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In August, Jessa Berkner’s Oakland Technical High School advanced drama students will travel to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As American High School Theatre Winners, they will perform Naomi Iizuka’s Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, which was the first development project of Cal Shakes’ New Works/New Communities program. (For more information, visit our news and NW/NC pages.)

Currently, Berkner’s students are working with Cal Shakes on a modernized Twelfth Night the cast is pictured at right, photographed by Berkner). What follows is what we hope will be the first of several blogs by Naomi Zingman-Daniels and the other OakTechRep students. This blog was written last week, when Twelfth Night was still in performance.

Everyone is rushing around; a girl in a red robe is holding up a beard to her face; another girl is putting yellow fishnets on. This is just another normal scene backstage at OakTechRep, Oakland Tech’s advanced drama program. We’re in the production week of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and every member of the cast and crew is making last-minute preparations, running over lines, and discussing blocking. It’s the normal pre-show craziness here.

The 2009-2010 school year is our Shakespeare year here at Oakland Tech. We started out the year with Naomi Iizuka’s modern adaptation of Hamlet, entitled Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. Set in 1989 Oakland, it was a really great way to start off. We all got completely into it—Shakespeare’s stories are absolutely timeless, and can be set, if you think about it enough, anywhere. And it wasn’t just an interesting play for us to do. It hit close to home. Oakland is where we live, where we work, where we go to school. A lot of the problems in both Shakespeare’s and Iizuka’s versions of Hamlet exist in our community today, and it made it a lot more real for us and a lot easier to get into the script, especially for the actors who hadn’t previously studied much Shakespeare.

We’re taking Hamlet: Blood in the Brain to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer, and even though all the fundraising and preparation is driving everyone involved a little crazy, we’re all really excited for it. It’s been a lot of work. We started the show with 16 cast members. In Scotland, we’re going to have only nine, so we have to reblock and reassign lines. We’ve also been raising all the money for it, so that’s been crazy, too.

Since we’re a repertory theater, we have multiple shows going on at once. We’re taking a break from Hamlet with Twelfth Night, and going back in time to 1920s New Orleans and the classic text. We had our first preview last night, and it was amazing. Our Orsino came in just the weekend before, so we’ve had to cram a lot of rehearsing into very little time. Scenes had to be newly figured out, relationships onstage reworked, and of course, lines to be learned. It’s been stressful, of course, and there was the usual arguing over cues and lines and who goes on when backstage before, during, and after the show. But it was a lot of fun. The only real sad thing for me is that there’s only going to be two more nights of it.

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