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· William Shatner, boldly going right through the scenery.

By JOHN SEMLEY [Walrus] – Born 03/22/1931 (stardate unstipulated), William Shatner grew up in Montreal’s mostly Anglophone Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. His childhood nickname: “Toughie.” The image of him as grade school roustabout, bobbing around NDG’s tree-lined boulevards with a chip on his prepubescent shoulder: impossible to resist. His father, Joseph, a Jewish immigrant who came to Canada from Eastern Europe at age fourteen, worked in the schmatte business, tailoring cheap suits for working-class Montrealers. His mother, Anne, was an elocution teacher who enrolled Toughie in the Dorothy Davis School for Actors, a conservatory for would-be thespians run out of a local basement, when he was just seven or eight. From there, it was Baron Byng and West Hill for high school, McGill for a degree in commerce, radio plays, local theatre, and then Stratford.

Much of the persona Shatner would develop — onstage, off, and in between — is indebted to his training as a Shakespearean actor. (The Shakespearean and the Shatnerian are closely, maybe inextricably, linked.) At Stratford, he worked under classically trained actors such as Anthony Quayle and James Mason, and alongside Christopher Plummer, now considered the grand heir to their Shakespearean legacy. (Plummer and Shatner would square off as nemeses in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a mostly dismal effort that featured Plummer’s Klingon General Chang deploying Shakespeare quotes with minimal provocation.)

Acting for the stage, much more so than for television or film, requires sturdy vocal projection — the ability to hurl out lengthy, lofty, and loud soliloquies that begin in the diaphragm and resonate in the theatre’s nosebleeds. Such grandiosity lends itself to overacting. Combine this with a tendency to… Read. Almost. Every line. Just a few. Words. At a time (perhaps a function of growing up under a mother who hammered home the principles of articulation, emphasis, and inflection) and the essence of the Shatnerian begins to take root.

But just as “Kafkaesque” doesn’t just describe the condition of having too much paperwork to do, “Shatnerian” isn’t merely shorthand for hammy acting demarcated by a certain truncated enunciation. More than that, to be Shatnerian is to be dynamically, effervescently alive in a role. Not to get lost in it, in the style of master thespians and method actors, but to attack it with an urgent swagger — to chew through so much scenery you spend the downtime between takes picking chunks of it out of your teeth.

Continued at The Walrus | More Chronicle & Notices.

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