Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer Intensive for Teens with JoJo!

At the Shakespeare Tavern, it’s trial by fire.

I am a teaching intern this year for the Summer Intensive for Teens, or SIT. SIT lasts three weeks; in that time the group of teenagers that were chosen from auditions held in the spring prepare a full-length Shakespeare play and take master classes in theatrical skills like mask work and combat. This particular group of fifteen students put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the help of two brilliant teaching artists, Mary Ruth Ralston and Chris Rushing. The whole three-week process is an exercise in trust and in releasing inhibitions. The way to succeed is to dive in full force, make bold choices, and support scene partners’ bold choices. Trial by fire.

I participated in SIT twice as a teenager, and I liked it so much I came back to experience it from the other side. I assumed my time here as an actor would prepare me for the next step. I should have known better: if I’ve learned anything from SIT it is to expect the unexpected.

In true Tavern fashion, I was thrown headlong into something both scary and inspiring. Mary Ruth and Chris put an unbelievable amount of faith in me. They, and the education department as a whole, believed me capable of teaching and directing long before I believed myself capable of those things. On the first day of SIT, Mary Ruth and Chris split the characters into three groups. They each took one group to direct and left me with the third. Here I was on the very first day, in a cramped back hallway of the Tavern attempting to direct a battle between fairy royals so powerful that their fighting literally alters the seasons. I was terrified.

The amount of trust present on all sides was what made it work. Not only did my directors trust me, but so did the students. After all, it was their first day too. They knew none of their peers, they knew nothing of me, and some of them weren’t even familiar with the Tavern or with Shakespeare. It made me grateful, proud, and relieved that they were willing to put their faith in me and jump right in. If everyone else believed in me that much, I had no choice but to believe in myself. They were already taking the leap; there was no other option but to be there to catch them.

So in this way I was tricked into being a confident teacher and director. I began to volunteer to direct scenes on my own. I brought in a movement exercise that I had learned in a dance class and taught it by myself. I taught warm-ups and improv games. By the last week, I was confident enough to direct the lovers’ quarrel all on my own, a scene that had interested me since day one but that I had been too shy to tackle.

I also acted as a student. I participated in workshops and games. I watched closely as Mary Ruth and Chris led text classes. I learned how to talk to students when they get discouraged, or how to gently but firmly enforce rules. I learned from my students how to handle mistakes or embarrassment with grace, and how to imbue a text with new life.

When I started the summer, I thought I would make a smooth and logical progression from student to teacher. Little did I know, the progression from student to teacher is anything but smooth and logical. The line between the two is often blurred. Everything I did took on double significance – it is not even fair to divide my time into teaching and learning. They melted together. Any single action contained elements of both. Teaching my movement exercise was learning. Learning to direct by asking questions was teaching.

The most gratifying moment of SIT was the day I realized my own favorite vocal warm-up, which I had taught on the spur of the moment one day, had become a tradition. On the last day of performances, the students requested I lead it one last time. They were going to miss it, they said. I happily bequeathed these young actors something that works for me in my own acting. It was the simplest, most tangible example of my student to teacher transformation.

Trial by fire works for the teenage students. I already knew that much from my time as an actor at SIT. I didn’t know, though, that it works for everyone. It works for teachers just like it works for students, because there’s really not such a black and white distinction between them anyways. Trial by fire works for anyone who wants to learn. Dive in. Don’t hold back. Trust yourself to be great enough to walk through flames. 

Submitted by Amanda Lindsey McDonald
Social Media Specialist

Monday, August 1, 2016

Shakespeare with a Twist- Payton Anderson on Remix

Hey there! My name is Payton Briggs Anderson and I’m the Shakespeare Intensive for Teens (SIT) Remix intern for the Summer of 2016 here at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse. So what exactly is SIT Remix? After three weeks of rehearsals that culminate with multiple performances of a Shakespearean play, the participants of SIT launch into a fourth week devoted to devised theatre. 

Wait a second. What exactly is devised theatre? I’m glad you asked! Now I’m no expert (I’m still a student myself), but I’ll do my best to give you a basic run-down of what devised theatre is. Devised theatre (n.) results from the creative process of devising (v.), a process in which theater practitioners create a piece that doesn’t arise from a specific script.
So what exactly does that mean? Generally, when going into a traditional theatre environment (like the one that the SIT students are exposed to for the first three weeks), an actor is equipped with a script that has specific parts, lines, text, stage directions, etc. The actor learns their lines, rehearses their part, and performs a story according to a specific script. When an actor steps into the devising process, however, learning your part and learning your lines from a specific script is not the first step. Instead, the actor steps into an ensemble-driven environment that works on the embodiment, interpretation, and communication of larger themes and ideas that can stem from an infinite number of different sources. These sources can be pretty much anything, such as society, personal experience, observation, a piece of poetry, or (as in the case of SIT this year) the text of a Shakespearean comedy. After a period of exploration, the ensemble uses elements of staging such as lights, text, sound, space, props, and movement to compose a piece that addresses these themes.

When I was given the opportunity to expose high school students to devised theatre I was initially super nervous and scared. Personally, I had no idea that devised theatre even existed until my freshman year of college, so I had no doubt that Remix would be the first exposure to devised work for many of the high schoolers I’d work with. What right did I have to be teaching high schoolers about devised work when I’m still a student myself? Luckily, I had an amazing lead teacher (shout-out to Atlanta actor Brandon Partrick!) to collaborate with, and together we did our best to create a trajectory that would introduce these creative young minds to the basic principles of devising theatre.

This June, the SIT students rehearsed and performed a production of the comedy Much Ado About Nothing. During the first Remix session, we had the students discuss themes and ideas from the play that resonated for them or had been uncovered during the rehearsal process. True to the nature of Shakespeare’s plays, the themes discussed were a diverse slice of the human experience, including love, truth, deception, pride, and forgiveness. As the week unfolded, the exercises we introduced were utilized to tackle these themes and explore them through embodiment. In addition to the exercises, students were encouraged to bring in their own contributions to the work. It could be anything from a piece of text that spoke to them on some level, a movement that elicited some sort of emotion, or a song they had written. By encouraging the students to bring in and share their own material, we hoped that the students would develop a sense of ownership of their creation – a crucial element of any ensemble. And own it they did. By the end of the week the students had created a piece that was completely their own, one that took place primarily in a dark room and explored the darker issues of Shakespeare’s comedy.

By a landslide, my favorite part of the week was watching the students’ faces light up as a new, exciting piece of knowledge clicked for them. As a particularly nerdy theatre theory person myself, it was so much fun to watch the learning process in real time as a new idea was introduced, and it was even more fun to watch the realizations occur as those theories and ideas were explored through exercises. I can absolutely relate to the feeling of excitement brought on by a buzzing brain, and I had no doubt that this was happening for those high schoolers. For me, this feeling is invaluable as a student and ESPECIALLY as a theatre practitioner. Introducing students to alternate methods of creating theatre opens a portal of infinite possibilities filled with their own unique challenges and levels of excitement. Just as exploring Shakespeare’s words offers an insight into the complexity of the human condition, I believe that devising theatre encourages students to explore these complexities in new and exciting ways that are completely unique to them.

Being the Remix intern has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences of my summer, and I’m incredibly excited to do it all again this July!