Monday, August 11, 2014

My Summer at the ASC

ASC Intern Blog Post

            It amazes me that I’m sitting back at home after finishing the internship I’ve been preparing for since last December. My relationship with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company began on a drive home from holiday festivities at my grandfather’s house when my older sister asked me what my plans were for the coming summer. I had none. But I knew I wanted to find a summer position teaching or working with a theater company, and after a quick search on her iPhone my sister found an opportunity that afforded both experiences. Best of all, the opportunity was at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. As a member of the Wellesley College Shakespeare Society, I knew this would be the place for me. I was fortunate enough that the people at the ASC thought so too (perhaps because I had to do my Skype interview in costume for a performance due to scheduling constraints). I was eating sushi with my sister a few weeks later when I got the email that I’d been offered the internship in the ASC’s education department. I knew I’d been afforded an incredible opportunity, but only time would show me what a watershed moment this summer would be.
            My first month at the ASC was spent in the education office learning the ropes of administration. I was truly impressed by the efforts my supervisors made to ensure my fellow interns and I were exposed to all aspects of life in the company, giving the perspective and range of skills necessary for young professionals in an artistic field. We observed rehearsals, learned the computer program used for box office transactions, and practiced writing grant proposals. My favorite project was writing a study guide for a lesson on A Midsummer Night’s Dream that the ASC will bring to elementary schools next year. But in the midst of organizing lesson plans and costume closets, there was still time for play during text classes. These workshops were a chance for us interns to work with ASC teaching artists on monologues and scenes that we eventually presented in a mock audition and a final performance the last night of our internship. In addition, we were offered advice on headshots, resumes and cover letters. The ASC was truly invested in our development as young professionals and as artists, and I’ve come away from it with a clearer idea of what it means to be in a company and what I can do to contribute to the people and the work there.

            If the administrative portion of my internship revealed how I go about a career in the arts, my time assisting the Shakespeare Intensive for Teens program reminded me why I’m pursuing a future in theater. The passion of these students was overwhelming, something I recognized from when I was younger.  I now had an opportunity to help them cultivate their talent and creativity as others have helped me.  One afternoon my administrative duties brought me into the SIT students’ rehearsal of Hamlet. I’ll never forget standing transfixed as these high-schoolers performed a glorious arrangement of “Come Away Death,” a poignant beginning to a remarkable production. It was a glimpse of what awaited me during the second half of my internship, which I would spend working with the next group of SIT students on a production of Othello. My students were smart, hardworking, and delightful to watch on stage. They were exceptionally open and honest with their thoughts and feelings, whether handling an emotionally challenging scene during rehearsal or sharing their opinions on Weird Al Yankovic over lunch. Almost instantaneously, I felt connected to each of these young actors. Barriers of self-consciousness broke down and we all were our freest selves. Our best selves. Through the collective endeavor of storytelling, we learned and shared for four short weeks. It was an inspiring, joyful, humbling experience. All too soon, Othello was over and I prepared to head home for the remainder of my summer. My last day at the theater, I found myself lingering in the green room backstage, not wanting to leave. I realized what a home I’d found at the ASC. Though parting is such sweet sorrow, I’m thankful for my summer at the ASC and go forward confident in my path as an actress and teaching artist. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

“…Go not till I set you up a glass”: An Intern’s Reflection

What a whirlwind of a month! After our final SIT performance of Hamlet last night and thinking all the way back to orientation and seeing The Comedy of Errors during our first night together, it is truly overwhelming to think of all that has occurred in between. I met one of the most unique, humble, and cohesive casts I have ever worked with, worked alongside truly wonderful and passionate artists, and felt a new level of personal growth and satisfaction that I do not believe I would have achieved if I had chosen to spend my summer working at any other theatre.
Our first day began with our check-in process, a way we would begin and end each camp day that helped to establish a judgment-free, safe and open environment that was less about the rest of the cast hearing about each other’s feelings and more of giving each student a chance to self-discover and sort through what they were bringing in and leaving with each day. I struggled with this process for a few reasons. To begin with, in this day and age, with how bombarded I judge most of us are with all manner of stimuli and responsibilities, I know that I find it difficult to find time to be with just me, in a quiet space, and reflect on how I’m doing that day and how what has happened to me that day has affected me. I also struggled with wanting to be the perfect role model for the students and what that meant to me, which turned out to be that I felt I had to simply claim to be happy all of the time and then I was done. And I wasn’t being dishonest; I am usually quite an optimistic, hopeful, and content person. However, I also needed to recognize that I’m human, struggle and go through hard times too, but more importantly, I had to realize that it was okay for these kids to see that too. It would give them permission to also open up and admit that they weren’t always a bright and bubbly, box-stepping and jazz-handing theatre student. By the end of the month, and definitely for our final check-in (during which I was able to remain relatively dry-eyed until it was the directors’ turns), I was a lot more comfortable with admitting to how I felt, honestly, and expecting nothing more than a listening ear in return.
I almost just began to recall ‘the most challenging part of the past month was…,’ but truthfully, ‘challenge’ tends to have more of a negative connotation, I judge, than what I’d like to convey about a particular part of the camp. I was invited at the beginning of the month to consider what sort of class I might like to teach the students. I had a whole plethora of ideas and had no idea how to narrow it down to one concentrated class. So I didn’t. I observed that we were spending a lot of (extremely valuable) time working text, whether it was from the show or not, and thinking about choices, relationships, motives, tactics, etc. I decided it would also be beneficial for the students to expand on those concepts by working on how best to convey them on the stage, by way of projecting one’s voice, hitting the consonants that would help communicate emotion, letting the sound of the vowels resonate throughout one’s body, breathing correctly, releasing tension in one’s body, and furthermore, exploring different ways one’s body can move. I consulted one of my acting professors from DeSales University to brush up on my Linklater technique and she guided me through some breathing, neutralizing, and vocal exercises. I also consulted my notes from a movement class taken a few years ago that focused on a fun and explorative animal exercise. Finally, after having taken three years of classes in Zumba at college and absolutely adoring it, I put together a few of my favorite routines for a short dance/exercise session. I had an absolute blast sharing this particular passion with the students and was so excited when a few of them would request songs or even ordered their own Zumba workout kits. I also did my best to reinforce the Linklater technique with a fun lyric-inspired exercise we did a few times per week. I mostly just wanted to get the students up and moving and experiencing the text they were working with as much as they were thinking about and analyzing it. Based on the moving and committed performances given by all, the feedback from my directors, and the hint of self-satisfaction I had, I would like to think the class was a success.
Working with the other directors was also an absolute blast. I had taken a directing class at school and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue at great lengths. However, working alongside my set of directors this summer and sitting in the metaphorical passenger seat of the directing process, I was able to step back and see how I could apply the ‘directing by asking questions’ technique to my own acting experiences. This technique, I judged, gave the students permission to make bold choices, explore on their own, and sometimes come up with something original that perhaps wasn’t in the director’s initial blocking or notes. Based on these observations, I predict that I will better be able to challenge myself during my own performance work and not be afraid to “just try it!”
My time spent with the SIT students and directors this June was certainly an experience that has had one of the most memorable impacts on me so far. I respected and learned from every single person I had the pleasure to work with and it is so hard to accept that few of us may see each other again in the near future. Yet one thing that will connect us all, no matter where life takes us, is this single lesson that I hope we will all continue to carry close to our hearts: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

-Emily Wisniewski

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remembering the Magic: An Intern’s View of Shakespeare Superheroes Camp

My name is Katy Hiott, and I am a rising senior Theatre major at North Greenville University in South Carolina. I grew up participating in many theatre camps and was able to experience the magic of theatre as a young child. As I began a more in-depth study of theatre, I knew I wanted to give back and offer children a chance to fall in love with theatre, just as many people had invested in my love of theatre as a young girl. This created a desire in me to teach theatre and the magic it brings. The Atlanta Shakespeare Company Education Department has given me a chance to do just that!

This summer, I am an intern for the Shakespeare Superheroes camps for kids ages seven to fifteen. I just finished my first camp of the summer. I loved it! Before camp began, I was a bit nervous about teaching. I knew my responsibilities included assisting with directing and choreographing a performance at the end of camp, as well as helping lead games and other activities. However, I didn’t know how the kids would respond to me or if they would be able to grasp the poetic language found in Shakespeare’s play. My doubts quickly disappeared—these kids absolutely blew me away. Although they enjoyed playing games and getting to know one another, I was surprised by how smart and dedicated they were to performing. On breaks, they often practiced lines or music for the performance. Several students even had their monologues memorized the day after they received their scripts. Their focused dedication and commitment to the show was evident. Most of all, I was impressed by the imagination of these children. Not bound to the pressing conformity of the world, Shakespeare’s works came alive in fresh and creative ways through their interpretation of the script. Was their interpretation completely accurate in meaning? No, but the kids put their heart and souls into the performance and their hard work clearly showed. The two weeks weren’t without struggles and hardships, but everyone pushed through and created an entertaining (and hilarious, I might add) piece of theatre.

My favorite moment from camp took place on the day before the performance. During a rehearsal, the kids began to gasp after every line during one of the scenes after being prompted to be as over the top as they could possibly be. They acted as if a big secret was being revealed as each line was spoken. As the students became more engrossed in the scene, the more captivating they became to watch. Eventually, their characters became bolder and bolder. The students, even the ones who were very shy, came bursting out of their shells. As I watched the students laughing at how silly they were being and how much fun they were having bringing Shakespeare to life, my mind was reawakened to how magical theatre can be. I can’t help but think that it’s one of the most beautiful memories I’ll have of the summer.

One of the most excellent benefits about theatre is experiencing the freedom and the excitement that accompanies exploring worlds different from your own. Watching these students giggle, make new friends, learn the basics of theatre, experience struggles and successes in learning and understanding two of Shakespeare’s works, and come together to create a show for their families and friends was truly a revitalizing experience. These kids reminded me that a playful and open attitude can transform the way I view and participate in theatre. They reawakened my imagination and reminded me of the magical world of theatre I grew to love as a young girl. I am truly grateful for these kids and the opportunity the Shakespeare Tavern has given me to invest through teaching. I look forward to round two of camp in July!