Friday, August 14, 2009

Of Superheroes, Swords and Humorous Suitors, Part II

You'd never know that high school students can have inhibitions about Shakespeare when watching the productions put on by both sessions of our summer Shakespeare Intensive for Teens. The intensive (or 'SIT' for short) is open to rising 9th graders through rising college freshmen, and the name fits: it's intense.

These dedicated teens give four weeks of their summer to spend 7 hours a day with us, 5 days a week, to get a taste of just about everything there is to know about performing 'Original Practice' Shakespeare. They do in-depth analysis of Shakespeare's text and study Elizabethan dance, madrigal singing, audition technique, clowning, stage combat...the list goes on. Then the really cool part: at the end of the four weeks they perform a nearly full length production of a Shakespeare play on our professional main stage (not to brag or anything, but as far as I can tell we offer the ONLY theatre summer camp in town that lets participants perform on our professional stage, in our professional costumes, with lighting design by our professional lighting designer, you get the picture.)

This summer SIT Session I performed Macbeth, while Session II performed The Merchant of Venice. And the best thing about these two productions? Secondary characters from both plays, and the young actors playing them, really had a chance to shine. After watching the SIT Macbeth you remembered not just Macbeth and his wife but the Porter too (and Malcom, and Hecate, and plenty of other juicy roles that don't normally get a lot of attention.) Likewise, in many professional productions of Merchant the roles of the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon, two unsucessful suitors hoping to marry Portia, either suffer drastic reduction or can come across as deadly dull. Yet as one of many examples of 'no small parts' in SIT's production, the two princes' scenes showcased some of the most memorable moments in the play thanks to a crew of fabulous young comedians. In our education programs we do our best to drive home for students that everyone, every single person, involved in a production is's great when we can drive that home for the audience, too.

Just a few of many favorite shots from Merchant and Macbeth:

-Kristin Hall, Education and Development Coordinator

Of Superheroes, Swords and Humorous Suitors, Part I

While the tail end of this summer might have seemed all quiet on the mainstage production front, at the end of July we wrapped up our most successful summer yet here at the Shakespeare Tavern's Education Department.

For one thing, this year we had enough demand to create a second session of our newest summer day camp, "Shakespeare Superheroes," for ages 8-13. The camp uses pieces of Shakespeare's text as a gateway to explore the arts: acting, singing, dancing, and even arts and crafts (for example, the masks worn by Macbeth's witches in the sessions' final performances were made by the students.) At the end of two weeks, the 'superheroes' get to produce a final performance on our professional stage that's based on two of Shakespeare's plays. This year, the plays selected for both sessions to explore were Macbeth and Much Ado about Nothing...and can you say 'adorable?' What really struck me during the final Superheroes performances for each session, though, was not how cute but how good these kids were, how well they took to Shakespeare's language. To watch a fifth grade girl deliver a Lady Macbeth soliloquy in a way that clearly tells you she comprehends and feels everything she's saying just as much as an actress three times her age--that's something pretty special.

Which brings home something that the Education Department has known for a while now: elementary and middle school students take to Shakespeare just as well as, and at times maybe even more readily than, high school students. They have boundless enthusiasm, few inhibitions and--as our Superheroes instructors learn anew each session--inexhaustible amounts of energy. Personally, I think it also helps that younger students probably haven't had as much time yet for parents, teachers, and society in general to tell them that Shakespeare is 'difficult' and 'boring.'

These are three of my favorite pictures of the performance by Session 2, a fun action sequence that shows Macbeth slaying Young Siward (with an air broadsword, of course.)

-Kristin Hall, Education and Development Coordinator

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Long Time No Write: or, I Know What We Did This Summer

Hey there Tavern blog readers! Things have been whatever lies beyond crazy while we were leading up to, and then making it through, this summer.

What was so special about this summer, you ask? Many of you probably noticed that after our run of The Mystery of Irma Vep, the Shakespeare Tavern closed for the month of July and the first week of August, which is pretty unusual for us. But not everyone knows the motivation behind the close...and it was such a neat idea that we just have to tell you about it.

Summer is normally the toughest part of the year for us financially in the best of times (no school matinees, for instance, which means 2 fewer performances each week,) and in the current economic climate this summer was looking particularly grim. But while looking ahead to a range of unhappy scenarios our Artistic Director, Jeff Watkins, came up with an outside-the-box idea. See, in addition to being a leading actor, director, and entrepreneur, it just so happens that Jeff is also a master carpenter--in 1999 he designed and oversaw the building of the Tavern stage that many of you are familiar with, as well as that stage's previous incarnation. For a few years now the stage built in 1999 had needed repair: the lumber was cracked and old (some had been around since 1989,) the steps were creaky, the paneling had gaps in it, etc. And the backstage areas needed some help, too.
Jeff's main goal for this difficult period was to keep as many staff members employed as possible.

Since many of our artistic staff members also have carpentry and other technical theatre skills, Jeff's idea was to close the theatre for a few weeks and, during that time, to direct the Atlanta Shakespeare Company in rebuilding and renovating our own Shakespeare Tavern stage and playhouse. While we are still finishing up some of the renovations backstage, thanks to a lot of hard work and patience on the part of our staff and a desperately-needed booster shot of donations and support from our audiences, we made it through the summer and our new stage is ready for viewing! The stage was 'christened' by the cast of the second session of our Shakespeare Intensive for Teens summer camp, during their final performances of The Merchant of Venice July 25-27. Now it can be seen starring as its beautiful self in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged,) our pre-season production during August.

Because we have kept the same basic design inspired by the stage of Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre, the differences might not seem obvious at first. But much of the lumber is new, the stairs are sturdier, the paint has been refreshed and, most exciting of all, it is designed to be much more malleable to suit the needs of different plays--when all is said and done, it can be configured into six different Elizabethan playhouses!

Soon we'll have pictures up here of some of the off-stage summer renovations that audiences don't normally get to see, such as the new actor-friendly hardwood floor in our rehearsal hall, but for now you can use this link to check out photos of the renovation process that we posted to our Facebook page (by the way, did you know that we have a Facebook page? Be sure to become one of our Facebook fans! Look for us under “Atlanta Shakespeare Company”:

-Kristin Hall, Education and Development Coordinator