore more investment in its outcome.
More empathy for the characters.
In ASC’s Direct Address workshop, and in the modified lesson plan you can get by subscribing to our Education newsletter, we lay out the different types of “asides” or moments of direct address Shakespeare uses throughout his works.