An afternoon with Shakespearean actor, John Callen

“Knock knock”, “Who’s there?”.  We’re all familiar with the format of the “Knock knock” joke, but not many of us would be aware that Shakespeare may have introduced the earliest version of the formula in his famous play ‘Macbeth’…

Ficino School’s Year 7 & 8 students have recently finished performances of their latest Shakespeare play ‘The Tempest’ to sell-out crowds.  They were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with New Zealand actor John Callen prior to opening night.

John’s career spans over 50 years on both stage and screen.  From writing, directing and starring in his own play at 14, to appearing on the big screen as the dwarf Oin in Peter Jackson’s epic film ‘The Hobbit’, John’s experience is interesting and varied.

He has starred in numerous Shakespeare plays including ‘Hamlet’ and ‘A Midsummers Night Dream’.  His leading role in ‘Macbeth’ remains the highlight of his expansive career.  His most recent Shakespeare performance was in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Pop-up-Globe in Auckland.  Shakespeare is obviously a great passion of John’s, and he talked about how the rich Shakespearean language has a rhythm of its own.

John was very generous in giving acting advice to our students and sharing his experiences with them.  He talked about the need for passion, commitment and hard work to be a successful actor.  Students learnt that the role of an actor is to explain things – acting is all about perception and how an audience comprehends your portrayal of a character.  He stressed the importance of performing for the audience, not for yourself.

After fielding numerous questions from the students, he turned the tables and quizzed them on what they thought ‘Macbeth’ was about.  Our students suggested it was about ambition, being grateful for what we have, and not being greedy.

Students also got to practise breathing and standing exercises to help them better project to their audience.

Ficino School runs a unique and enriched curriculum with its Shakespeare productions, and sees many positive effects for all its students as they move through their schooling.  That they got to hear from someone who made a career in acting was an extremely worthwhile opportunity for them.