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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An Artistic Learning Valentine: R&J in Suburbia

Last week we heard from Eli Wirtschafter, a former Cal Shakes Conservatory student—that’s him on the right, playing Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2009, the summer after his senior year of high school. Eli is now studying at UC Berkeley, and he wrote us to tell us about the production of Romeo and Juliet that he’s directing.

We’ll let Eli take it from here.
It’s a Cal Shakes’ Artistic Learning success story!

Everything I know about Shakespeare I learned from my six summers at Cal Shakes, and the program inspired me to direct my own show. It’s with BareStage, a student-run theater group at UC Berkeley and it opens March 4. Susannah Martin, who I was lucky to have as my director four times, would always set Shakespeare’s plays in a specific period; as we engaged with the text we were also engaging with recent history and how we saw ourselves. It was a continuation of Cal Shakes’ mission of “reimagining the classics.” I’m directing my own production Cal Shakes-style, transposing Verona to an American suburb in 1953. I could go on endlessly, but it’s about disempowered youth, strict ideas about family, and distrust of people who aren’t so different after all.


Here’s some information about the show (and here’s the link to its Facebook event)
Location: Caesar Chavez Student Center
Friday March 4 at 8pm
Saturday March 5 at 8pm
Sunday March 6 at 7pm
Friday March 11 at 8pm
Saturday March 12 at 8pm
Sunday March 13 at 2pm
Students $8, General $10

Tickets available at the door and at tickets.berkeley.edu.
I am constantly grateful to Cal Shakes, and I wanted to tell you what I was up to!

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Conservatory Teachers: Silver and Gold

The classic Girl Scout song proclaims, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold”. This applies to our Summer Shakespeare Conservatory family as well, and not just the kids—teachers, too! There are our golden (and much-loved!) Teaching Artist pals like Susannah Martin and Wendy Wisely who, between them, have 15 years teaching experience with Cal Shakes campers. And for 2010 we’ve welcome several exciting new artists into the Conservatory troop.

Lisa Tateosian (pictured at right) comes to us by way of Contra Costa Jewish Day School, where she teaches drama. Since getting her Master’s in educational theater at NYU, Lisa has been putting her skills to good use, specializing in choreography and dance-theater. She will be directing A Winter’s Tale and teaching acting classes for our Five-Week Conservatory in Lafayette.

Kai Morrison (pictured at left) has been wielding swords and other stage weaponry for many years, and enjoys passing his love for fight choreography on to the next generation. When we began to expand our summer offerings and needed additional stage combat instructors, longtime Conservatory director Dylan Russell suggested we contact Kai. He has shaped the fights in Dylan’s San Francisco high school productions, and performs (and fights) onstage himself, most recently in Giant Bones at the EXIT Theater. Kai will be teaching at our programs in Oakland and San Francisco.

Hope Mirlis (pictured at right) was introduced to us through Teaching Artist Organized, a Bay Area collective of arts specialists who come together to share best practices and gain professional development. A movement expert with an MFA from UC Davis, Hope co-founded Synchronicity Performance Group in Atlanta which focused on community engagement, women artists, and new work. She will keep our young performers on their toes teaching movement at our two-week programs in the East Bay.

We are beside ourselves with excitement now that our talented friends, new and old, have started coming together for what’s sure to be an awesome summer of training, performance, and general good theater times. For more information on our Summer Shakespeare Conservatories, click calshakes.org/conservatories.

Sign up to get all the latest news on our Artistic Learning programs. Click here to sign up for aor update your existingCal Shakes email subscription by checking the “Artistic Learning” or “Classes and Camps for Youth and Adults” boxes.

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