Matthew Radford gets the disclaimer out of the way first thing.
He is not a teacher, he tells the two dozen English students gathered in a lecture hall at Cal State Channel Islands. Rather, he is a professional actor, one of five members of a London-based theater troupe in residence for a week at the Camarillo campus to push the power of Shakespeare.
But he takes to teaching like a poet to a sonnet, exploring with students the heartbeat-like rhythm of Shakespeare's sentences and the stage direction buried in the dialogue of the playwright's scripts.
Teacher or thespian, Radford said, classroom performance is one of the best things he has ever done.
"It's a life-changing job and it's to do with the students," said Radford, who is in his third tour with Actors From the London Stage, an educational program that brings Shakespeare to life each year at university campuses across the United States.
"It is good to be reminded of the pleasure people take in Shakespeare and live performance," Radford said. "It reminds you of why you did this in the first place."
The Shakespearean artists are nearing the end of a 10-week college tour. They started in mid-September at the University of Notre Dame and have visited such campuses as Duke University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Oklahoma. Cal State Channel Islands -- the state's newest public university -- is the only California stop on the fall tour.
The program, developed in 1976 by an English professor at UC Santa Barbara and now based at Notre Dame, aims to revolutionize the way Shakespeare is taught in U.S. classrooms, seeking to get students to read the work out loud, examine the language and see the text as a working script for actors.
"It's pretty awesome," said James Tunberg, a 33-year-old Channel Islands senior who spent one morning this week in English class reading the part of Lucio in Shakespeare's five-act comedy "Measure for Measure." "It's great to have them here."
Cal State Channel Islands officials, who paid $20,000 to bring the troupe in for a week of student workshops and public performances, have broadened the program's mission.
The actors are applying literary lessons to subjects as diverse as library science and business administration. They also are hosting seminars today and Saturday for high school students in Oxnard and community theater groups from across Ventura County.
"It's really a wonderful thing to do for our students but also for the community," said Jacquelyn Kilpatrick, chairwoman of the university's English department and the person most responsible for bringing the group to the campus. "It's a way of involving the community with what's going on at the university and maybe paying back a little bit."
The actors share that sentiment.
Anna Northam trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama and has appeared in many stage, film and television productions, including an extended stay at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, where she played key roles in such productions as "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Nearing the end of her first tour with Actors From the London Stage, she says the experience has changed her.
"I'd like to teach now," said Northam, who has taken great delight in the California sunshine and the use of a convertible that musses her spiky, cranberry-colored hair. "Every play I've done so far has been for me. This job is about what I can do for other people."
While paid for their work, the actors are still making some sacrifices to be here.
This is a time in London when actors are auditioning for parts for the upcoming theater season, so the actors are unlikely to be drowning in job offers when they return home.
Veteran actor John Nettleton, who first took the stage more than half a century ago, said he was certain he also was missing out on voice-over work and other employment opportunities as he completed his first tour with the troupe. But he said he was gaining more than he was losing.
"I think we have all found the students ... very eager to learn and very eager to become acquainted with Shakespeare," said the 74-year-old actor, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
"I'm sure it's a bit of a financial loss, but this is better for my soul."