Postcards From The Pandemic: Theater Critic Faces Fear Of Shakespeare

"All the World's a Stage Fright" by Bob Abelman [Gray & Company Publishers]
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Longtime Cleveland actor and theater critic Bob Abelman hasn't reviewed or appeared in a play since March 2020.

Bob Abelman [William Reiter / Cleveland State University]

To keep himself busy, Abelman pulled out an old memoir manuscript and adapted it into a fictional tale embellishing his personal fear of performing Shakespeare.

It's called "All The World's A Stage Fright."

Filling the Void

I miss everything about theater.

As a former actor who still goes on stage once a year just to keep my hand in it, I miss the thrill of creation.

Bob Abelman in "Tuck Everlasting" at French Creek Theatre [Andy Dudik]

I love the thrill of live theatrical performance.

And as a critic member, like everybody else in the audience, I miss that vicarious experience of watching a great play.

There was a huge void in my life, like there was with any person involved in the theater arts, and I was thinking about a way to fill that void.

In Search of a Spark

I remembered that seven years ago I was in a theatrical production of "Yentl" at the Cleveland Play House. And while I was in that show, I was writing a memoir.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to talk about the experience of being an actor/critic in a professional production.

Bob Abelman (center) in "Yentl" at the Cleveland Play House [Roger Mastroianni]

And as it happened, I realized soon after that, that I wasn't all that interesting. So I got about three chapters in and then put the book away.

But, now I'm in the middle of a pandemic. I'm looking for a creative outlet.

Fear of the Bard

I miss theater terribly, and I thought, 'maybe I'll pick up that book and maybe what I'll do is I'll turn it from a memoir into a fictional memoir and place a character that's like me in a show that might be a little bit more interesting experience than "Yentl."'

You know, Shakespeare, iambic pentameter scares me a little bit and so does being on stage with classically [trained] professional actors.

For the fictional memoir, I thought it would be much more interesting to place my clandestine critic in "As You Like It" and not only have him intimidated by Shakespeare but actually afraid of performing Shakespeare.

A Theatrical Placeholder

I think my book is a placeholder. It gives that thrill of live theater at a time when we need it most.

It offers Shakespeare to soothe our souls until the real thing comes in. I think the timing for the book is perfect.

"Yentl" at the Cleveland Play House [Roger Mastroianni]

So, I think everybody is waiting with bated breath for live theater to come back.

And I think when it comes back, it's going to be stronger than ever.

Bob Abelman's novella "All The World's A Stage Fright: Misadventures of a Clandestine Critic" is published by Gray & Company in partnership with the Cleveland Jewish News.

Abelman appears at the Mandel JCC's Cleveland Jewish Book Festival's virtual Local Author Day Sunday, Feb. 7, starting at 11 a.m.



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