We just got back from the Open University Shakespeare Society's day school in Stratford- where we work-shopped scenes from King Lear and a Midsummer Night's Dream. Acting Shakespeare- even if you're doing it really, really badly- is a magical experience. And I'm using "magical" in its technical sense. The way I felt after playing Puck- after a single scene in which I spoke half a line and otherwise kicked my heels and pulled faces- was how I used to feel after doing a Wiccan ritual. Shakespeare takes you into another world- where you are transfigured and bound in close fellowship with the other actors- and it's a harsh experience coming back.
We did the tourist thing. We walked along the river, visited Holy Trinity- which is a lovely church and well worth visiting quite apart from its Shakespearian connections- and had a very good dinner at The Vinter- allegedly the oldest restaurant in town and the place where Shakespeare used to buy his wine. Stratford is this curious combination of quaint old country town and cosmopolitan centre. I was prepared for it to be tacky, but it's not. You can't cheapen Shakespeare; he's bigger than you are- and this town belongs to him.
I have never actual ACTED Shakespeare, but I have experienced it as I believe it was meant to BE experienced. I had a group of friends several years back that were all actors at the local Renne Faire. I hung out at director's house sometimes while they rehearsed. I laughed and joked with them. Shared food and drink. Then, at Faire, I went to see them perform, day after day. There was something magickal about that, too. I got to know Midsummers Night Dream like I NEVER would have gotten to know it otherwise. It was a personal experience for me, much loved and much cherished.
I acted in Shakespeare at school. My starriest role was as Antigonus- the guy who "exit(s) pursued by a bear" in A Winter's Tale. That was a wonderful experience. It wasn't a great production- but we had a director who was marking time as a schoolmaster before moving into the professional theatre and we all put our hearts into it.
A Winter's Tale remains my favourite play in the canon.