Event Planning 101: My Internship Crash Course

by Sarah Lamb

Opening night is a big deal for theaters, of course. It’s the first time all the artistry and hard work is shown to the public. (Aside from previews, open rehearsals, and the other promotional events along the way.) Other parts of opening night also include audience enrichment, thanking producers and donors, and the after party. The opening night after party is a tradition among professional theaters, and is a way to celebrate the work and the actors with family, friends, staff, and audience members.

In less than two weeks of working at Cal Shakes, I found myself scurrying around at the Bruns in a quiet attempt to set up the after party for The Comedy of Errors. I’m a Special Events intern from central Wisconsin and go to school at Columbia College Chicago for Arts Management. I arrived in the Bay Area less than two weeks before opening night, and during those weeks I absorbed myself into the planning process. In addition, since this internship is part time, I have the time to explore a beautiful city that I have never visited before.

The first couple days of the internship were exactly what anyone expected: orientation and filling out paperwork, introductions to so many people all you have are a jumble of faces and names as you try to piece them together, pretending you remember all of those names for about a week, and tours and instructions no one actually expects you to remember. But bonus points if you do. For me, I was also trying to remember my way home, what bus to take, and where exactly the grocery store was. I live in the intern apartment with three other girls, so the mad dash to learn the area was added to trying to learn the company.

Before I knew it, I was finding myself settling into the company. I was putting names to faces (finally) and could get myself home and fed without needing to ask for directions. If I’m being honest, I was expecting to have to do traditional internship tasks, like making coffee, fighting with the copier, and all that goes with those clichés. On the contrary, I was sitting in on meetings, giving input, and collaborating to create multiple successful, enriching events.

Opening night was filled with a lot of logistics. I arrived shortly after 4:00 to set up the Producer’s Dinner – one of Cal Shakes’ way of thanking the people who make each production possible, and then constantly doing something else. By the time I finished one task, another was on the list to be completed as soon as possible. It’s fast-paced, sudden, hectic, and exactly what I love.

When you’re planning an event, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a large amount of people having fun and enjoying the work and thought you put into it, which is precisely what the reaction was to our Carnival of Errors. Between the jugglers, the dress up photo booth, the atmosphere created, and the food, the guests were happy and enjoying themselves.

Between starting a new position, meeting people I’m sure I will continue to be friends and contacts with, exploring a new city, participating in area festivals, and producing a successful event, I have had an amazing first two weeks in the Bay Area.

 

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Talking About Love

Marketing intern Natalie Sanchez reports back from rehearsals for Twelfth Night.

Love is a complicated thing: how our bodies and minds process it, how we become brave enough to begin to verbalize it, how we share it with the world, how we fight for it. But have you ever fallen in love with someone who only saw you as a friend? And—to make things worse—that friend trusted you so much that they would confess to you their love for another person? They might even be so desperate as to ask you to help them convince their beloved to be with them.

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia in Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts’ coproduction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Michelle Hensley; photo by Kevin Berne.

Rami Margron as Orsino, Cindy Im as Viola/Cesario, and Maria Candelaria as Olivia; photo by Kevin Berne.

Rehearsals for Cal Shakes and Intersection for the Arts’ coproduction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (performing at Intersection February 2—March 2) are happening right now, and many of these questions arise as the actors begin to embody the characters. What could be going on in the head of Viola (Cindy Im) when she is asked by her own beloved, Duke Orsino (Rami Margron), to chase after his love, Olivia (Maria Candelaria)? Why does she agree? And how can these feelings become manifested in one scene, as full of emotions as the first encounter of two women who have such different intentions? I got to watch members of the ensemble work through some of these challenges when I sat in on rehearsals for Act I, scene 5 late last week.

Viola is persistent when passing as Cesario, promising to sleep outside until Lady Olivia lets him in, which she ultimately does, slowly and unintentionally inviting him to her life. “Bring me my veil,” she says to her gentlewoman, having her stand next to her, showing that her guard is up. But she eventually removes the veil, and the unveiling carries meaning to both characters: For Olivia, this is a moment of letting Viola/Cesario in, although, when she shows herself, she turns her face with her hand, asking, with a stern look, “Is it not well done?” For Viola, this is the first time that she gets to look at the face of her rival; in rehearsing this moment, director Michelle Hensley asks Cindy (who plays Viola) to be honest and really say that she is beautiful.

The director states that, among the many feelings that could be going on in her head, Viola might be curious to know why Olivia does not love the Duke.

“For Orsino loves you with adorations, fertile tears, / With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” says Viola. “Where does that come from?” asks the director. Possibly from the Duke, Cindy responds. Or it could be talking more about the feelings she has for the Duke. Curious to know more, Maria Candelaria (playing Olivia) makes the character choice to sit on a nearby stool as she backs up: With her body language, she says “it isn’t easy to reject you.”

When the director stops the scene to ask how they are feeling, Cindy shares her thoughts about the moment: “As a man, Viola gets to speak more candidly that she would as a woman.” Meanwhile, Olivia is enchanted, noticing the vulnerability in the way Viola speaks to her of Orsino’s love for her. Maria says, “Even when she is mad at me it is beautiful.” Michelle questions her further: “Why do you tip him?” Maria answers: “It’s courtesy.” As she thinks about it a little more, she says, “She is also trying to keep it together and process what she is feeling. Maybe she is trying to reinstate the social norms.” “But she keeps talking,” Michelle counters. If Olivia wanted Viola/Cesario to leave, she would have let him leave. After Viola leaves, when Olivia talks about what she is feeling, the director says, “Talk to them (the audience). They are here to process this with you.”

Who are you rooting for in this love triangle? Come prepared to help these characters unravel their emotions next month! Information on the cast, the production, and how to buy tickets—all costing $20—can be found here.

 

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Making Oscar Proud

Dramaturgy Intern Clio McConnell blogs from inside the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room.

Before actually landing one’s dream job in the real world, the average college student looks upon that prospect as a sort of utopian ideal: Naturally, one’s dream job involves spending all day doing something one enjoys and is good at. If one is lucky, of course, this utopia will eventually become reality.

By that standard, hanging out at Cal Shakes this summer has been a really lucky break for me. The more time I spend in the rehearsal room for Lady Windermere’s Fan, the harder it is to imagine a better workplace. From the first read-through it has been clear that this early Oscar Wilde play is seriously complex, with a lot of complicated relationships and moral quandaries. But I assumed that director Christopher Liam Moore would have a vision to dive into straightaway—to my untrained mind, that is what a director does. Of course, Chris had a thoroughly better idea about how to approach directing.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Stacy Ross (Mrs. Erlynne), Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere), and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

On the first day of rehearsal he spoke to a huge group of actors, designers, production crew, Cal Shakes staff, and donors, essentially saying to us: “I could tell you what I think this play is about. But instead, I’m going to wait for these actors to teach me what it’s about.” And from then on, the process of Lady Windermere’s Fan has been a great big learning experience—for everyone, I think (directors, actors, stage managers, dramaturg), but especially for me.

Indeed, we have all learned (or been reminded of) a fair amount about Oscar Wilde and his London. We know about the peerage system—a Duke is higher than a Lord, for anyone who was wondering—and about how to properly convey one’s feelings with a certain wave of a fan. We know about 1870s fashion and train schedules and Victorian gentlemen’s clubs. Hopefully all of these fascinating minutiae will afford lessons that the audience can learn from their seats. But I have learned one thing above all that will not (and should not!) manifest in the final production: that this show has had a head-spinning trajectory of evolution.

After the first day of work, I remember chatting with one of the actors and telling her how great her scene had looked (because it really had been lovely). She grimaced, saying, “No, no—let’s just forget about today.” This has been the overwhelming attitude of everyone involved: We can always know more and we can always change things.

So, my utopian ideal of working in the theater is largely based on a dream to work with intelligent people. As far as that wish goes, I think I have fallen in with the right crowd, because the Lady Windermere’s Fan rehearsal room is pervaded by an air of intelligent wit—an air, I think, which Mr. Wilde would have much appreciated.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda from August 14 to September 8.

 

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Dispatch #2 from the R&J Rehearsal Hall: Repurposing, Re-creating

Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky continues to blog from inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room.

In my last post, I summarized the main points raised by director Shana Cooper as she discussed her upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet with Cal Shakes staff. Today, I want to take a closer look at how her general vision for the play is being reflected in the details of the production’s set design. We were lucky enough to recently hear from set designer Dan Ostling (Cal Shakes’ productions of The Verona Project, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing) who shared some of his general thoughts about the play, and how they might relate to the specific needs of this production.

Ostling’s first observation was that the world Shakespeare created for Romeo and Juliet is “not what we immediately think about… it’s not perfume and flowers, it’s brutal.” More specifically, he pointed out that Renaissance Verona had the reputation of being a fortified, violent city. He imagines Verona as a fortified city filled with fortified houses and dangerous streets, torn by internecine strife and random violence where opposing forces meet in the public square—but with internal gardens and sanctuaries such as Juliet’s balcony or the Friar’s cell. The idea that love and beauty could grow up from the very heart of hate and violence may be why the story of the children of bitter enemies falling in love was ever considered remarkable in the first place, and may be why one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works still has the capacity to move us. Like director Cooper, Ostling emphasizes that the harshness of the young lovers’ surroundings not only endangers but highlights their love.

This focus on the bleakness of the surrounding world explains why Ostling envisions a bleak set with nothing superfluous: We “start from a bare stage and build up from there.” Indeed, Ostling claims to be the rare set designer with “a distrust of scenery,” refusing to allow any elements that do not prove themselves to be necessary. The set will feature barn wood that will be torched to look like reclaimed wood and worn, aged, rusted grates on the downstage corners of the stage. Both set and costume will display an appreciation for the possibilities of repurposed things, utilizing tension and distress of materials and creating an austere, militaristic vintage aesthetic. The stage will be built in the shape of an X, creating a neutral, public focal point for the collision of equal and opposing forces.

Set Model for Romeo and Juliet

While the set will have a very minimal backdrop, Dan is interested in including (potentially) mobile spaces where actors can perch. For example, the crew has discussed various possibilities for re-creating the famous balcony scene. Seen with fresh eyes, this moment has the potential to appear as an unexpected miracle, full of tender humor and the wonder of the discovery of love.

Romeo and Juliet opens at the Bruns Ampitheater on July 3 and runs through July 28. Tickets are available on the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.

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Dispatch #1 from the R&J Rehearsal Hall: Small Miracles of Joy

Hello, this is Peter Selawsky blogging from the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall. I’ve been coming to Cal Shakes productions since I was a child growing up in the East Bay, and I’m very excited for the opportunity to sit in on rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet and write about the process I’m witnessing.

On Tuesday, June 4, at the first-rehearsal Meet-and-Greet for Romeo and Juliet, director Shana Cooper shared her thoughts about her upcoming Cal Shakes production. Cooper envisions a raw Romeo and Juliet that strips away the expectations and preconceptions most of us have built up around one of Shakespeare’s most well-known works, honing in on the extremity of the elemental human passions at the heart of the play—hate and love. In Shakespeare’s Verona, the two passions are equally important, equally powerful, and equally inexplicable: Just as we can never explain the origin of love, we never learn the cause of the famous family feud that drives the play’s tension.

Dan Clegg and Rebekah Brockman as Romeo and Juliet

Dan Clegg and Rebekah Brockman as Romeo and Juliet; photo by Kevin Berne.

Love has the potential to heal the houses’ rancor, and offers an oasis or sanctuary in the very heart of a world of violence. Romeo and Juliet find love in a sea of hate, and it briefly transforms them into their best selves, giving them unexpected strength and courage. The play asks us whether or not true love can overcome a history of hate, sustaining itself against a world of violence where everything seems to conspire to push the characters towards their worst, most primal selves. Some moments in the play, such as Juliet’s willingness to be buried alive in order to remain faithful to her love, inspire great hope in the triumph of love. But in abandoning himself to his rage and killing Tybalt, Romeo perpetuates the cycle of violence that defines the world of Verona, turning a potential comedy irreversibly toward tragedy.

For all the play’s talk of star-crossed lovers and fortune’s fools, Shakespeare suggests that it is not fate, but the very basic human choice of hate over love in a moment of passion that shapes the course of these lives. As such, the production will emphasize the comedy and occasionally surprising tonal shifts of the play’s first half, creating a world where the inescapable brutality of the second half makes love all the more miraculous. Small miracles of joy and humor allow small moments of love, distracting us from the harsher surrounding reality.

With a cast of only seven, the production will be marked by a fluid, guerilla theater-influenced style featuring quick changes of costumes and visible character shifts. This—along with stark, minimal scenery and a setting bound to no particular place or time—places the focus entirely on a small group of actors who will become both chorus and street performers in order to tell a universal story.

Romeo and Juliet begins previews on July 3, opening July 6. Rehearsals are now fully underway, and I will be updating this blog with periodic posts on the production’s ongoing development and rehearsal process. Look for a preview of Romeo and Juliet’s costume and set design up next.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.

 

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Getting to Know Brett Jones

Brett in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall

Brett in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall; photo by Janet Magleby.

Cal Shakes Marketing & Communications Director Janet Magleby introduces you to one of the minds behind this summer’s Conservatories.

One of two new Summer Shakespeare Conservatory coordinators joining us this summer is Brett Jones.  A recent Theater Performance graduate from the University of Northern Iowa, Brett spent last summer with Cal Shakes as a Teaching Artist Fellow in the Artistic Learning department, working alongside our fabulous teaching artists. He helped teach classes in movement, acting, and Shakespeare history at the Bentley (Lafayette) campus. The summer prior,  Brett was an intern in our Professional Immersion Program. This summer as the Oakland Conservatory Coordinator he’ll be busy making sure every detail of our Holy Names campers’ days run smoothly.

Brett was born in Japan to an Air Force family. When he was 10, his dad retired from the military and the family moved to Iowa. After achieving the highest-ever score on an application exam, Brett’s dad went to work for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids. Brett’s mom works as a student counselor for St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

In high school, Brett kept busy performing, taking voice lessons, and collecting shoes—more on that later. Favorite band in high school: Fall Out Boy.

Brett and Cordelia at the 2013 gala

Brett as Galileo (with fellow former intern Corey Miller as Carmen Miranda) at this month's One Great Party gala fundraiser; photo by Jay Yamada.

Brett spent a lot of time during his undergrad acting (six productions in all), working hard as a teacher’s assistant, and spending time with his best friend Bailey. Brett’s first play at the UNI was Marat/Sade wherein he played an inmate at the asylum. “It was a completely different kind of production that I was used to,” he recalls, “and the experience and opened my eyes to all the forms in theater. How movement and what the body can do inspired me and pushed me along in the art. ”After his summer here at Cal Shakes, Brett spent part of his last semester at UNI as a TA for a Creativity and Performance class.

“There isn’t much to do in Iowa,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to move to California.” But he did admit that there are loads of beautiful places to hike in Iowa; he spent a lot of time doing just that in the numerous nature preserves in the state. One time, he remembers, he and his BFF were hiking at Hartman Lake and they saw a couple of frogs hopping about, so they decided to sit down to watch them. There was a big noise and the pair saw ripples on the top of the water; they watched for a few more seconds and—right when the frog leaped up in the air—a giant snapping turtle (he estimates two feet in diameter) popped up and ate the frog in mid-air! Speaking of good eats, Brett’s restaurant of choice in his hometown of Cedar Rapids is Pei’s Chinese, where he loves to nosh on Crab Rangoon. Recipe: a delicious mix of cream cheese, crab and onion deep fried in a wonton dipped in the best sweet and sour sauce ever.

When Brett visits his mother and sister in the great state of Texas, he strolls over to visit the River Walk: He shops, checks out the street musicians, and eats at Taco Cabana.  “I usually buy a dozen homemade tortillas and snack on them all day!” Brett’s sister Julie teaches high school physics and astronomy in Texas, and is married to Army Staff Sergeant Scott.

A few more things about Brett Jones:

  • Favorite role he has played: Charles HP Smith from David Mamet’s November
  • Role he’d love to play: The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera
  • What movie makes him laugh: Clue
  • Best book ever: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • TV show that he never misses: 30 Rock, but sadly, now, it’s over.
  • Favorite play: Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
  • One food he could eat for the rest of his days: Sesame Chicken
  • Color that makes him smile: Green (editor’s note: He wore these bright-green Adidas low-tops to our interview.)
  • Band he’s obsessed with right now: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
  • Things that would surprise people about him: “I like to cook. I like to create my own Iron Chef Challenge by making something with only the ingredients in my fridge on a given day.”
  • Shakespeare character he’s learned the most from: The Tempest’s Prospero. “He is a person that has immense power. When he realizes his powers do to others he gives it up and doesn’t allow it to corrupt him. He realizes that he can walk away from a situation and change myself for the better.”
  • What else Shakespeare has taught him: “He taught me that you can do and be anything. “
  • He’d like to live for a year in: Ireland.  “It’s green, there are countless places to hike, I love the ocean, and the people seem friendly.”
  • Car he’d love to drive to and from Summer Conservatories: A Bentley
  • Website he gets caught up in:stumbleupon.com
  • Smartphone: Android. “I don’t Tweet much or talk on the phone much, but I do text a lot.”
  • Achilles heel: “I love shoes; I have a ton of them. I own 50–60 pairs. Black Aldo dress shoes are my power shoes. Favorite kick-around shoes are my red Aldo zip ups with buckles, zippers, and laces. So, on the first day of Conservatory make sure you check out my shoes, ‘cause I’ll be checking out yours!”
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High School Drama… Naughty or Nice?

 

In-School Residency student scene

Students reading scenes from Macbeth at our in-school residency at Dougherty Valley High

Marketing Intern Jessica Reinhardt sits in on her first in-school residency at Dougherty Valley High School’s drama class in San Roman, CA.

 As my second week at Cal Shakes began, I was antsy with anticipation for my first classroom residency visit. Thursday was finally here and, as I gathered my camera and notepad (feeling very official) I tried to imagine the atmosphere of a high school drama class. I automatically thought back to the ever so fond memories of my theater classes and the journey one takes from first warm-up to final performance. Everyone always seems a bit intimidated at first. (Hey, you try to articulate “If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…” ten times fast without any mistakes!) But as soon as I got to meet these wonderful students at Dougherty Valley High in San Ramon, I knew I was right where I should be.

 Talk about being “in the moment”: They embraced what Artistic Director Trish Tillman had to teach them as soon as we walked in. Trish started with a simple exercise and encouraged students who don’t usually step out of their comfort zones to get in there and “not be afraid of the ball.” It got the whole room to loosen up and begin to get out of our shells—the ones we all sometimes find ourselves hiding in. Being open to new experiences and letting it all go in a positive, healthy way is what makes performing special, and is something that, specifically, can benefit young adults. The class asked a lot of great questions and really embraced the exercises, even as they became more complicated. Trish chose a scene from Macbeth, leading the class through an exercise demonstrating how movement and proximity changed the way the actors felt. Someone yelled out “this feels intense!,” clearly showing the differences in dynamic as one actor moved physically closer to another.

 As these realizations and connections happened before my eyes, I stumbled around trying to get good photos of it all (let’s just say my picture taking skills aren’t exactly … professional). Out of all these moments I attempted to capture, the one that really sticks out were two students in the background looking really involved in the text. It just showed me how much Shakespeare can relate to us regardless of age, education, or status in our society. The kids really got a feel for the text and as Trish said making conceptual connections through the text improves students skills.

There were a lot of amazing, genuine surprises that I was fortunate enough to experience today. And isn’t that what theater is all about?

 To support student achievement and teacher professional development, Cal Shakes Classroom Residencies bring teaching artists into the schools with the aim of developing students’ minds, imaginations, and voices.

 

 

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How many goodly creatures are there here!

Stage Management PIP Alex Kimmel offers a window into the Tempest rehearsal hall.

interns at Haight-Ashbury

Interns Katie, Jessica, Erin, and Alex at Haight-Ashbury.

I’m Alex and I’ve just completed my first week as an SM intern at Cal Shakes! Three cheers to Erin, Andrea, Katie, Jess, Kendall, and Jessica—all the other interns—for completing their successful first weeks!

And it has been such a fantastic first week. Just yesterday, we stumbled through all of Act I, and it looks fantastic. This comes as no surprise, but I am just overwhelmed by the talent and hard work everyone has thrown into this play. The play goes by quickly and is packed full of beautiful movement pieces, moving language, and lots and lots of charm and wit.

Since internships are about learning I thought I would use this blog to share the lessons I have learned at Cal Shakes so far.

Lesson 1: Cal Shakes folks are friendly folks! Smiling seems to be part of the dress code and everyone is extremely helpful (especially explaining how to properly use “Big Ricoh,” the printer).

Lesson 2: Percolators make weak coffee… I have yet to discover the ideal coffee- to-water ratio in a percolator, and for that I apologize to everyone who drinks the coffee I make. I’m working on it, and it’s getting better (I promise)!

Lesson 3: The nanosecond you take your eyes off the prompter’s script is the nanosecond that someone calls for line.

Lesson 4: Glitter is fun but it’s a bear to pick up. Folding the glitter makes it easier and faster to pick up (thanks, Corrie Bennett!).

Lesson 5: The universe—and Cal Shakes folks—are generous. If you mention that you are looking into buying a bike, someone may give you one for free (thanks again to Corrie!). That being said, the intern house would benefit from a vacuum …

Lesson 6: The songs in the play will get stuck in your head for three days straight. Singing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” is an effective if unpleasant way to get the songs of the play out of your head (Thanks Catherine Castellanos!)

Lesson 7: Actors are creative, witty people (see Lesson 6), and if you give them a prop of a roasted rabbit on a spit, they will do creative, witty things with it … primarily when they are on their breaks.

Lesson 8: Scamels are delicious if you know how to cook them correctly.

I hope you have found these lessons as valuable as I have; if there are any that you don’t understand, I hope you take it as incentive to come see The Tempest opening in just two short weeks! It’s going to be a magical show!

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Getting Back to Basics

Part Two in a new series by Marketing Intern Katie McGee as she participates in a Cal Shakes classroom residency.

I went to bed Monday night eagerly awaiting my return to Northern Light for another dose of middle school Hamlet adventuring. I woke up Tuesday morning to a gloomy sky and the wrong side of the bed.  Never fear, however; I threw on my most brightly-colored shirt in a pathetic attempt to lighten my spirits and dashed to my car with lukewarm coffee spilling in hand.

My mood began brightening as I pulled into the parking lot and scurried to meet up with the Director of Artistic Learning, Trish Tillman, for the day’s rundown: Start identifying action and clarifying textual meaning within each group’s assigned scene.

As class began, we warmed up our actor’s toolkit and made sure the group was functioning as a solid team.  Hallway, lunchroom, recess conflicts checked at the door, then ready, set, go, Hamlet.

We began digging through the textual trenches Shakespeare dug for his performers long ago.  As students tried on their lines for the first time, young voices began to grow louder and braver around the room.  The entirety of Hamlet was being voiced in a matter of minutes.  Questions were raised: What is my character doing in this moment? What motivated my character to do this? What the heck is a fishmonger?

By the end of the period students were feeling a smidge overwhelmed, but a dash relieved as they realized they were beginning to grasp each line’s meaning.

* * * *

Now let’s step back and get real here.  Artists and scholars have taken Hamlet and forced it under that lens, interpreted it this direction, argued it from the east to the west and reread it a kabillion times.  Now all of these efforts may have uncovered some revealing truths or spicy fresh takes, but are some of the story’s fundamentals lost in the process?  Watching the students at Northern Light find meaning in their lines for the very first time reminded me that Hamlet is often overcomplicated and the story’s bare bones alone dish up some titillating entertainment—keep it simple stupid.

Sometimes in life we just need to step back and stop ourselves from getting caught up in the dreary skies of Denmark (or the Bay), the coffee spilling over our hand as we hustle off for the day, and look at the greatness of our overall stories.

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S is for Shakespeare … and for Sharing

A Northern Lights student stepping into character before the show.

The final installment by Marketing Intern Katie McGee, documenting her participation in a Cal Shakes classroom residency.

“Ummm…where’s my costume?” “What if I forget my lines?” Ahhh. The sounds of final performance day have arrived. Eager jitters spreading around the performance space. Despite the exclamations of nervous dismay, these students are ready.

Why do I like the idea of youth performing Shakespeare? All the subliminal lessons that come with the experience, like a parent disguising servings of vegetables in delicious fruit juices. Some of these hidden lessons include: teamwork, stage presence, public speaking, and storytelling as a form of expression.

OK, but why Shakespeare? All of these lessons could be learned in a musical production of The Hobbit. Shakespeare, however, presents a seemingly greater challenge, thanks to the text’s richness and density. Shakespeare is often misperceived as literature for stuffy academics. This ridiculous notion, however, intensifies the empowerment a young student experiences once they have mastered the language and discovered the script’s meaning. Shakespeare is for everyone, not just your local, literary members-only club.  Shakespeare wrote for the masses—jokes and tragedies for all to relate to.  Shakespeare is for sharing.

Of all the lessons these students gained, sharing seemed the most evident. They shared costumes, props, space, stage, responsibility, characters, and, perhaps most importantly, they fearlessly shared what they had learned throughout the program. It was deeply apparent that the knowledge Cal Shakes’ Trish Tillman had shared had lit a fire under their desire for Shakespeare and storytelling. I enjoyed watching this flame grow steadily throughout my observation. One young performer, Avi’tal Wilson-Perteete, was especially frank about her new found hunger for the Bard, “I am 100 percent sure I will do Shakespeare again in the near future!”

A Northern Lights student portraying Ophelia shares flowers with the audience.

I am so tickled to have been given even a fragment of this experience with these young and passionate actors and academics.  I am hopeful and my fingers are quadruple-crossed that these students remember Shakespeare is for sharing, and continue to share and develop their love for his work. Maybe at the Bruns this summer? Heck yes to that.

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