The process is a little different with students, he said, who more readily defer to their teachers. But in playing Falstaff with a young cast, he wants them to react in character, treating him purely as another member of the company, one transformed into the fun-loving reprobate Falstaff, Mr. Bad Example in the flesh.
In his years as a teacher, Luddy said he has seen the quality of the students in the department improve. On the other hand, they face more difficulties.
“Funds have dried up,” he said. He doesn’t expect his charges to get jobs on Broadway or in Hollywood. Rather, many will find employment in other fields, though they will have benefited from their exposure to the arts.
“Many of our students will do local theater,” he said. And learning to communicate clearly is a plus in almost every profession.
Shakespeare offers a particular lesson in being clear, pronouncing the words and honoring both the drama and the poetry. Luddy’s Falstaff avoids a British accent but bows to the knight’s origins with what he calls a “Mid-Atlantic” voice.
“An accent is a barrier to the audience,” he said.
Of course, Shakespeare’s text often includes words that have fallen out of favor or taken on new meanings, which can confuse the audience. But Luddy maintains, “It’s your job to make clear what the unfamiliar word means.”
The script in use for the Salem State performance combines “Henry IV” parts I and II and was previously used on Broadway.
Playing Falstaff can be physically tiring, Luddy said. But it’s also an opportunity, as Falstaff, to give vent to all the weaknesses the character so happily embraces — “all the fun things.” And so, “You try to become the character. You immerse yourself in the character.”