Into The Woods
By Kristin Light
One of the awe-inspiring things about Shakespeare is his ability to expand in both breadth and depth. Where he will spend an entire play discovering the intricacies of free will and the understanding of predetermined destiny, he will not allow each play to be about the same subjects. As an avid fan of the Bard, I believe there is a Shakespeare play for everyone. The play that has been reeling around in my mind out here at Zena has been As You Like It, the tale of Rosalind fleeing into the Arden forest after being banished from the court to find her father. In the forest she matures into a capable, adventurous, and influential person. One could argue that this wave of confidence was due to her having to dress up like a man in order to avoid being robbed or murdered, but I would say that there is another element at play. This element is the entering of the woods.
Other plays by Shakespeare support the mystery of the woods: Macbeth's witches meet in the woods, Puck plays his pranks upon the Athenian forest side, and even Hamlet gains his last push of confidence to kill his uncle in the forest. As You Like It, however, delves into the fantastical nature of the woods, where one can truly discover who she is, unbound by the social constraints of society, and live her life fully. One finds happiness in the woods, one finds peace, one finds danger, but one overcomes. The woods allow humans to understand the life they were called upon to live.
When you leave behind society, escapes into the forest, and breathes the air, you are acting purely for yourself. The solitude surrounds you. You are alone, but you are not. You have the guides of the trees, the shouts of animals, the cry of shrubbery. Everything in the forest speaks, but in a language humans do not regularly use. This language, when you really take the time to listen and reflect, can be the softest and most beautiful words spoken. It is the truth whispered by a pair of butterfly wings, the cry of an aspen, or the falling of a branch. When you take the time to ask the real questions, you receive real answers. When you take the time to know the woods, you learn more then you could understand.
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When I was young, I was quite imaginative. I was often found around the house making up stories and acting them out for no one and everyone. One might say that this was my early call for acting, me running around the house, playing with nothing but the beliefs of the stories in my own head. Toys, or props as the theatrically minded individual would say, were never needed. I had no need for scenery. As Jacques phrased in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage." I didn't even need lights or music. I needed nothing in the theatre of my young mind. Yet, there was one costume piece that stuck to me like Elmer's glue. Whenever I would go out into the woods, believability aided by the fact in was our back yard, I wore my purple riding cape: soft lilac purple lining with a thick wool olive and lilac plaid outer shell. A single clasp made of matching colored buttons. A small hood that never quite fit on my soft blonde hair as I wanted it to. I wore this cape so often that my parents called me Little Purple Riding Hood. This was perfect, as I needed a title that would permit me to enter the fairy world, slay a wolf or two, or even end world hunger at a UN Peace conference. (Do not doubt because of my age I was not for social justice.) With my purple riding hood, I was free to be myself and to play out any story I could think of.
Now that I am older, and can no longer fit into my purple riding hood, the cape now can barely sit on my head before falling to the ground. I no longer play as I used to, clouded as I am by the responsibility of schoolwork and other important but distracting tasks. Even in the theatre, we are sometimes restricted on the actuality of play. There is too much technicalities, and direction, and behind the scene work. Our classes rarely give us the time that we came to value as artists. We all long to play, we long to be those silly people we were when we were children. Acting gave us that affordability to pretend again, but it is with a price. In the real world, acting is not pretending to be a pirate or a bumblebee. Acting is art, acting is for serious people with serious intentions. When we "play" on stage, it is considered constructive brainstorming for an eventual emotion that you will have to replicate time and time again. If your director is encouraging and dynamic, they'll inspire you to discover how the words change from night to night, with each performance being a completely different show each time. This is the closest one gets to a satisfying compromise between the beloved play and the staunch art. More often then not, though, the director is result driven and wants an end result to be the same every time. Your art becomes a machine, and you become lifeless.
I do not want to be lifeless anymore, though. I want to play, but I cannot return to the play I had as a child. Older and more developed, I understand why acting is art, and play is not there. When one plays as a child, they see it as reality. When one plays as an adult, one is cognizant of the fact that they are playing. One can never escape this, and most people should not. However, play becomes the art of presenting the most authentic recreation of reality. We try to replicate the fantasies that were once the realities we believed in as children.
As an adult actor once child player, I know that I am more refined at believability then when I was running around my backyard in my purple riding cape. However, there was a part of me that was more refined when I was younger, and is now a rusty trait. This was my sense of wonderment, my sense of curiosity. As adults, our zest for discovery is taken away by the overwhelming reality of life. So much darkness awaits us, so much ugliness paints our vision of the world. We tune out, ignore, and engage in only the responsibilities at hand. I do not want to tune out, though. Either I'm too young to accept destiny, or I'm tired of listening to the complacency of my elders. Too many times have we been warned about the dangers of the woods, but do we really know what is so dangerous about them? The same myths or stories are told to scare us, but they are worn out and seem faked by how our parents had never tried to break the rules their parents had. They say the same warnings, but have no reason to say them. And from what my years of discovery and wonderment have shown, the woods are not as scary they seem. There are parts that are even beautiful and worth visiting. I do not want to give up yet on the woods. I am grabbing my purple riding cape, and I am going, discovering, and being.
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The sun leaks through the leaves, taking away any possible illusion that I am in complete shade. Every once in a while, a patch of sun blinds me. I am not fazed, though. I move on, excited to have a little extra warmth after a long and gray spring. The trees are breezy today, creating a sense of life, a sense of spirit. I am not alone, I think, but I am alone.
In my search for solitude, I cannot shake the feeling that there are others with me. I walk faster through the forest. Today, I want to be alone. Today, I want a quiet moment. Today, I want my thoughts to be at peace. This will not happen in the woods. I break off from the path, I take the fork and I sprint.
Just once, I’d like some inner peace. I want nothing and no one to surround me. This is not possible with the trees talking, their whispers made louder with the rustle of the wind. Animals chirping loudly, even my own body screaming for water. Nothing wants me to just be. I run even faster. If they can’t catch me, they cannot disturb me.
It’s too much today, everyone in the house, love them as I do, are a little too much today. My thoughts, wondering and louder then ever, I just want to escape them. I went into the woods with hopes to find some quiet. But the trees keep telling me to slow down, their voices getting louder and louder. No, my brain corrects them, if I slow down, it will get loud again. Their presence does not listen to me, but instead gets more agitated at my speed. They are yelling now. I cannot take it.
“FINE!” I yell as I stop at the top of the forest. I have done it. I am crazy. The trees are taking to me and actually telling me what to do. This is insanity. Just as I start going on about the ridiculousness of how upset I am, a hawk descends out of the trees, breaking my thoughts completely.
“Oh,” I was not meant to run and avoid the woods, I was meant to find solace. Here I was looking for some alone time, but what I found was that I was not alone. Yet, it was not a bad thing. The trees were asking me to slow down because I was too active in the mind to take the scenes in.
At times, when we hear words, we chose not to listen. Not because we cannot understand, but because we are to wrapped up in our own thoughts. That is why we need the woods, though. We need a reminder of something beyond ourselves. Something that will give us solace when we need it. The woods are full of mystery, as is life. We can cut down the trees and deny the beauty they once held, but we cannot ignore that pain we feel. Eventually, we will be overcome. Instead of denying ourselves, we need to give in. We need to accept the woods. We need to accept ourselves. Eventually, we need to breathe in and believe in the woods.
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