Unlocking Your Shakespeare

Everybody has a talent. Some are incredible athletes. Some can paint like you can’t believe or can solve complex mathematical solutions at the drop of a hat. Some can stand in front of crowds, bare their souls, and tell stories. But even among those who live and love theatre, there are those who just don’t understand Shakespeare. While that baffles me, I sat through enough middle and high school English classes to learn that, while I adore and easily understand Shakespeare, there are thousands who don’t. So how do people find their “in” to Shakespeare, the key that unlocks the door that makes it all make sense?

Some, like me, were introduced to Shakespeare at such a young age that it was almost like a second language. While this was an incredible gift, it left me puzzled as to why my classmates couldn’t understand what I had somehow learned through years of watching my uncle in plays or by reading the children’s “condensed” versions of Shakespeare that my mother brought home by the armful. Recently, instead of letting this puzzlement of mine go on any longer, I sat down with two of my college professors, both of whom specialize in Shakespeare, looking for tips and tricks to connect with the stories and characters that were put to paper four hundred years ago.

What I learned surprised me, which is why I want to share it with you. When I sat down with my English professor Kathryn Moncrief, we almost immediately started talking about the History plays. This may not be the case for everybody, but the stereotypes I have heard make History plays seem even harder to connect with than Shakespeare’s other works. I recently finished performing in a production of Henry V at Washington College and can’t wait to work on Henry V again at ASC in Session One. I asked Professor Moncrief how we (audience or actors), are supposed to connect with great kings seeking the throne of other countries. I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally never tried to conquer a country, and can’t imagine what that would be like. We spoke about a multitude of different ways to understand Shakespeare and his historical characters, such as using your audience and historical research, both of which are excellent ideas I highly recommend. What I got stuck on were the people behind these historical characters. For example, one of my characters when I performed in Henry V was Lord Scroop, who, while a close friend of Harry, leads a small group of traitors paid to murder him. How are we supposed to relate to a Lord who tried to assassinate a king? Can we even do so? Maybe not, however, you could relate to a man who is confused and angry at the world, blames it on someone in power, and tries to fix everything himself before realizing how far he has gone down a dark path. That is someone who, though maybe not trounced up in livery or bearing a title, you could meet in the street even today.

I followed this train of thought to another professor’s office. I sat down with one of my theatre professors, Brendon Fox, and we began a long and lively discussion of how one can find Shakespeare and make it their own. We talked about technique and passion and how to “blow the dust off” of Shakespeare, and he also mentioned something that carried along the same path I had explored in my earlier conversation. “Every Shakespearean character,” Professor Fox said, “is a human being going through the most amazing and awful moments of their life.” When reading Shakespeare, many people get caught up in the characters’ flowery language, and never stop to consider why the characters speak this way, assuming it was just Shakespeare’s style, and something readers and audiences have to decode to understand the actual story. Maybe the words don’t cover the actual story, but push it forward, like an arrow to its target.

Fox believes “all Shakespearean characters, whether they are rich or poor, male or female, kings or commoners, are wordsmiths. They love words. They get drunk on them.” But when reading Shakespeare’s words, many modern readers get lost. Sitting and reading the thees and thous to themselves, many people just don’t click with the plays, yet the vast majority of the words Shakespeare uses are still regularly used today. It is then no surprise that when we get up and start performing the words as they were intended, not sitting behind some desk in class, but fully living as the characters, Shakespeare’s work becomes the magic that has kept people’s imaginations captive for four hundred years. This is what makes places like the ASC so special, as every day they give people the chance to get up from behind their desks, to explore the characters, and to find links to those characters in themselves.

In Shakespeare’s plays, there are no safety nets. The characters are bold and live on the edge, even when that edge is precarious and they go toppling down. Maybe it is these characters, these wordsmiths, which have made Shakespeare transcend four hundred years. Everybody wants a chance to live life to the fullest, and Shakespeare lets people do just that. True, it may seem more challenging on the surface, as you try to comprehend rhetoric and iambic pentameter, but underneath there is a very human heart beating. If you can find your way to that heart, then hopefully you find your key to Shakespeare.

-Kaitlyn Fowler
ASCTC Counselor, Session 1

With a Wink (An Ode to Universal Lighting)

The first show I attended at the Blackfriars Playhouse was Love’s Labour’s Lost. The year was 2002. I was in fourth grade, and my mom and I had road-tripped to a B&B in Staunton, not even knowing that the ASC was there. We sat in the Lord’s Chairs. The playhouse was comfortably full, not packed. I got the gist of the play, if only in a fourth-grader’s interpretation of love and duty and sacrifice. I came home hooked on this mysterious wood-paneled, honey-lit world. Why?

One of the players had winked at me.

During one of the clown subplots in Love’s Labour’s Lost, while I didn’t quite follow the innuendo and comedy hijinks, Don Adriano de Armado leaned on the low wall separating the audience and the stage and gave me a roguish wink before turning back to the stage to get back to the plot.

“They can do that?” I whispered to my mother at intermission. I was half elated, half terrified. If the actors could acknowledge we were there, sharing in delights and sorrows openly, without the ‘fourth wall’ veneer: what else could they do? Could they talk to us? Expect an answer? Could they reach out and grab us, pull us into that world?

Othello, 2009: Iago tests the limits of audience participation and sympathy. He confides, he chides, he derides. As he spoke his asides, the audience sucked breath through their teeth—the playhouse a sudden hissing mass. Iago’s smile spread wider, and he reveled in the sudden hostility of the groundlings, the narrowed eyes from above. His performance was transformed, his evil electric.

When the dark descends on an audience, it is easy to sink, dreamlike into a world of the theater’s creation. Yet it can also cast a veil over eyes, lulling the audience info false comfort, sleepy complacent acceptance of that world. When the universal lighting illuminates the audience’s world in the same radiant glow as the player’s stage, the play can—and does—reach out and drag us, with a roguish wink, into a world of imagination.

-Clara Everhart
ASCTC Counselor, Session 1

Last Day of Camp

It has come down to this: the last day of camp before we present our plays to the public! It feels like we just started camp not too long ago, but tomorrow our campers will be heading home with their families. These past few days have been tough with midnight rehearsals, and now the campers are presenting songs before the regular ASC Summer Season shows in order to advertise for Sunday. Each cast gets to perform a song from their show during the Preshow at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Last night I watched Alli Glenzer introduce the cast of All’s Well, and they performed their French rap song! The audience took a few minutes to realize that the campers were singing in French, but at the end there was thunderous applause.

Today Part A and Part B of 3 Henry VI will plug their shows at the Playhouse while the rest of us are in rehearsals. Today is dedicated to finishing up all the loose ends and eventually, to packing up camp. Tonight, campers and counselors will be packing up the theater spaces as well as their individual rooms, so that tomorrow can be all about the performances.

I got to watch a few minutes of 3 Henry VI Part A rehearsal in the Blackfriars Playhouse this morning and took a few pictures. Enjoy and see you tomorrow!

Molly, Camp Intern

Andrew instructs Elsa on correct 'hair pulling' techniques onstage.

Andrew instructs Elsa on correct ‘hair pulling’ techniques onstage.

The York brothers mutilate the body of Clifford.

The York brothers mutilate the body of Clifford.

Campers practice their song snippet for today's matinee.

Campers practice their song snippet for today’s matinee.

20140809_101124 20140809_101710

The Final Presentations Are Here!

With the final week comes the Final Presentations. Each of our seminar groups presents the information that they have gathered over the course of three weeks. Our seminars are Theater History, Directing, Stage Management, Arts Administration, and Design. Seminars are a chance for campers to research the world of theater and to see what jobs are available for them.

Theater History presented the research they had conducted on Macbeth. They collected a ton of information about Shakespeare’s source material, early modern special effects, actor reputation, the true story of Macbeth, King James I, and the king’s influence on Shakespeare, as well as the history of witches on stage. Each student researched the different topics that interested them and then created a powerpoint in order to share their information.

Playwriting presented a play of their own composition: Campers tried to turn Cinderella into six different variations based on the research they had collected on Roman, Shakespearean, 17th Century French, Late 19th Century, and Absurdist playwriting. As they read their play, the audience was led through all of different types of theatre.

Arts Administration explained how you can make your own theatre company. They went through the major departments: Artistic, Marketing, Education, and Fundraising. The campers discussed the different job opportunities that are available off-stage.

Stage Management presented the information they gathered on the pre-rehearsal, rehearsal, and performance stages of a play. Each camper presented the different stages of the play process and stressed the importance of a Stage Manager. We don’t always discuss all the hard work that goes on backstage, but this presentation showed all the campers just how hard stage managers in particular work.

Design explained the five elements of theater design: lights, set, costumes, sound, and props. They designed a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the action takes place in modern day New York City. They mashed up themes of nature and city in order to create an interesting esthetic onstage. Humans were dressed in silver, black, and red while fairies were animalistic or covered in plants.

Directing presented several short scenes that each camper had directed. We had scenes from Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, R&J, and Much Ado. I love how the campers were able to show off all the things they had learned about Shakespeare’s staging conditions!

Until Next Time,

Molly, Camp Intern

Nick and his seminar group discuss Macbeth

Nick and his seminar group discuss Macbeth

Stone, Benedict, Mari, Maren, Evie, and Donna read aloud their play.

Stone, Benedict, Mari, Maren, Evie, and Donna read aloud their play.

Stage Management seminar presentation

Stage Management seminar presentation

20140807_155752

Design seminar presents their Puck costume design.

Design seminar presents their Puck costume design.

Joe, Will, Bridget and Margaret act out Othello.

Joe, Will, Bridget and Margaret act out Othello.

Nula, Will and Bridget act out a scene from Macbeth.

Nula, Will and Bridget act out a scene from Macbeth.

Practice Makes Perfect!

All’s Well rehearsals have been moving at a break-neck pace this week. Our young actors work tirelessly on their lines, blocking, dance moves, and songs (yes, SONGS!). With only four days left, excitement mounts as we await our time in the Blackfriars Playhouse tonight for our second dress rehearsal. During rehearsals this morning, Lee and the cast worked to clarify the comic and dramatic moments in the show. Here are some moments from our very energetic rehearsal today.

20140806-121303-43983895.jpg

20140806-121304-43984437.jpg

20140806-121304-43984071.jpg

20140806-121303-43983577.jpg

20140806-121303-43983738.jpg

20140806-121304-43984258.jpg

20140806-121304-43984627.jpg

All is Well,

Aubrey
Dramaturg, All’s Well That Ends Well

The Week of Dress Rehearsals Has Begun!

Last night started our week of Dress Rehearsals at the Blackfriars Playhouse. The campers worked in the space from seven p.m. until midnight; so if they seem tired today, you know why. Dress Rehearsals are meant to help pull together all the pieces and workout problems before the final day. Some casts did full run throughs of the play with costumes, choreography, and props, while others just ran the entrances and exits. Every minute in the Blackfriars helps the campers figure out the space before the show day.

I snapped a few pictures of All’s Well before my camera died. Enjoy!
Until Next Time,

Molly, Camp Intern

Helena and the King of France dance

Helena and the King of France dance

20140804_195146 20140804_195156 20140804_195242 20140804_195246