Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer interns and Shakespeare Intensive for Teens

It is a little bit surreal to look back on the first half of my summer at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. I spent June working with the Shakespeare Intensive for Teens program, and I feel like I have just stepped off of a rollercoaster. Sure, I’m winded but I also can’t stop smiling. This three-week program has been incredibly informative for me as an artist, as an intern, and as a person. However, since it is impossible to convey every lesson learned during SIT without time travel -and science has limited my resources- here is the Sparknotes version of what I learned.
It’s all about the students. This experience is shaped by those who participate in it and each student within this group was incredibly eager and willing to work. Personally, it would be difficult to imagine this going through this experience without each of the young artists and their personalities that brought the work to life. Veterans and newcomers alike courageously explored outside of their comfort zones. These students readily shared their discoveries about themselves, their characters and the text which informed their work in profoundly unique ways and brought the group together.
After each day, we would sign off as a team (like an all hands in, 3..2..1 GO TEAM!! type team). Though it might seem trivial, reinforcing the team element was a beautiful way to establish the tone of the room. One of the tenants of the ASC’s educational philosophy is to create a judgement-free environment, so establishing this group as a team helped keep everyone on the same plane. On any given day we were Team Off-Book, Team Team or Team Work but most importantly, we were always a part of Team Safe Space. We asked students to be aware of judgement within their language and their physicality in order to establish the SIT classroom as a free zone for exploration. The group was supportive, attentive, and quickly broke judgmental habits. Especially once the students recognized they had the support of their cast, they identified and discussed their emotions eloquently- something even adults struggle with. It seemed simple for the students to be receptive to the ideas and emotions of others which allowed us to really get moving in the artistic process. However, it was much more difficult to eliminate the judgement they passed on themselves. 
Asking anyone to access their emotions in front of others is a tall order. Asking TEENAGERS to access their emotions in front of others?? Good luck. High schoolers have an inclination to avoid talking about their feelings in public. Naturally, SIT starts every day with an emotional check-in. After each run through of a scene, the first question asked was usually “how did that feel?”.  So, it’s safe to say we talked about feelings A LOT. One of the larger challenges was to get the students to identify what they were feeling instead of judging their performance. Judgement is a full stop. When faced with a judgmental response such as “that was good” or “I felt like I was awful” the directors would shift the focus to unpacking the emotions behind those rulings. As someone who is riddled with self-judgement, this is a game changer. Providing the vocabulary to assess emotions prompted students to make bold, active choices and opened their performances up to new discoveries. Once a student made an awesome new choice there was no time to waste. To quote everyone’s favorite sports brand, JUST DO IT.  Infinite discoveries are made in the moment. There was no time to judge when ideas were immediately put into motion. Students, especially self-conscious students, tried to talk themselves out of these spontaneous findings by inquiring whether it was “the right answer” or not. But here’s the kicker: we trusted our students and the findings they discovered.
It took some students the whole process to recognize that they were entitled to their own decisions. No one was going to shame them if they tried something that didn’t exactly fit. Sure, the directors offered guidance, but ultimately the students were at the helm. Students let their emotions lead them without worrying about conforming to a pre-set artistic vision. Each student had the right to tell the story their way.  This inclusive directing style cultivated wonderful, weird and honest performances. Offstage, it changed lives. During the wrap-up of the first week, we asked the students what had affected them most from this process. Almost unanimously the group commented on how quickly they felt comfortable trusting one another. Another resounding answer came from several students; they had never felt like they were enough on stage before this program. This struck a personal chord with me. I’ve spent a lot of my life obsessing over whether or not I am good enough. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self one thing, I would try to silence self-doubt (I’m waiting on you, science!!). So, to know that SIT has given students the tools to combat that anxiety is overwhelming.  This program is powerful.  
Lastly, life– like theatre- is ephemeral. RECORD IT. I wish I had just written down what it felt like to be in that classroom. That way I could bottle it up and take it with me now, like a handwritten time machine. I implore everyone to journal. The feelings discovered and life lessons learned within this program are all worth remembering. Keep discovering, exploring and leaning in. I know I will.

Submitted by Aliya Kraar, Summer Intern 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Interning with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company

Hi everyone!  I’m Sidney, and this summer I am the Superheroes intern for the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse.

This first June session, I worked with Katie Wine and Kathryn Lawson as teaching artists at our Decatur location of Shakespeare Superheroes.  We had nineteen phenomenal kids who in just two weeks learned the epic, intricate stories of both King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew.  On day one, we got to know each other, began to understand our plays and did a little acting with Story of the Play, and played many fun games together.  All of the children got their scripts on day two, and by day three some had even already memorized their monologues!  I was so impressed by the diligence and hard work these children put forth in memorizing their complex lines and comprehending their characters in just two weeks.  I never expected such professional attitudes of children ages six to fourteen, plus with the added silly bonus of the joy and energy children bring to the stage. 

I brought some of my own personal experience teaching to the camp by introducing Mad Libs as an entertaining way to take our stories and have some fun with them!  I created six pages per show with blanks for adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs, and the kids themselves invented hilarious scenes and then split off into the roles to act them out for everyone!  It was a way for them to further understand relationships and become more familiar with the characters, and also to have some very silly fun.  Our angry line, “O, Goneril!” became, “O, mashed potatoes!” and was certainly a hit for the rest of camp.

How do children this young understand the Shakespearean lines they are saying?  My fellow teaching artists and I work hard to help these kids come to their own conclusions through Directing by Asking Questions.  This has been my first experience with this type of teaching and directing.  I have personally always had directors in the past that just tell the actor where to go with no actor input or motivation behind it.  Directing by asking questions allows the children to grow through the process and have individual discoveries and develop the tools to help them understand more text themselves in the future. 

The imagination and creativity of these students was so inspirational.  They really got into their roles and committed to their performance with such strength and passion.  They even used the art supplies we had to make some of their own props and invitations, such as construction paper swords for knights, sparkly pipe cleaner jewelry for the wealthy, and their own posters advertising their shows.

I definitely learned a lot with the performance process as well.  With thirty-two scenes, nineteen children who had at least four costumes each, over ten quick changes, and six difference places they could enter and exit from, it was… hectic!  I took a lot of initiative backstage in managing everyone by writing down every single entrance and exit in my script, and even putting together a Master Entrance sheet for my helpers to follow when we got to the Tavern the day of our performance.  I made sure everyone was in their places a scene or two in advance to enter from stage right, stage left, and center, and made sure there was some extra assistance for some of our six year olds with their entrances and exits.  The final performance was incredible, and I am so proud of every single one of them.

It was such a delight to watch these children learn and grow over the past two weeks.  They overcame their nerves and confusion to put on an absolutely beautiful production.  Even if some of them do not pursue Shakespeare after this camp, they still learned team work, communication, reading comprehension, confidence, and had oh so much fun.

Submitted by Sidney Marie Joines

Friday, May 13, 2016

Atlanta Shakespeare Company selected as venue for cultural experience project

The Atlanta Shakespeare Company has been selected as one of the 21 venues for the Cultural Experience Project offered by the Office of Cultural Affairs.  This project will serve the Atlanta Public School students in the 2016-2017 school year.
The Cultural Experience Project was launched during the 2005-2006 school year to give every Atlanta Public School (APS) student the opportunity to experience the city’s premier art and cultural venues.  The Atlanta Shakespeare Company will be serving high school level students with performances of Caesar: 60, an hour long performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar directed by Kati Grace Brown and adapted by Andrew Houchins.  These performances, taking place in September, will reach over 1000 students.  By encouraging students to hear and analyze Shakespeare’s language, plot, and characters, these performances will meet criteria that directly ties to Common Core Georgia Performance Standards and curriculum goals.  Teachers will also receive study guides before performances as well as post show question and answer sessions with the actors.
The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Education programs provide opportunities for students, educators and parents throughout Georgia and the Southeast to experience the power of Shakespeare’s language and dramatic vision through play, passion, poetry, active participation and performance using dynamic, language based methods.  We do this through interactive, fast paced playshops in the classroom; useful, in depth study guides for all our school programs and performances; in school and after school residencies of varying lengths where the full power of Shakespeare in performance can be experienced by your entire school and summer programs that delve deep into the world of Shakespeare performance and study for students and teachers alike.
# # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Amanda Lindsey McDonald at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Two Noble Women of The Two Noble Kinsmen

We had to take a moment and talk to the ladies of the show.  By the way, there are seven women performing in this production!  Check out this interview with Amee Vyas and Katherine Lawson!

Who are you and what are your characters?
AV: Amee Vyas and I play the Jailer’s Daughter. It’s really listed as Daughter in the dramatis personae and in the script. It’s in the stage directions, we get “Jailer’s” Daughter, so for consistency we say Jailer’s Daughter.
KLKathryn Lawson playing Princess Emelia

How long have you been working at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse?
AV: I plead the fifth! Actually, this is my 14th year with ASC and I’ve performed in at least one play here every year except for the 2012-13 season when I moved out of Atlanta for a brief year.
KL: Since 2010

What did you enjoy most about the previous production of The Two Noble Kinsmen when it was produced five years ago?
AV: The freedom of not having a predecessor or another popular production of the play to be compared to. Also, I believe we took that freedom and ran with it. We created some really lovely bits of staging (and that Troy specifically re-created in this production) because we were all willing to try anything; since, we’d never seen the play performed we didn’t think “well, that’s not how Branagh did it!” or “you know, I hate it when actors make Hamlet so mopey, so I’m going to do it differently!” We really allowed the text to dictate what we did, which resulted in one particularly uber-theatrical staging: the building of a human ship – which one of the actors suggested as a literal interpretation of the brief text in the scene.
KL: The wonderful cast and meeting new people in Atlanta theatre. 

What do you like that is different about this production?
AV: The cast is great. Each new cast brings something fun and exciting (if the gods are smiling at you and with this cast they are!). I don’t remember laughing as hard backstage the last time. Then again, we were all a little unsure of the play and how it would be received. This time around we knew that it is a magical play and with Daniel and Matt as the title characters, we were set for success!
KL: I love our wonderful new cast and getting to play pretend with my very dear friends.

What is one of your favorite moments in this show? When do you feel most connected to the show?
AV: Ahh, there are so many! This is unfair!  I’d like to say the last moment of the opening song, when Sarah Beth goes for the Soprano line and Rivka beats the last four notes on the drum, there’s a harmony of sounds that is just beautiful; but then, I think, my personal favorite is one of my character’s last scenes in the play, I’m drunk (which Shakespeare never gives to a female character!) and I’m talking about the afterlife. Instead of staging it where I am interacting with the 3 other characters who are talking about how crazy I am, Troy continues my character’s arc of being alone with the audience and I play the entire scene in the ditch and on the edge of the thrust. There isn’t a more perfect example of audience interaction and since I’m drunk and seeing a different world I’m also tapping into my craft; so it becomes a perfect intersection of preparation, craft, and being in the room – and it’s just fun to do.
KL: There's a big confrontation scene after intermission that I feel like is super dynamic, the two Noble Kinsmen have their sword fight interrupted by the royal hunting party: Theseus & Emelia have their bows drawn and ready, Hippolyta & Pirithous have their mitts out, everybody's ready to throw down.  For me, it's the little moments of audible response that echoes how I'm thinking and feeling in a particular moment. We've just finished uproariously laughing at our own bad jokes and Matt/Arcite does this snap stare of mega intensity and the audience sees this budding connection between us and responds.  Kevin/Theseus says "Make choice then." And there is a groan of sympathy for Emelia's predicament of having to choose between two handsome awesome lovable guys knowing that whichever one she doesn't choose dies.  I love being able to use our style of original practice to directly address the audience and actually ask two different audience members which Kinsmen I should choose!  I never know what they are going to say.

Who should see this show and why?
AV: Everyone! First, it’s rarely produced, so if you are a theater- or Shakespeare- or Classic Literature-geek, you need to see it. Second, it’s a beautiful production with music, and fights, and a human ship. Lastly, #shamelessplug, I’m in it!
KL: Can you relate to love in the extreme? Or love that is non-traditional and multifaceted? Have you ever stalked an ex? Have you ever dated more than one person at the same time and didn't know which one you liked best? Do you like music? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, no judgement but you should see Two Noble Kinsmen!

Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Social Media Specialist

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Two Noble Kinsmen and... The Two Noble Kinsmen!

We took some time with Matt Nitchie and Daniel Parvis to get the scoop on this year's production of The Two Noble Kinsmen.  Check it out!

Who are you and who are you playing?
MN: My name's Matt Nitchie.  I play Arcite
DP: Hey, my name is Daniel Parvis and I play Palamon, a noble kinsman!

How long have you performed at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse?
MN:I've been with the Tavern since the '04-'05 apprentice year.  So about 12 years.  Yikes.
DP: Oh, a good 8-9 seasons, and a couple scattered shows over the past few years.

What did you enjoy about the previous production that was done five years ago?
MN: The ensemble, the story, and the music.  Working with Parvis.  Hell, the whole package.
DP: I really enjoyed the way that the company fully embraced both the comedy and tragedy of the play.   Not seeing the two elements as conflicting and potentially shying away from either element.  Going for broke with both!

What do you like that is different with this production?
MN: We were able to dig a bit deeper this time.  Refine some characterizations and such.  There's also some great new energy from our new cast members.
DP: I like the new additions to our cast, they're fantastic to work with, and I love making new friends.  I also like that I can play the mandolin now, I think I'd like to get one and keep playing.  I also like seeing how those of us who are returning have grown as actors in the five or so years since we last did the play.

What is one of your favorite moments in this show?
MN:  I think we came up with a very strong first moment for the show.  It's a great first step.  That, and the first scene of our second half.  It's such a juicy scene.  Oh, and the prison scene.  Man, there are a bunch of good bits in this show.
DP: One of my favorite moments is the prayer scene.  The speeches are beautiful, and we have some amazing music created by Clark Weigle and performed by the cast supporting them.  I think that it's a very powerful, moving moment in the show

When do you feel most connected to the character/audience?
MN: It can change nightly.
DP: I don't think I can say without spoiling anything!  But let's just say that I think I feel the most connected any time my character is acknowledging the love he feels for either Emilia or his fellow kinsman.

Who should see this show and why?
MN: I think everyone should come see this show.  It's not just some dusty old Shakespeare play noone knows about.  This play is beautiful and very funny.  It moves well and it's relatable.  It's a very special show to me, and I think many people will miss out simply because it's not one of his more famous plays.
DP: I absolutely love this play, and I think it's totally underrated.  It has so much heart in it.  Anyone who wants to laugh, cry, and see a rarely produced Shakespeare play should come see this one.  And beer.  Anyone who likes beer should come see this show.  There's beer.

The Two Noble Kinsmen has one more weekend of shows.  Don't miss this show!

Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Social Media Specialist

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Finding Romeo and Juliet Beyond the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse

        Have you seen Romeo and Juliet yet?  If not, be sure to come to the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse before the play closes next weekend.  And if you are sad that our Romeo and Juliet is coming to an end, perhaps you should take Benvolio’s advice to a doleful Romeo and “examine other beauties” (1.1.236), specifically the many different versions and adaptations of Romeo and Juliet that other artists have created.  
        You can find the influence of Romeo and Juliet in so many mediums beyond the stage: songs, Broadway shows, films, paintings, ballets, and operas.  The sheer number of Romeo and Juliet adaptations is an extraordinary testament to how the complexity and depth of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy lends itself to investigation by all types of artists.  Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” refers to Juliet and Romeo while Sondheim’s West Side Story is based on the feud between the Capulets and Montagues.  The film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet range from the silly animated movie Gnomeo and Juliet to Zeffirelli’s more traditional, classic 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, to the modernized 1996 adaptation of Romeo+Juliet.
            Here are three of my favorite non-film works influenced by Romeo and Juliet:
            Frank Dicksee’s 1884 oil painting Romeo and Juliet, now housed in the Southampton City Art Gallery in Southampton, England, highlights a touching embrace between Romeo and Juliet.  Visit the BBC’s “Your Paintings” website to see Dicksee’s work:\.
            Peter Martins’ choreography for the ballet Romeo and Juliet beautifully captures the exuberance of young love.  Visit the New York City Ballet’s website to view an excerpt of the pas de deux between Romeo and Juliet:
            Charles Gounod’s opera Romeo and Juliet features a lovely aria in which Romeo encourages Juliet to emerge from her room so he can woo her.  Listen to Lisa Simone’s commentary and Romeo’s aria at World of Opera:

With so many adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, you can surely find something to tide you over until ASC’s Romeo and Juliet returns to our stage again.  

Submitted by
Samantha Smith

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Quick Chat with Romeo

What is your name and character?
Stephen Ruffin and I am playing Romeo Montague 

 Where did you go to college?
The University of Florida....GO GATORS!!

 How long have you been acting at the Tavern? 
Since August 2014 when I was in the Apprentice Company along with Trey York and Kevin Roost!

 What was your first encounter with Shakespeare?
My mom introduced his work to me in the 2nd grade! R&J and Hamlet were my first two.

 What made you want to work at the Tavern?
Performing Shakespeare on a professional level had been a goal of mine since I began acting, and I was familiar with the Tavern because I grew up in Atlanta and had always heard good things

Who is a person who influenced your decision to be an actor?
I had an acting professor my freshman year of college that became a mentor to me. He's a constant reminder of why I love to do this.

 Favorite memory on stage
Easy. Doing devised hip-hop theatre in college. 

 What do you hope to matinee students take away from the show?
How incredible of an avenue theatre can be to convey important messages, AND be incredibly entertaining.

10. What other performance styles have you done? tv, film, dance, etc.  (include picture if you have one)
Tv, film and dance!
This picture is from Sleepy Hollow on Fox

11.  What does it feel like to be in one of Shakespeare's most famous works?

Pretty surreal to have the chance to portray one of the most famous characters in literature, especially at a professional level. I feel pretty privileged every night I'm out there on stage.

Submitted by 
Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Education Social Media Specialist