Peter Gould is a true renaissance man, earning accolades as a writer, director, performer, award-winning teacher and political activist.
In 1998 Peter founded Get Thee to the Funnery, a series of youth camps that present Shakespeare in a free-wheeling physical style yet remain utterly faithful to Shakespeare’s original, glorious language. Peter refers to his Funnery sessions as “life camp” because, he says, “theater education is the antidote to—well, it’s the antidote to everything!” In 2016 he was honored as the Vermont Arts Council Educator of the Year. He currently teaches in the Peace & Justice & Coexistence Department at Brandeis University.
Gould wrote the legendary back-to-the-land novel Burnt Toast—the first fictional treatment of the 1970s commune movement in New England. Peter’s young adult novel, Write Naked won the 2009 Green Earth Book Award. His most recent book is Horse-Drawn Yogurt.
This week we talked to Peter about the current climate of uncertainty among artists and arts organizations and how artists might overcome challenges to the creative process in the face of the pandemic.
HCA: Summer is just around the corner and with it a new season of Get Thee to the Funnery! Can you give us a sneak peek of what to look forward to in August?
PG: Summer IS just around the corner, but there are many, many other corners to look around before we get to July. Never in my lifetime has a springtime loomed so mysterious and so unable to be deciphered. So, the Get Thee to the Funnery staff and I are matching this mystery by taking a GIANT LEAP into the unknown, after 22 years! We’re meeting every Friday already; we’re all in on the question “How do you hold a Shakespeare camp when you can’t really hold a camp?” In a strange way, it’s been fun to talk about it. Do we do a radio drama? Do we invite a hundred people to Shakespeare in the Zoom Dimension? Do we do wild, zany video mash-ups of famous speeches for the whole world to see? We don’t know. What we are PLANNING to do is to use The Merchant of Venice to teach our campers and our audience about hate speech, intolerance, scapegoating… And we hope that by October the lovely stage at Highland Center for the Arts is open again and ready to host a big community event to showcase what we’ve learned.
HCA: It is rumored that Shakespeare was very prolific during periods of quarantine. Do you have any suggestions for how to start an art practice (or keep one going) for those of us at home thinking of using this time to get creative?
PG: I know that for some people it’s impossible to find the silver lining, the blessing in disguise, in all of this. There’s food insecurity, loss of meaningful and rewarding work, so much grieving, the absence of touching, the grandparents separated from grandchildren; there’s waking in the middle of the night with deep anxiety, and fears for our country, our democracy…
We have so much to be worried about, and those worries can mesh with physical fears, too: what is this dizziness? What does this cough mean? When will there be immunity, anti-virals, a vaccine? What will our little state look like a year from now? Still, if you can find some time, and some enthusiasm for self-expression in art, there are songs to be written and sung, letters to send, metaphors and poems to be snatched out of the air, the second half of the novel you started seven years ago… You can set up a mirror on your dining room table and draw a self-portrait. Or, if you are not in a creative mood, but want to clear the air around you, you can organize: you can dust your bookshelves and box up for giveaway the books you really don’t need anymore. You can find that old Irish sweater that’s so moth-eaten, you can’t wear it, and no thrift store wants it. So get your shovel and give it a decent burial in the side yard. You can clean, clean, clean, and then sit and meditate and breathe so calm and deep that you know, you really know, that you’re organizing your best defenses against the demons that are looking for chinks in your armor. But, do think of all the great works of painting, film, music, writing, that came out of unspeakable adversity. Maybe this is your chance; find a place in that never-ending historical creative queue, and step yourself in. Maintaining a healthy social distance, of course…
HCA: Many of us are finding more time for reading. What Shakespearian play do you recommend we add to our reading list?
PG: We have built the success of Get Thee to the Funnery over 22 years by continuing to cycle through our favorite eight or nine plays. Every year I think, “this is my favorite!” And then the next summer rolls around. The Tempest: Prospero’s incredible address to the fairies, gnomes, and undines who have helped him with his magic. Wow! And Twelfth Night: what great writing! Midsummer: how can you not fall kicking and rolling on the floor with the farcical play at the end of it? Romeo and Juliet: You want to leap on to the stage and stop Romeo: “You idiot! Don’t do it! Juliet is alive!” And Macbeth! The ghost at the banquet: a killer scene! And, if you want to read a slightly edited version, no blame in that (no words changed; not simplified!), you can find them at my website. But: You have to read these plays out loud. Go outside and speak to the trees if you must. Lift that voice. Get that punctuation. Fill up those lungs! Breathe in; breathe out! Land hard on the emphasized word. Open your mouth, stretch wide your projectional shelf, and aim that great soliloquy at the folks way up in the cheap seats. You’ll be so glad you did! See you at the Funnery this summer.