ASC Theatre Camp and the Four Little Words:

Camper:   Um, excuse me? I think I may have a spondee?
Asst. Director:   Spondee? Spondee? Really? That sounds serious; you should put something on that.
C:   Ha, ha! I see what you did there.
AD:   What, my using your question to create epizeuxis?
C:   Epizeuxis? Epizeuxis?
AD:   See, I totally just got you to turn ‘epizeuxis’ into an epizeuxis. 
C:   Epizeuxis, epischmooxis!
AD:   Well, now that is not epizeuxis, epizeuxis is an immediate repeat, epishmooxis indeed! Now, how do we feel about epanorthosis?
C:   Bless you.
AD:   Nice one. But what I was going to say –
C:   Don’t start, I know what epizeuxis and epanorthosis mean, I’m just choosing to ignore you.
AD:   Touché.
C:   Now seriously, if I do have a spondee what do I do with the rest of it?
AD:   Well, I hear that if you slap a pyrrhic on a spondee it will clear the whole thing up in a matter of days. But, careful, now, that could just be an old wives tale.
From the 2012 ASC Theatre Camp Production of A King and No King.
Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

C:   Funny…O, you mean…hey, that might actually work.

AD:   Why don’t you try it several ways and see which you think is best and go with that.
C:   But I want to get it right.
AD:   I can’t write you a prescription – ‘Take two trochees and call me in the morning.’ It’s your performance, so, you look at the clues, you try them out, and you then decide. Make it yours – that’s what makes it right
C:   I’m not used to that.
AD:   Welcome to camp! Give yourself a chance. I think you’ll find you have all the tools you need and that if you do your homework, commit to your choices, and believe in yourself, you’ll be great.
C:   Okay. I mean, thanks. I mean…so, you’re not going to tell me?
AD:   You are going to tell you. You are smart, funny, talented…by the time the show opens you will know that you are smart and funny and talented and will also be bold and confident and brilliant. And that, my friend, is…
C:   My cue to go try it?
AD:   Well, I was going to say ‘polysyndeton’. But, yeah, go try it, try ’em all! You can totally do this.
C:   Okay, I’ll give it a try!
That exchange is not, in fact, regarding treatment of an infectious disease, but about how to pronounce a line of verse. And, it is a typical back and forth between student and staff here at the ASC Theatre Camp for teens. Yes, we do spend a lot of quality time learning rhetoric, scansion, and other terrifying things. Yes, we design our curriculum with the goal of helping students explore language in a way that will help them to do better in their English classes, their AP tests, their college applications, and their performance skills. And it, in fact, does do all of that. But that is not the primary objective of our work here at the ASC Theatre Camp. 
I like to kick off each session by introducing students and families to what I believe are the four hardest words for students to say in any of Shakespeare’s texts and reassure them that by the end of camp they will be able to say all four. They are, in ascending order: o, alas, alack, and I. Why, are these the most difficult to say you ask? Well, try them. You, yes, you, try them – it’s way more fun than you might imagine and not at all embarrassing. Really.
You can do it, just start with ‘O.’ Try to say the full word, don’t swallow it, really pronounce the whole thing. Let’s do it together: ‘O.’ Now try: ‘O for a muse of fire’. Now try it out loud. Don’t shorten that ‘O.’ Really say it like you mean it. See, that was a bit embarrassing at first, but, once you stopped worrying about the embarrassing feeling it was a cake walk. Nicely done. 
If you survived that, and I’m sure you did, try ‘alas.’ It’s okay if that one feels a bit silly when you start, just try it again. Remember now, out loud, do them all out loud.  ‘Alas.’ Now try: ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’  It’s much easier if you really say ‘alas’ before you go on to the rest of the sentence. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but it works, so resist your inclination to pretend it isn’t there.  Also, that one happens to be from a comedy, so really make a big deal of it, for comedic effect. It’s okay to feel silly here since you are, in fact, trying to be silly.  ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’ Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! That was great. And I’m totally laughing with you, not at you, because, after all, you made it funny. Well played. You may have noticed that if you just go for it you feel a lot less silly because you are trying to be silly and then you sound downright serious and everyone will respect you for it. Neat trick, huh? Good job!
From the 2012 ASC Theatre Camp
Production of Henry VI, Part 1.Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

Now, moving on to the really ridiculous one. Try ‘alack.’ Don’t forget the ‘ck’ sound at the end there. It’s more important than you might think, as it gives you the chance to separate that word from what comes after it. So, try it again, ‘alack.’  It’s one of those words you say when something has really given you pause, so take the time to allow the realization to set in as you say: ‘Alack the day’. If any line is going to make you look around and see if anyone is listening, it’s that one. It tends to make everyone a bit self-conscious. But, let’s just work through it together, and soon you will be glad you committed to it fully. ‘Alack the day.’ Now try the whole line: ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day.’ You can’t quit the exercise now! Just trust me, we’ll go there together. The only way to deliver that line and not feel like a real jerk is to completely give yourself over to it. Just embrace that word ‘alack’ like it is your life line – because it is. It is what keeps you tethered to the audience. If you skipped quickly over that ‘alack,’ the audience would not see your character realize how the world has changed for her forever. You see, here, you are the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. You’ve discovered that Juliet is ‘dead’ and have told her mother and now, on this line, have told her father. After ‘alack the day,’ the Nurse does not successfully connect with another onstage character until Juliet’s parents, Paris, and the Friar have exited. Then she has one line to the musicians, and you never see her again. The Nurse goes down her own rabbit hole of despair, and if the actor wants the audience to journey down that hole with her, it happens through the way she communicates ‘alack the day.’ So, spew all of the vitriol you can at Juliet’s dad by telling him three times of her demise, remind him of the part he played in her death, then really take in what it means for you, the Nurse, that she is gone. ‘Alack the day’ is the gate that holds back the flood of lamentation that follows, so hold on to every word as you say them. ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day’. See, now you don’t feel silly at all. Now you feel like a character that has the power to fully connect with the audience and have them journey with you. Well done.

Now, those three little words originally appeared daunting, but turned out to be very powerful when you wrapped yourself fully around them. What made them daunting was that you don’t typically use them on a daily basis. So why would the word ‘I’ be clustered with those three? Most people use that one every day. Well, let’s just try it in a line: ‘Now I am alone. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.’ Here is a moment where you have to open yourself up to the audience in a vulnerable and honest way, and Shakespeare makes sure that you do because the line is constructed without a single contraction. You can’t cheat and say ‘I’m.’ You have to say ‘I am’ and ‘am I.’ Now, when was the last time you yourself said the word ‘I’ in a vulnerable and honest way without a contraction? Exactly. Imagine for a moment that you are in an educational system that has to teach to the test. There is a right answer – your teacher, your school, your school district all get paid based on your ability to get that answer right. Imagine that you are living in a world where the expectations are incredibly high. Media bombards you every minute of the day to remind you what you are supposed to do, to be, to become. Imagine that you are somewhere between 13 and 18 years of age. Now, to that whole quiet room of actual people who are staring at you, waiting for an answer, and yes, the lights are on so you can see them all waiting, please say, ‘Hello, I am’ and then say your name. When was the last time you did that? No cheating – when did you really do it, with no contractions, no shortening or speeding up of words, no apologetically dipping of your head. You can’t hide the word ‘I’ by speeding into the contracted ‘m.’ You have to say the whole word ‘I,’ then say ‘am’. Try it now, out loud, ‘Hello, I am’ and then your name. Yep. That’s that difficult one. Try: ‘Now, I am alone.’ Welcome to life as a typical teenager. 
Here at the ASC Theatre Camp our number one priority is helping our students embrace the remarkable person that each one of them already is. We do it through collaborative work. We ask them everyday to teach their peers, to learn from one another, and to become comfortable with the idea that world holds endless possibilities for each of them. By exploring the rhetorical devices that are in every line of text, the students gain confidence in their ability to structure their own arguments in order to engage with anyone they meet in any situation. They analyze literature better and, as a result, write better essays that are well-worded, concise, and critical. They learn to ask why. They learn to explore many choices and that the one they choose is right because they chose it. They learn that each song, each dance, each scene is always better when they fully participate in it. They learn that their fellows rely on them and that they are necessary. In performance they are vulnerable and honest and brave. They learn that the world is a better place with them in it. But, most importantly, here at ASC Theatre Camp, they learn to say the word ‘I,’ to play the very best role in the world, that of being themselves and reveling in the performance every single day. And they are brilliant at it. 

To learn more about attending Theatre Camp or having our Educational Residency team come to your school, please follow this link: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/v.php?pg=76