A year ago, we announced on this website our desire to bring two remarkable young Mostarian actors from Bosnia and Herzegovina to attend the world-famous acting school at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. We appealed to the public for donors to assist with financing this venture. The public generously responded. In the event, only one actor was able to attend, Ilija Pujic, who had played Ferdinand, the romantic lead in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Orlando, the romantic lead in As You Like It with Youth Bridge Global in 2011 and 2012. He writes below of his experience in Summer 2013 of attending this remarkable program.

Ilija Pujic: What I learned at Shakespeare and Company

Let me start by saying Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires is a paradise and every actor’s dream of a place to study and learn. Whether you have great admiration for Shakespeare and you absolutely love some of his works or you are new to his plays and want to learn more about what this genius wrote, this is the place you definitely need to visit. Every young actor at some point of his or her career should visit the Berkshires and go through one of the programs at Shakespeare & Company. I was lucky enough to visit this famous theater company through the generosity of donors to Youth Bridge Global.

Shakespeare & Company aims to improve your skill in acting and enhance your understanding of Shakespeare’s language. It does that perfectly indeed but, far more important, is that this company improves you as an actor on stage and as a person in your life! First, let’s start with the entire faculty who have built their knowledge of Shakespeare through the years and reached an enviable all-knowing level. They are there to bring Shakespeare closer to you, closer to your everyday life and to show you all the three-dimensional characters who are in his plays. They don’t teach Shakespeare as something remote from you and hard to understand. They make you feel comfortable with his words, and they introduce you to the plot as if it is happening right now in the world you perceive. The characters you are surrounded with in the text become alive, so full of bursting emotions of love and joy, pain and suffering, violence and compassion that it’s hard not to react to their emotions. These characters are no longer a muddle of words written in a book; they speak to you through Shakespeare’s words and make you interact with them as if these characters are real humans. I dare say that after a while you know them better than the friends you went to high school with! The acting professors often stunned me with their insights and advice. It was an absolute pleasure to enjoy such intelligent and enlightening conversations. Listening to them can be described as opening the curtain to the play and allowing you to see what the characters do when they are not on the stage. The professors are there with you, and just for you, lending you a hand of support and kindness, willing to teach you anything you want to know and to be your friends. There is an enormous amount of love put into their work with you and into their own work. You can feel it with every word they say.

The program is created to teach you how to be an actor and how to act and react rather than pretend. It demands that you bring your own emotions into your work; it was absolutely amazing how much I learned about myself through this training. This is a life journey in which you explore your own emotions, push your boundaries and do things you didn’t ever think you’d be able to do. For the first time I connected with myself and got to know who I am and what I am worth. Being a war child in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I had difficulties expressing my emotions, because the world I grew up in taught me to hide things rather than express them to my surroundings. It’s a restriction to a full life if you have to suppress your emotions. Being taught to keep my emotions to myself was the way of life for me. It was more than just not showing them to others. Masking emotions was a skill that I carefully crafted to protect me from my surroundings. At Shakespeare & Company I learned how to show my emotions, and I learned not to be afraid of them or to restrain them. It was liberating. For the first time I was breathing and feeling life and I could sense deeply what I had been missing. I felt all this love around me and all this love that I’m capable of giving. Expressing my emotions did make me more vulnerable, but it also enriched those very emotions. I expanded my emotional depth and by that I improved myself as an actor and a person.

Friendships made here are something special. All the student actors work closely and you have time to know each other like you never knew anyone before. You see each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities and you help each other. This is an environment in which your problems don’t fall just on your back but also on the backs of people who are willing to support you. Participants relish the program and they work hard to bring out the best in themselves and others. In that way participants all create a wonderful working environment that is not competitive but which pushes each one to do their best. Everyone appreciates each other’s progress and that’s what makes this program special. The support of friends creates strong bonds between actors that will endure. I could not be happier with the very special friends that I made there.

This summer I gained a deep insight into the meaning of theatre. It’s not about showing off some nonsense acting. Theatre is a truth teller, a keeper of emotions, a wise spokesman. Theatre shows our emotions through the lives of so many wonderful characters in whom we can recognise ourselves. In so doing, it sends a message for everyone to hear. We live in world where it is scary to show what you feel. It is a scary to open yourself to others. We sweep our emotions under the rug and act in this way day by day, numbing ourselves to true feeling. Seeing some incredible plays at Shakespeare and Company made me think about these emotions and why I haven’t seen them before. I experienced an epiphany when I let myself feel everything there is to feel inside me and around me. I didn’t regret my expressiveness for a second. Opening myself made me realize who I am and what am I missing by not feeling all these emotions. There is a huge amount of love around us, but somehow we hide ourselves from feeling it. I want to work and share this love and all other emotions through theatre. I want to do theatre back home in Bosnia and Herzegovina because there are lots of stories to be told, lots of emotions to be shown, lots of messages to be sent, and lots of people to be touched. If I’m fortunate enough I want to teach this sort of theatre to the world. I realise I need to learn more, but I’m willing to do that and I’m willing to continue improving myself. It would be my heart’s desire to bring this theatre to the children in post war countries and to everyone out there who somehow has suppressed their emotions. Theatre should bring hope to our lives and teach us how to live them more fully.