Shakespeare, the king of one-liners and one-name recognition, continues to carry a following in La Jolla. The first Sunday of every month, “Tea with the Bard” welcomes William’s fans to the La Jolla Library at 2 p.m. for scenes and scones.
The March 4 session, featuring provisions from Brick & Bell café, opened with Act 4, Scene 1 of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
San Diego Shakespeare Academy director Cherie Peacock sets the stage — if you can forgive the expression — for what’s happening in the tale. By this point, the main characters in Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play, do not know where Bottom is, and a spellbound romance is blossoming.
At the event onset, roles were assigned to the dozen or so participants, and the script is brought to life with an around-the-table group reading. The true Shakespeareans chuckle even before humorous parts, knowing in advance the jokes to come and the wit within them. Each puts his or her own spin on the lines, including dramatic groans if a character dies.
At the conclusion of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” — and a quick stretch to break up the two-hour session — the thespians start right back up again with the comedic classic “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“It’s all about embodying the language,” Peacock explained. “It’s a different experience to hear your own voice or other people voice the part when you do it out loud. So far, this gathering has been popular, and we have a lot of regulars. People like that there’s coffee and scones; it has made it more pleasant and more casual. I also believe in feeding people, just offering them a little something. We take a little time, people prepare a plate and make their tea. It’s lovely. I don’t want this to be a lecture, but a group experience.”
Intended to be approachable to various levels of expertise, Peacock started organizing Shakespeare <FZ,1,0,18>readings with costumes for a friend’s children. But it wasn’t long before the readings started gaining popularity with both children and adults. “It’s been very organic. I would not have thought you could make a living teaching Shakespeare, but I do. There’s a hunger for it. The kids are particularly adept because they still have the ability to acquire language. They’re also not intimidated because they’re used to not knowing some words; they figure meanings out by context or by asking,” she said.
Similarly, the La Jolla group is welcoming enough that people feel safe posing questions. “If one person is willing to say they didn’t understand something, others say they didn’t either,” she said. “Some people are intimated by the content and those are not the people who show up for the first time by themselves — they’re usually brought by a friend or a spouse. No one is forced to participate. If someone wants to hang back and just listen, that’s OK, too.”
Benson (who simply goes by Benson) drives from Clairemont, and started attending a year ago as an admitted Shakespeare novice. Having seen Shakespeare productions at the Old Globe Theatre and seen film adaptations, Benson wanted more.
“I go because I didn’t get Shakespeare even though I went to college. I felt jilted. We get to talk and ask questions. It’s almost like a classroom but more fun. I’m learning a lot about Shakespeare’s intent when he wrote whatever we are studying,” she said. “I think it’s for those that are not experts, but some participants are very knowledgeable and participated in their own productions. It’s a nice mix of people. There are always questions about what he meant and we have discussions on that. It’s a way to learn.”
She concluded, “People think it’s weird but I feel joy here and am happy doing this.”
Branch manager Shaun Briley said the formula — and the venue — are just right. “I think drama goes well with libraries, especially here in La Jolla where we have a community that appreciates the theater,” he said. “Shakespeare isn’t just theatre, of course, it is literature, poetry, and there couldn’t be a more appropriate venue to bring it to life for an audience. The great thing about Cherie is that she explains the text to the group as they go through the reading, which makes it accessible and rewarding for everyone. Her passion for the drama is infections for those taking part.”
Peacock said she began organizing Shakespeare-reading events five years ago, after losing her previous job. With a background in literary studies to the point that she almost got a doctorate in the works of Shakespeare, she returned to an early love.
“Shakespeare wrote very profoundly about the human condition,” she said. “He really understood what it was to be human. That doesn’t really change over time. He understood human psychology in a way that was very endearing. He gives these characters such beautiful speeches, and that is something quite wonderful.”
IF YOU GO: The next Tea with the Bard event is 2 p.m. Sunday, April 1 at La Jolla Library, 7555 Draper Ave. Free admission. lajollalibrary.org