Wednesday, March 13, 2013

He That Shall Live This Day

Tonight was a show-stopper.

Background: I am applying to eight graduate schools for International Relations. Prior to today I had already been accepted to George Washington University and American University's masters programs. The other six all said they would email their decisions sometime in March.

I am also a Resident Artist at The Shakespeare Forum. This means I go to a Tuesday night donation-based workshop of about 60-80 people to help facilitate monologues and feedback for actors.

Forum has a little thing we call a "Bard-Off," where someone can challenge someone else to do a speech they are too scared to do, don't like, or for whatever reason, wouldn't normally do. If the person accepts, they get to assign the challenger a corresponding speech. I challenged my friend, Meryl, to one a long time ago, making her do a Cleopatra piece she always wanted to do, but dreaded. In turn, I took on Henry V's Crispin Day speech.

So. Today. Today was the day we finally agreed on performing. I'd been running the lines on my own and with my girlfriend for days beforehand. I was feeling good about it as I got on the subway tonight.

To distract myself, I opened my email, just as we no longer had cell service. At the top of my inbox was a message from Johns Hopkins SAIS, one of the top international relations schools in the world. I opened it. It said my admissions decision was ready and viewable online.

I couldn't of course get online from the New York subway. That was a long train ride.

By the end of it, I had decided I wasn't going to check until after forum. So I turned off my phone. I was physically shaking for a good hour, watching everyone perform. I don't know if it was knowing about the hovering admissions decision or about my getting up in front of a packed house to give arguably the biggest pre-battle speech in the English language.

There was the break. Some announcements. Then the third to last monologue, the second to last, and then the last one. Then came time for the Bard-Off. The crowd started chanting "Bard-OFF! Bard-OFF! Bard-OFF!"

Meryl pulled out a gold circlet, took off her jacket, strode onstage, and knocked that piece out. She was great. Applause and cheers, assorted looks from the audience in my direction clearly saying "good luck topping that" and Meryl walked off. I shook her hand, and stepped forward as the chants began again.

I stood for a moment in front, and then silenced the chant with a wave-to-fist of a choir director. Laughter. Then came the lines.

This speech is given by King Henry to his battered, exhausted men as they are surrounded by thousands upon thousands of French troops, fresh and in full armor, knowing soon they are going to be attacked.
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
I paused. People started cheering. I quieted them again and started fresh:
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry goes on to lead those battered, outnumbered troops to victory. It's a great speech, and it got a big reaction. That felt good.

Twenty minutes later, I was at the bar with everyone. I made sure I had a whiskey in my hand. While I was playing Henry, the University of Washington had also sent me an email decision. I got out my phone, logged in to the sites and read the messages.

I'd been admitted to both programs.

It's been a great night.

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