A Day at Shakespeare Summer Camp

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Stephanie Ann Foster, our Oakland Conservatory Coordinator, reflects on a day at camp.

“How do we do this?” “TOGETHER!”

The opening ritual of conservatory, our morning assembly, is audible all the way out to the street. We dance, we vote on creative ideas for costume days (Dr. Who, the students assure me, is quite the Shakespeare corollary). We redistribute dropped jackets and water bottles—the joyfully flung detritus of young actors who have put all their concentration into combat, improv, and the history class ghost stories that trickle out of Shakespeare’s plays when you poke at them with your (required) pencils.

We come here to try on new selves, and to recognize the pieces of ourselves in others. We come here to break apart texts, and maybe our whole selves while we’re at it.

Then we rebuild.

Together.

Registration is now available for our Summer Shakespeare Conservatories. Click here for more information.

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It’s Almost Showtime at the Shakespeare Summer Conservatory!

By Sloane Henry, Artistic Learning Intern

The Bentley Five-week Conservatory is in full swing! We’re almost half way through and time continues to fly by. I have been stage managing for the Merry Kinsmen—the youngest group (third–sixth grade) and I am proud to say that they are well on their way to a very solid production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Heidi Abbott

The 3 witches of MACBETH take a break from rehearsing with intern Bristol Glass to strike a pose

and led by PIP Sam Coughlin, that sends a much more positive message than a traditional staging of the Shakespeare play. I am also anxious to see the oldest group, The  Queen’s Own, pull off their own rendition of Titus Andronicus directed by Susannah Martin, staged managed by PIP Cordelia Miller, and supported by their fearless leader, PIP Brett Jones. Cal Shakes just closed a powerful production of Titus on their Main Stage, so the Queen’s Own have been very fortunate to acquire many of its props this way. But it’s very clear how important it is to these kids to make this show their own, as they have set up multiple bake sales at Conservatory lunch to raise money for additional props and special effects.

The cast of TAMING OF THE SHREW decked out in pirate garb.

There is also a lot of buzz around the Fortune Artists’ modern take on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Catherine Castellanos and stage managed by Caitlin Volz. From what I’ve heard in rehearsals, it looks like the second-oldest group has taken a cue from The Verona Project and is featuring the players’ musical talents in the show. I talked to some Noble Knaves (the second-youngest group) during a break and they seemed very confident in their progress with Macbeth, directed by Laura Lowry, stage managed by Sam Callahan, and headed by PIP Bristol Glass, declaring “We’re all blocked and almost off-book!”

The Riotous Knights leap for joy. HUZZAH!

And last, but not least, the Riotous Knights’ Twelfth Night, directed by Ryan O’Donnell, aided by PIP Jordan Reiff, and currently staged managed by Sophie Kreeger (while their other stage manager, Julia Van Broeck is working the Cal Shakes Main Stage production of The Verona Project) is looking like it’s going to be a wild ride complete with hippies, colored hairspray, disco, Ke$ha, and a live band.

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It’s Summer Camp Time and the Living is Easy

By Anna Kritikos, Marketing intern.

After learning about stage combat, students line up at the door, ready for thier next class.

I spent last Tuesday at the Five-Week Summer Shakespeare Conservatory, wandering around and observing the multitude of activities; it made me realize how much I miss summer camps. I had a bast just moseying around the conservatory. In addition to appreciating the fun atmosphere that was ever-present at the camp, I was really impressed by the sophistication and the higher standard to which the teaching staff held the campers, while still maintaining that fun summer camp atmosphere.

The teaching staff at the conservatories—currently there are two sessions running, Five-Week at Bentley Upper School and Two-Week  at Holy Names—is composed of working professionals assisted by interns from the Professional Immersion Program and the Teaching Artist Fellowship. I met all of the Bentley staff and observed them at work, and their passion and energy was unyielding. It was absolutely wonderful to watch such excellent teachers.

I really appreciated the structure of the conservatory as well. It was like a theater kid’s heaven. I wish I could enroll in the conservatory simply to attend all the classes the teaching staff provides the kids. In the morning, all of the campers attend classes: one-hour sessions in stage combat, improv, Shakespeare history, movement, or text/voice. That’s what was on the agenda the day I attended, but other days include storytelling, a master class on hip-hop Shakespeare, and so on. Before listening in on a Shakespeare history class I thought it would be a bit of an uphill battle—trying to get kids to listen to history during the summer months seemed to me to be a very tough mountain to climb—but with the skills and larger-than-life personalities of the faculty, it was not at all the losing battle I had predicted. It was actually fun.

The second half of the day, after lunch, is rehearsal time, with the five different groups all retreating to separate classrooms to rehearse the plays they were working on. I was impressed by the young kids tackling Shakespearean language with tenacity, laughing and joking and having a blast. The interns and TAFS got to teach and exercise their directorial skills by working with small groups within the casts—simultaneously providing one-on-one attention for the campers and hands-on experience for the TAFs and PIPS who are pursuing careers in theater education.

“You really pick up a different part of your craft when you are able to articulate it, rather than just do it,” Teaching Artist Fellow Vince Rodriguez said. “And so not only do I teach the kids, they also teach me. Also, to be able to see how one goes about teaching abstract concepts like movement  to such young kids is wonderful, and I’m learning a lot.”

Students play an improv game in Heidi's class.

Heidi Abbott ran a wonderful improv class that all of the kids (myself included!) loved. She didn’t play down to the kids, no matter how young they were, which in turn helped spur the kids to play on a level higher than perhaps they usually would do.

It was fascinating to watch the movement classes as well. Susannah Martin really challenged the kids to just plunge into the exploration of movement—to enter a “private laboratory” where you just experiment with the space. Susannah asked her students to feel the space with their muscles, feel the space with their skin, as a fluid, and so on. She was asking them to completely abandon the ever present fear of looking foolish, and the students (the Queen’s Own group, grades  10-12) rose easily to the challenge. They moved across the auditorium with complete abandon, focusing solely on their movements, how their bodies felt, not on the other kids around them. This summer camp obviously pushes kids to step outside of their comfort zones, and in the very safe and fun environment that is present, the kids are willing and even eager to do so.

It was very cool also to talk to the PIPs and the TAFs about their seemingly endless passion for theater education.

Actress and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Catherine Castellanos discusses the script of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA with her students.

“I’m going to sound completely cliché, but when you are teaching theater you are not just teaching ‘ok this is upstage and downstage.’ You aren’t just putting on a play, you are teaching these kids skills,” said Teaching Artist Fellow Jenna Goodman. “You are building confidence; they are learning how to be an individual as well as to be part of something greater. The kids are being challenged to make bold choices, and to sort of stretch and grow. There is something about it, there is a kind of freedom that comes with teaching theater that you don’t really see anywhere else.”

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The Good Fortune Artists

The following blog was written by Martie Ogle (pictured center in the photo at right), a member of the Fortune Artists group of the 2010 Summer Shakespeare Conservatory.

Six months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, residents are still struggling to recover in their demolished country. Since the media has moved onto different stories, donations have slowed; many Haitians aren’t getting the relief they need. Among those who need the most aid are small children, from infants to teens, who are living in ruins of their homes, in under-funded orphanages, or on the streets. Orphans as young as five are now living on their own and have resorted to stealing food for survival. Over a million children are estimated to be orphaned, twice the amount prior to the earthquake.

After reading an article in the paper about Haiti and telling the cast about it, the Fortune Artists decided to hold a fundraiser to benefit children in Haiti. The Fortune Artists are the second-oldest group at Five-Week Conservatory, with most of us entering our freshman or sophomore years of high school. By spending a month in a theater camp with about a hundred other children, we saw how smaller kids really needed help and guidance on a daily basis, and that’s just in a Shakespeare Camp! We recognized that kids the same age as our younger thespians weren’t getting the help they needed in Haiti. So we decided to do something about it.

Our show this year was a punk version of Henry IV set in 1970s England (see partial cast photo at right), highlighting the tension between young rebels and the government. After watching the oldest group—the Queen’s Own—hold multiple successful fundraisers, we decided to use the all-Conservatory performance days as our chance to generate revenue by holding a bake sale to benefit Haiti. So what if none of us had organized a fundraiser before? Phooey on that! We proposed the idea to our director, who gave us a couple of minutes of rehearsal time to divide and conquer. We eventually ended up with two committees (set-up/clean-up and publicity), three different shifts to work, and everyone pledged to bring in some form of sugary deliciousness.

After two days of confusion, chaos and mega-long Facebook messages, we made it to Friday. Performance Day. Bake Sale Day. D-day. For sale, we had cookies, brownies, rice crispies, scones, muffins, English toffee-chocolate bars, cheesecake, water, lemonade, punch, and only about 60 or so cupcakes. The youngest kids were our first major rush, and we made about 40 dollars in the fifteen minutes after their show. The day continued with dashes between last-minute rehearsals, bake sale, costume changes, bake sale, makeup application, back sale, fight call, and bake sale. By the end of the day, we were too tired to count up the money, and left it at the theater overnight.

But first thing the next morning, I was too excited to wait, and quickly tallied the money to come to (drum roll please) … $225.64! From a BAKE SALE! And to make things even better, Matson Navigation Co. has matched our profit to make a grand total of $451.28! That’s amazing. I personally feel proud and honored to have been part of such a wonderful team effort.

Till next time,
Martie Ogle (King Henry IV), Fortune Artist

The Fortune Artists who assisted in the preparation of this bake sale were: Myself, Julia Hershey and Mother, Remy Behrendt, Mariah Neurge, Noah St. John, Eliana Fujita, Madison O’Connor, Alex Jonasse, Miranda Taylor, Stephanie Brannon, Jonathan Bianchini, Lauren McCaffrey, Ariel Coronado, Madeline Clark, Ariel Adair, Alex Shankland, and Katya Walch. We’d also like to thank intern Mirabelle Korn, Teaching Artist Fellow Carrie Foster, and director Dylan Russell. All profits were donated to Save the Children, a nonprofit organization helping children around the world and in Haiti.

Photos by Jay Yamada.

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Review Cal Shakes: Help Us Make a Difference for Bay Area Youth

Are you a fan of Cal Shakes? Have you been moved by a performance at the Bruns, or touched by an experience you or your child had in one of our camps, classes, Student Discovery Matinees, or talkbacks? If so, please take just a few minutes and share your story with the world by reviewing Cal Shakes on GreatNonprofts.org, a website that allows people to post stories of their firsthand experiences with nonprofits of all kinds—think of it a Yelp for the nonprofit sector. Review our educational programs by next Wednesday, September 30 to nominate Cal Shakes for the Youth Thrive Awards and you’ll become eligible to win gift certificates through GreatNonprofits for treats from companies such as Clif Bar, Greystone Bakery, and Birkenstock!

Reviews can help bring attention to the work Cal Shakes does, both overall and specifically in service to young people. Those nonprofits that receive the most positive reviews for their work with young people will be named Youth Thrive Award winners in five different categories. Of course, you can review our other programs, too—and we’d be delighted if you did.

To write a review for Cal Shakes, follow these simple steps.

1. Go to greatnonprofits.org/reviews and search for Cal Shakes.
2. Click the “Write a Review” link in the listing in the search results, or click the “Write Reviews” tab that appears in the left column of every page of our profile on the site.
3. Fill in the online review form and submit. You’re done!

Thanks in advance for sharing your Cal Shakes story, and for helping us to continue to bring theater and the works of great playwrights to youth throughout the Bay Area.

Pictured above: Clive Worsley leads a post-performance talkback with students
and the cast of Romeo and Juliet (2009); photo by Jay Yamada.
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