WORLD’S A STAGE
Rob Pensalfini first fell in love with Shakespeare when doing his PhD and has been Bard to the bone ever since
The son of Italian immigrants, Pensalfini grew up in Perth, where he completed his undergraduate studies before doing his PhD at Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology based on fieldwork in indigenous languages in the Northern Territory. He then worked at the University of Chicago before taking up a post as a linguistics lecturer at Brisbane’s University of Queensland in 1999. Pensalfini also is artistic director of the 15-year-old Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, which runs a Shakespeare Prison Project that is also the subject of Pensalfini’s new book. When I was young I thought my career would be … People said I should do law as I liked to argue and because I did well at school. I studied it for a year but I hated it. A trip to Europe ignited my love of language then I went back to uni where I discovered language and linguistics and then got interested in Aboriginal languages. I started studying drama because … When I was 12 I played Willy Wonka in the school play ( Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory) and since then I have been doing theatre. I hated Shakespeare though but when I went to the US and was doing my PhD I fell in with a serious crowd who were into it. My first role was in Titus Andronicus in Boston. My first job was … I was a staffer for (former Labor) senator Michael Beahan in Perth. I used to be really involved in politics. I lasted a couple of months (but) I didn’t like nine to five and I didn’t feel challenged.
My guitar. most I’ve treasuredhad it for possession17 years. I is have… my three Maton guitars 12-stringand a ukulele but it’s my favourite. The word that best describes me is … passionate. My favourite smell is … sandalwood. A book I really enjoyed is … anything by Stephen King. A song that I can’t help singing along to on the radio is … recently, Hoops by The Rubens. The questions I’m most often asked are … how long have you had long hair (since I was about 20); How many languages do you speak? (about eight but I’m a bit rusty) and why Shakespeare? My favourite Shakespearean play is … whichever one I’m working on. Luckily one of my absolute favourites is Twelfth Night, which we (the ensemble) are doing this year. A great Shakespearean insult is … “Thou whoreson beetleheaded flap-eared knave” (from Taming of the Shrew).
Shakespeare’s plays are still popular because … They are more popular now than ever. I think it’s because he doesn’t tell you what to think … he leaves it up to us. You could study him for life and not know what he thinks because he refusesputs it intoto say. words. He takes us inside ourselves and somehow I relax by … playing music and cooking. My worst habit is … taking things personally. My next challenge is … directing Twelfth Night (which will play in August in Roma Street Parkland). My greatest fear is … being misunderstood. My greatest achievement is … my daughter, Samantha. She’s eight and three quarters. My last meal would be … lasagne Verdi – thin sheets of pasta that incorporate spinach, with layers of red sauce with meat, béchamel sauce, ricotta and parmesan. The point of life is … I think that essentially there is no meaning or point inherently, the point is to create your own meaning and values and pursue them with integrity. To mark today’s 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Pensalfini takes part in a forum at GOMA at 1pm today; qagoma.qld. gov.au. The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble also performs at the Davies Park Market, West End, today at 9.30am and 11am and at The Gap Farmers’ Market tomorrow at 9.30am; qldshakespeare.org
ROB PENSALFINI ACADEMIC AND ACTOR