Actors Say Mastering Bard's Language Is Key to Success

THE performers in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare Marathon are as enthusiastic as their producer about bringing Shakespeare alive for modern audiences. What's the secret to meeting this challenge? ``I think it just goes back to making simple, clear sense of the language,'' says Stephen Collins, who played Orsino in the marathon's recent ``Twelfth Night'' production.

``Modern audiences come to Shakespeare with a lot of fears,'' he continues, ``and the biggest fear is that they won't know what's going on.

``[Shakespeare] is really a brilliant playwright, and he's very funny. There's a lot of low comedy. ... And I think the secret is: ... Make sure you understand every word, the simplest bottom-line meaning - what is this character actually trying to say to that character?

``The language may be very flowery and difficult, but what, in fact, he's saying may be: `I'm hungry!'''

John Amos, who played Sir Toby Belch in the production, says good directing is essential to a show's impact. In directing ``Twelfth Night,'' he adds, Harold Guskin ``insisted that we have fun. ... He took, not a cavalier attitude toward Shakespeare, but said to treat it as you would any other play.''

Gregory Hines, who played Feste, says the Delacorte Theater's special ambience helps spectators - and actors - enjoy Shakespeare plays.

``There's a very different feeling to working for people in this venue,'' Mr. Hines says, ``than in a Broadway venue, where people pay $50 a ticket....

``The first time I come onstage [at the Delacorte], it's 8 at night,'' he explains. ``But it's still light, and I can see the whole audience ... as opposed to coming on a Broadway stage, where it's like a big black hole....

``And most of the people [at the Delacorte] are smiling. It seems like people are very happy to be there. ... There's a lot of energy coming toward the stage that makes me feel people are happy, and want to have a great time!''

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