Texas Shakespeare Festival: Vocal director Burke gives meaning to Shakespeare

Published on Thursday, 3 July 2014 23:41 - Written by Chelsea Katz MCT News Direct

The play might be the thing for William Shakespeare and Hamlet, but it’s the words that make up those plays and actors who must bring meaning to those words.

This is where Texas Shakespeare Festival’s vocal director, Jennifer Burke, provides guidance.

Burke’s role includes helping actors understand the meaning behind texts.

Burke said the meaning of Shakespeare’s words can be lost if actors do not understand or believe what they are saying. Sometimes finding meaning of a specific line can be difficult because texts have been interpreted in multiple ways.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of where the editor has put a comma versus a semicolon versus a period, so there’s a little sleuthing that often has to go on,” she said.

Specific words have lost, gained or changed meanings since they were written in the 16th and 17th centuries.

“That’s very important that we all know what was the intention in the Renaissance context, so that the actor can be clear and specific with it,” she said.

One of the contributors to deciding on meaning is the actor. The actor must decide what makes sense and can be conveyed to the audience.

“The more clear it is for the actor, then the more clear it’s going to be for the audience,” she said.

She has two Shakespearean shows to coach, “Cymbeline” and “Macbeth” as well as “My Fair Lady” and “Noises Off.” Each show brings challenges, she said.

“My Fair Lady” and “Noises Off” require coaching for a range of English accents, including upper-class British and cockney.

Burke said she works on actors’ vocal qualities, including their intelligibility, pitch, tone, articulation and projection.

Even though this is Burke’s sixth season with TSF, this year is a little different because she is putting her acting talents to use. She appears as Mrs. Higgins in “My Fair Lady.”

Chelsea Katz is a reporter for the Kilgore News Herald.