Not many people can show a letter they have received from famed British actor Dame Judi Dench. And fewer still can say that she wants to read Shakespeare with them.
Ryan Nelson, McLeansboro, can make both these claims.
Nelson is the leader of the Shakespeare Reading Group, a group whose purpose is to learn about "the bard of Avon" by reading his plays in groups where each reader takes on multiple roles. Nelson's group most often reads at local libraries.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 9 the Shakespeare Reading Group will convene at Eldorado library to read MacBeth from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The public is invited and for the shy, spectators are welcome as well.
"We try to make Shakespeare more accessible," said Nelson. "No degree, no acting experience is needed. You must want to have fun."
Felicia Murray, assistant director of the library, helps in any way she can.
"This group develops a stronger appreciation for the history surrounding Shakespeare,” she said.
Nelson has led 80 readings since 2010 at various libraries in Southern Illinois, including a regular group at Harrisburg District Library.
"The advantage of reading aloud is that you can learn something from the other readers even though some have never read a word of Shakespeare their entire lives," he said.
Revisionists are claiming that Shakespeare may not have written the famous plays and sonnets.
"My comment about authorship is that whoever wrote Shakespeare did a very good job," Nelson said.
Props are minimal and often improvised. Mr. Potato Head is used in a variety of ways most notably the graveyard scene in Hamlet when Hamlet lifts a skull from the grave and says, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio.”
Nelson uses Mr. Potato Head for the Yorick skull. Nelson also has a plastic skull in case Mr. Potato Head is playing another part.
"My readers get mad at me if I don't find a part for Mr. Potato Head,” he said.
Back to the letter from Dame Judi Dench.
She wrote, "I am longing now to do a Shakespeare play with Mr. Potato Head and his friend."
"I have never been outside the surrounding states, but my mail is international," Nelson said.
Nelson says once readers get through the language of Shakespeare, people connect with his themes and characters.
"Shakespeare has endured for 400 years because his characters resonate. His plots are universal. The characters capture the essence of human nature. Once you break through the language, the plays are as exciting and relevant as anything on the screen today,” he said.
Nelson tries to read a play in full at each session. But some are too long for that.
Page 2 of 2 - Nelson said that Hamlet is 4,000 lines whereas Macbeth has 2,000 lines. "Sometimes we have to make cuts," he said.
Nelson has a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in journalism and English and a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in English literature.
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