It isn’t often that the english teacher who helps you analyze Shakespeare’s soliloquies in class is also reciting them to an audience the same night.
Weston Collegiate’s IB english and philosophy teacher, Rob Glen plays Polonius, a chief counsellor to the Danish royalty of Elsinore, in Shakespeare’s well known tragedy Hamlet. While delivering philosophical spiels about tabula rasa at the chalkboard, he can undoubtedly deliver powerful soliloquies at center stage.
Bard in the Park is currently showing a condensed two-hour version of Hamlet, as the tragedy’s five acts typically runs for four hours. The company will be performing at the Kew Gardens with evening shows at 7 PM from Tuesday to Saturday (June 16 – 20), and matinée shows running during the weekends at 2 PM (June 20 – 21). All shows are pay what you can.
Yet, our Polonius had only joined the company quite recently. His acting career began after receiving numerous comments on his animated and comical behavior (which certainly sneaks itself into our philosophy lectures). When he wasn’t marking essays on Al Purdy’s poetic techniques, Glen enrolled himself in a few professional acting classes and began auditioning around various Toronto theatre companies.
Five years ago, he scored his first role, and one of his favourites, with Stage Centre Productions as Freddy in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
From then on, his thespian opportunities skyrocketed. Taking an immediate liking to his skill, Garth Allen, the artistic director at the time, offered Glen more roles despite him being novice. With Allen, he played Gerald in JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, and Father March in Little Women.
With a new artistic director, Michael Burgess (to which he adds, “not the singer, the other guy,”), Glen continued with Stage Centre Productions to play Bo Dekker in Bus Stop, an ageing detective-wannabee in The Game’s Afoot, and a German violinist with Nazi affiliations in Ronald Harwood’s Taking Sides. The same year, Taking Sides was remounted at Al Green Theatre in honor of Holocaust Awareness Week. In Stage Centre Production’s most recent show, Glen played Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Lace. His next role will be in Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies, a comedy involving cross-dressing and conning for money, coming March 2016.
Joining Bard in the Park just two years ago, the company invited Glen back to embody Polonius after playing Lodovico in their previous production of Othello. Preparation for Hamlet began in January, where the cast of ten rehearsed two days a week for two and a half hours.
“It’s interesting how different Shakespeare is. It’s all about finding the character in the language,” says Glen on his role as Polonius. “With other types of more modern art, you kind of develop ideas on your own and bring that into the language. But the more I have a feel of the words I’m saying, the more I start doing the things that perhaps my character is supposed to do… Hopefully I’ll get a few laughs.”
While playing the loving father of Ophelia and Laertes, there’s a weasel-esque essence to Polonius that, if exhibited appropriately, can provide a comic relief to the play’s dark overtones. To see their interpretation of Polonius and celebrate an end to exams, I attended one of the evening shows at Kew Gardens. Sprawled over the park’s lawn on burlap sacks, we watched as Mr. Glen read aloud Hamlet’s teenage-sap-ridden love letter and plotted his conniving plans. His portrayal of the fishmonger and worm-like Polonius did indeed invoke laughter.
“At first, I was excited about just seeing the play, but later I was excited that I got to see a different Mr. Glen,” says Heeho Ryu, a philosophy student. “Before we only knew him as the well-dressed, humorous teacher, but now I know that he can be Polonius.”
Another student, David de Vries, recalls, “It was really cool to see that he can put aside the philosophy and do a really great job at playing a Shakespeare character. It reminded me that all of our teachers are super talented individuals.”
One might assume that balancing teaching two separate subjects whilst acting in two separate companies is difficult. But Mr. Glen thinks otherwise: “It’s kind of like when you come back from a hard day at work, so you go out dancing. Then you discover you have this hidden reserve for special types of energy.
“Teaching is acting. There’s even an entrance – everyday you come through a door. And even though it’s very informal and a lot of the time you’re not the center of attention, there is something performance-y about it. I feel like [acting is] helping my teaching.”
Be sure to catch Rob Glen in Bard in the Park’s production of Hamlet this weekend, and Leading Ladies with Stage Centre Productions next March.
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