The annual Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI) celebration will take place this year on May 4th, an event that will commemorate all of the work it has accomplished this year and the opening of the new “living amphitheater” garden at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. On this night, the amphitheater will host a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, put on by UCLA’s very own Theater, Film, and Television (TFT) department. The show will consist of fairies, interesting musical aspects, and lots of love as the actors bring the play to life.
I sat down with fourth year TFT student Will Block, who will be playing Oberon, the king of the fairies, at the celebration. As an English major myself, I can sit and talk about Shakespeare for hours on end, a trait that I noticed in Will as well, as passion and enthusiasm about literature, performances, and just life in general flowed throughout our conversation.
Some things to know about Will are that his favorite musical is Fiddler on the Roof and his favorite play of all time is Cyrano de Bergerac (I highly recommend clicking on the link and reading the synopsis, I had no idea what this play was about before meeting Will, but from word of mouth and my own readings I can see why he would want to watch as many performances of it as possible!) He credits the play with helping shape who he is. Instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons, his mom would put on short, animated versions of Shakespeare’s plays, and because of this early exposure, Will is well-versed in the English playwright’s tragedies and comedies. On top of all of that, he likes to sew, has an adoration towards cats, and shares a guilty pleasure of SpongeBob with his mom.
Will has performed in three versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the past seven years, and has had the opportunity to play a different character each time. I wanted to know what his favorite part of working on this show was, to which he responded “exploring a role that [he] originally didn’t think [he] fit, and being able to make [his] own stamp on the performance.” He also noted that it will be exciting to perform the show on a greater scale than they originally expected (thanks to the new amphitheater!), and that he was able to work closely with some of his best friends.
He described the upcoming performance as “eclectic” and spoke it in such a positive tone. He seemed completely happy that the play was going to reflect a “hodgepodge of references.” The play itself is about three different stories combining with each other, reflecting themes of companionship, love, and crossing barriers.
Directing has become the main focus for Will, as of now, but he wants to continue to gain expertise, and make Shakespeare accessible to all. One of the subjects we talked about was how Shakespeare can be daunting for some to try and read or understand, because it has been given a sort of elite status in literature, but Will hopes to share the universality of Shakespeare with as many people as possible. Will described Shakespeare’s literature as complex, that it “stretches the boundaries as much as possible,” and it’s important for us to experience the tightrope that he walked, because he risked a lot to create it. He believes that “what matters is that people relate to the stories [of Shakespeare]” and he hopes to assist people in doing just that.
Since HCI is collaborating with the TFT department, I asked Will what living well meant to him, to which he replied short and sweet, “doing what you want.” He claimed that early on in his career at UCLA he cared too much about what professors and peers said and thought, focusing on, “matching other people’s expectations instead of [his] own.” He encourages people to do what makes them happy and be less career focussed, because “life is just too damn short to be listening to what other people tell you,” and I couldn’t have said it better myself. He also suggested that people never make any decisions based on fear, and wittily tacked on the Nancy Reagan quote, “Just say no,” to round out his advice on living well. Some words of advice he shared pertaining to difficult choices were, “I’ve learned that what scares me the most was the most worth my time.” A philosophy many of us can probably apply to our own lives when it comes to taking risks, because the ten seconds of courage are well worth the payoff.
Continuing with the HCI themed questions, I wanted to know how UCLA has helped him lead a healthy life or develop healthy habits, to which he humorously replied, “stairs have made my butt look great,” a statement which, I’m sure, runs through many students heads as they carry themselves up the several sets of steps on campus. On a more serious, and sentimental, note, Will said that UCLA has allowed him to make a lot of important friendships through his involvement in TFT and the Shakespeare Theater Company, and his work as a tour guide on campus. He also shared a few stories about some of the “ridiculous things” that lead to such a close bond, so maybe find him after the show and ask him about them yourself if you’re in need of a few good laughs.
The performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is going to be incredible, so save the date for May fourth in your calendars, and come celebrate the living amphitheater with us, as well as all of the work done by HCI in this past year, and the work of the Theater, Film, and Television department. Come watch Will tackle the role of Oberon, along with the rest of the cast as they bring a play that is 422 years old to life once again, here at UCLA . Tickets are free at UCLA’s Central Ticket Office or for $25 online (all proceeds benefit HCI’s Living Amphitheatre). Check out our Facebook event as well! Hope to see you all there!
Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.