In keeping with fall tradition, our final show of the 2010 season, Much Ado About Nothing, had five very special a.m. performances: our Student Discovery matinees. This year more than 2,500 students, teachers, and chaperones from 44 Bay Area schools got to see Jonathan Moscone’s joyful production. Thanks to funding from the NEA’s Shakespeare for a New Generation, more than 50% of these student tickets were underwritten, and many of the students attending had never seen a Shakespeare play or any live theater at all. Here at Cal Shakes, we know that participation in art is not a luxury, but rather a necessity to becoming a thoughtful, tolerant, and joyfully well-rounded human being; enthusiastic reactions to this year’s Student Matinee series proved it to us yet again.
In his spirited pre-show welcome and synopsis, Associate Artist Clive Worsley asked the students: “Do you ever see two people who don’t really like each other, are always picking on each other, can’t stand to see one another … but are always hanging out together?” A rumble of agreement welled up from the young crowds, and we knew they were hooked into the romance about to unfold.
Student reactions are sometimes louder and often broader than the evening audiences. They delighted in Dogberry calling himself “an ass”, laughed loudly as water was poured over Beatrice’s eavesdropping head, and let out big sighs of happiness during the final marriage scene. After each performance is a 15- minute Q&A, with many of the actors returning to the stage to engage in a direct dialogue with students. “Do you really kiss and do you like it?” was a commonly posed question. The actors always replied thoughtfully, explaining that performing with someone—whether in an embrace or a fight—takes a great deal of trust and respect. “What happens when you forget a line?” one student inquired. “Well,” Danny Scheie quickly retorted, “you do Fakespeare!” When a young girl asked where the actors were from, Catherine Castellanos stood up and proudly stated “Stockton!,” eliciting huge applause, as, on that particular day, more than 250 kids had come from Stockton Unified Early College Academy.
“I thought it was going to be boring,” summarized one student, “but it was really fun.”
Teachers were pleased with the event as well. “Once again,” wrote Barbara Cohen of St. Anthony’s School in Oakland, ”thanks for making this possible for children who are now so proud that they’ve seen a ‘real’ play and that, even though their English isn’t perfect yet, they understood what the author was saying.”
Pictured: Beatrice (Domenique Lozano) hides out among a Much Ado Student Matinee audience; photo by Jay Yamada.