“I witness to the times that brought them in”: 2016 Year in Review

If the internet is any judge, a lot of people will be really glad to see 2016 out the door. Political turmoil and celebrity deaths have taken their toll, expressed in hashtag memes like #SayByeto2016inagif and #wtf2016. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to celebrate, and in ASC Education, 2016 had quite a few high notes!

Most excitingly, we officially welcomed Lia Wallace and Adrienne Johnson to the Education team! Both are recent graduates of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance MLitt/MFA program. Lia began work with us way back in 2012 as an intern, then became an Education Artist, and is now our College Prep Programs Manager, overseeing the ASC Theatre Camp. Adrienne has previously served time (like Director of Education Sarah Enloe also did, back in the day) as personal assistant to Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, and she is now our Camp Life Coordinator as well as the ASC Company Manager, responsible for the upkeep of the Playhouse and other properties. You can read about their transitions into these positions here on the blog: Lia and Adrienne.

61Big events this year included the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp trip abroad: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. For ten days, Ralph, Sarah, MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, and I shepherded a fantastic group of 22 Shakespeare enthusiasts around England and Wales. In the Cotswolds, the moors of York, and the fens of Cambridge, we wandered through history, discovering the world as it would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his audiences. To catch up on those adventures, check out the NKSC16 tag.

05fbdda7-86d4-48d4-9aab-11cac67d650b2016 also saw the publication of two all-new Study Guides, in addition to updates to several volumes. The Tempest and King Lear were on the Student Matinee line-up for the first time in my tenure, giving me the opportunity to dive into two of Shakespeare’s best-beloved works. We’re celebrating with a flash sale on those two guides, so nab yours before 5pm today to save 20% on these shiny new volumes!
Buy King Lear or The Tempest ASC Study Guide.

13087333_10104284381621743_4879776445061724543_nIn April, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a block party that spanned downtown Staunton. Hundreds came to enjoy the food and wares offered by over two dozen merchants, and children of all ages got to experience mini-workshops and Shakespeare-themed craft activities, delivered right in front of the Blackfriars Playhouse. You can see pictures from that event here.

We also partnered with UVA’s Special Collections Library as it housed a traveling copy of the First Folio, offering workshops in Charlottesville in April, ahead of the Folio’s arrival, and in October, when the tome was on-site.

In December, we had a Staged Reading in a new format as a special event: rather than having one group perform a 90-minute show, four groups came from across the Shenandoah to put on four shorter shows, all demonstrating how English drama has marked the Christmas holiday throughout the centuries. With a mummery from Shenandoah Governor’s School, a mystery play from Shenandoah University, a vaudevillian masque from Spectacle and Mirth, and a Victorian-style pantomime from Stuart Hall, we filled the Playhouse with mirth and laughter for a festive night at the start of the holiday season.

And, as ever, we had a year’s worth of Student Matinees, Little Academes, and other workshops. In the 2015-2016 school year, we welcomed over 11,000 students from 284 schools, homeschool groups, and other organizations, and we have already had 142 groups join us so far in the 2016-2017 school year. We also welcomed International Paper back for their fifth Leadership Program, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again this spring.

So what’s forthcoming in 2017? More of everything: matinees of The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado about Nothing; all-new study guides on Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Henry VI plays, and Sense and Sensibility (that’s right! I’m taking on Austen for the adaptation that will be on the 2017-2018 tour); Leadership Programs on-site at the Playhouse and at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville; visits from the Road Scholars; the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp back in Staunton to explore the theme of Shakespeare and art; ASC Theatre Camp 2017, featuring 1 Henry IV, Titus Andronicus, and The Sea Voyage in Session 1 (June 18-July 9) and King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle in Session 2 (July 16-August 8); and, of course, since it’s an odd-numbered year, the Blackfriars Conference (Oct 24-29) will welcome hundreds of scholars and students to celebrate Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Happy New Year from all of us at ASC Education! We hope to see you soon, whether at the Playhouse or out on the road.

Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Playing Around

As a theatre professional, one of my great privileges is having friends in the profession.  Friends I watch onstage at the ASC, friends who perform with other companies, and friends who are brave enough to start their own production companies.  This has been a particularly lucky month, as I’ve seen the four shows onstage at the American Shakespeare Center; traveled to see the work of brand-spanking-new company Essential Stages (with talented players) in Institute, West Virginia; and made my way down to Atlanta, Georgia to see (at last) the work of dear friends at the Shakespeare Tavern there.  

In West Virginia, Doug Minnerly and his magicians took a bright and unique approach when producing their Comedy of Errors.  Doug and I met in 2015 when he attended our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp (for Adults).  He mentioned starting to think about getting back to his first academic passion — theatre — sometime soon and he was with us to soak up everything he could, having fallen in love with the ASC’s plays a couple of seasons earlier.  Little did I know then how serious he was.  He went back to West Virginia and began the groundwork (immense in scope) to form a company and give Shakespeare to his community on a regular basis.  

15025568_10207567475921776_2615553657556017896_oAt some point in his work, new avenues presented themselves in the form of a generous donor at West Virginia State University.  This supporter sponsored an artist enrichment series that would do several things for the students at WVSU and the community at large including have a master class with ASC actor Allison Glenzer, produce innovative versions of both Comedy and and Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan.  If the show I saw is any indication, Doug’s part of West Virginia harbors a significant collection of talented and eager theatre practitioners. Innovative musical performances, beautifully designed and accompanied by Jeff Haught, opened the show and continued throughout and at the interlude, setting the scene for what Doug described as as an homage to the Marx Brothers — a notion which suited the play to a tee.  Costumes inspired by the forties and a set with ample flexibility (which echoed the Blackfriars Playhouse’s own back drop in structure) invited the audience to transport themselves to another time, a time that worked very well for this “zany” show.  The work the group did on the text in early days of rehearsal created crisp and clear characters who were easy to understand, easy to embrace, and easy to laugh with.

One of the toughest aspects of this show, a crazy comedy by almost all marks, is the opening scene.  Egeus does. go. on.  Because of the pre-show music (performed with great charm by Rob James and Kimberlee Gibson), the delivery of the interminable speech as a musical number was seamless and, believe it or not, fun.  The excellent vocals Will Taylor lent the role of Egeus (and the rousing interlude music) belied his other interest — frontman to a band in the area. Playing against the winning John Campbell as the Duke, the two created a lively and humorous tone which carried through the rest of the production — except whenever the character Adriana appeared onstage.  

Adriana has regularly struck me as a tragic character slotted into a comic play.  Poor woman: her husband is apparently unfaithful, certainly inattentive, and then appears to have gone mad.  Kimberlee Gibson’s work in the role was touching and believable.  She lent gravitas, and she was a terrific spoiler to her sister, played well by Keturah DeWeese; to the excellent Dromios, Abigail Miskowiec and Rob James; and to her husband and his twin, played by Jonathan R. Maynard.  Yes, the Antipholi were played by the same actor.  Sometimes necessity in the mother of excellence, and it was in this case.  Jonathan ably coped with what might have been awkward entrances and exits, which seemed to keep him going 90 miles a minute, but he looked completely in charge and made each second on stage count.  Particularly memorable was his duet with Luciana, a bittersweet exploration of confusion.  It seems he may be the quintessential quadruple threat: singer, dancer, actor, and self-doubler.  Patience DeWeese played Luce and the Courtesan distinctly, as the activity of doubling demands.  I particularly enjoyed her turn as an additional character in the first scene between Luciana and Adriana; her deftness with the props actually helped to clarify some moments and lent another perspective to view the scene through.  She followed that turn up with a corseted courtesan who let the audience in on some of her thoughts, something that Jenna Skeen (in multiple roles) also tackled head on with aplomb.  One of the toughest things about working in community theatre is bringing everyone to the same level, for instance, when Mike Murdock, a professional actor and director appears in many of the same scenes with one of the only students in the production, it is imperative that both raise their game — and they both did.  As the merchant, Mike gave Eric Rogers strength by offering him a character that was committed and Eric gave it right back as the Goldsmith and Gaoler.

Doug Minnerly’s take on the production was refreshing.  Returning the play to many of the staging conditions Shakespeare’s company used — doubling, playing in thrust, sharing light, valuing music — created a team between audience and actors that made each success the more sweet.  If anything, I would say only that more stripping could improve the piece.  Chairs and other set pieces tended to crowd the stage; relying on the actors to convey the feeling without pulling those item in might have saved some valuable rehearsal time.  The cut of the script and musical inclusions kept the show moving at a swift pace.  The talents and skill levels of the cast were well matched to their on-stage responsibilities and the staging was clever, including in-jokes and special effects.  Most of all, I loved that Doug relied on the words of Shakespeare and the talents of his actors to tell the story.  He trusted the audience, and that confidence in their ability to enjoy Shakespeare just as he is paid off dividends.  

The very next week, I had the privilege of seeing many of my colleagues from the Shakespeare Theatre Association in Atlanta.  Atlanta is home to the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, a company founded and operating under many of the same principles the American Shakespeare Center embraces.  We share a strong belief that the communal theatrical world Shakespeare wrote for can be re-created by sharing the stories with our audience, by playing close to them, speaking to them, and keeping the text paramount in the production.  Their 3 Henry VI was part of an ambitious undertaking to produce all three in the trilogy in rep this fall. I had wanted to see their work for nearly a decade, ever since I’d heard about them, but always managed to be in Atlanta at a time when it wouldn’t be possible.  No more.

 

10924634_10204138138028364_5071890650332784612_o

“El Presidente”

It’s not every day that the Henry VIes are readily available for audience consumption, but this fall has offered multiple opportunities to me, for which I am grateful.  Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, another STA member, did a brilliant conflation which I got to see in September, ASC just wrapped our own 2 Henry VI,  and I was able to round out my feast with this production.  In addition to finally seeing my opposite number, Laura Cole, in role as Lady Gray — doing a smart, sassy take in a fun part — I also got to see the directing work of the man I gladly called El Presidente when I served as his secretary on the STA Executive Committee, and a former ASC intern, Bridget McCarthy (who stole every scene she was in).  I was also able to see the work of several veteran AST company members, including the excellent Mary Ruth Ralston in the title role and the impressive Amee Vyas as Margaret.  I enjoyed especially another education colleague, Andy Houchins, as Richard III, and I hope he goes on to play the role in the trilogy’s sequel when it comes into season.   This production used doubling (you almost have to with these shows, unless you have a sizable population of talented actors and endless supplies of cash) very well, and some great turns took place in the younger characters, as Hayley Platt used her stature and skill to bring boys to life.  I will admit (and hopefully not be hit by lightening for doing so) that I am just now, after the compressed viewing this fall, finally following all of the relationships in this epic English History retelling.  

 

The mere fact that I had the opportunity to experience three productions of this tale in such a short time — because, believe me, I know that it is no simple thing to keep all of the Plantagenets and Lancasters straight (much less all of the Edwards and Richards) — does reinforce my advocacy for Shakespeare performance as a means to teach English History.  I admire the artistic directors who put these (difficult to sell) plays in their season, as they do a service for students of history–which, honestly, has to be everyone. The populism Jack Cade advances in 2 Henry VI is a reflection of our recent election, and it offers us an opportunity to see (and not see) ourselves, our mistakes, our successes. Such presentations of historical figures force us to engage with tough questions and ask ourselves about the choices we make. By understanding our past, we can more clearly see our way to the future.  Let’s just hope there aren’t as many heads rolling.  So, I am grateful for friends who make that work available, who tell clear stories that bring history to life, and who let us all share in the joy of good theatre.

Was’t not at Hallowmas?

Though Halloween as we know it is largely one of merriment and good-spirited spookiness, it has somber origins in both the Roman Lemuralia and the Celtic Samhain. The three days of the Lemuralia were devoted to banishing malevolent ghosts and other negative spirits. Though the Lemuralia was originally held in May, once it merged with similar Christian observances, its associations got transferred to the autumn. It may also have connection with three autumn days when the Romans opened a gate, believed to lead to the underworld, in the Temple of Janus, and appeased the spirits there with offerings from the harvest. By contrast, the Celtic Samhain (pronounced SHAH-vahn in Irish Gaelic) was primarily a harvest festival, marking the end of seasons for herdsmen and traders alike, but was also traditionally the day when the veils between our world and the Otherworld were thinnest, allowing fairies and ghosts to slip across the threshold. Many Scottish and Irish legends feature abductions carried out on Samhain. Customary protections included wearing one’s clothing inside-out and carrying iron.

macbeth_asc_summer2014_009

Jonathan Holtzman, Gregory Jon Phelps, and Patrick Midgley as the Weïrd Sisters in MACBETH. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

By the 16th century in England, those pre-Christian traditions had blended with the Christian ideas of Allhallowtide — a three-day observance from October 31st to November 2nd, featuring, in succession, martyrs, saints, and all departed Christian souls. Commoners would go begging at the houses of the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for which they would promise to pray for the souls of the rich and their families, a practice Shakespeare refers to in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Speed says that a lover would “speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.” Sometimes they would do this disguised or masked, perhaps as an outgrowth of the Samhain traditions, and in some areas, it was customary to dress up as the saint who was the patron or patroness of the local church. Considering the gory ends that many saints and martyrs came to, perhaps the later association of Halloween with the horror genre is a natural shift. Eventually that procession, well-known to Shakespeare, evolved into trick-or-treating.

hamlet-29

Josh Innerst as the Ghost of King Hamlet and Patrick Earl as Hamlet in HAMLET. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

The early modern fascination with the supernatural infuses many of Shakespeare’s plays. Vengeful ghosts show up in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. King Hamlet even references the idea that spirits wandering the earth were souls in Purgatory:

I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.

King Hamlet certainly doesn’t seem restricted to a single night, but maybe this is a hint that at least part of the play takes place on or near Halloween? Puck calls on the same idea of wandering spirits in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards:

Oberon is careful to remind him — and the audience — that the fairies are “spirits of another sort”, ethereal but not infernal.

That cultural delight in the paranormal isn’t so far removed from the modern day as our post-Enlightenment society might believe, either. Consider the enduring popularity of horror films, paranormal romances, and ghost-hunting TV shows, or the yearly pilgrimages many of us make to theme park haunted houses, paying for the privilege of being spooked. Here in Staunton, ghost tours of downtown have become so popular that they now start in June and keep running until winter chill sets in. Medieval and early modern superstitions have hung on as well: if you’ve ever knocked on wood, crossed your fingers for luck, or even said “Bless you” when someone sneezes, you’re continuing centuries-old traditions meant to maintain a barrier between the spirit world and our physical realm.

Director of Mission Response to the Globe Decision Regarding its Artistic Director

Sam Wanamaker’s success in building the Globe (Shakespeare’s celebrated outdoor theatre) provided much of the impetus for building the Blackfriars (Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, more celebrated in his day than the Globe).  For that reason, the Globe’s decision to part ways with new Artistic Director Emma Rice following next season is a matter that should be of interest to fans of the Blackfriars Playhouse and the American Shakespeare Center.

Because Ms. Rice is remarkable director with an exciting vision, her tenure has occasioned a serious conversation about the purpose of the Globe. The particular concern that sparked that conversation was her decision to add lighting and amplification to the shows in the Globe.  In doing so, she raised important questions about a fundamental reason for the careful re-creation of the building: to explore how plays Shakespeare designed for that space might work, not just to learn more about Shakespeare but to learn more about theatre as well.  

What concerns me as co-founder of the ASC and as a member of the Globe’s Architectural Review Group, is the way the press is framing the Globe’s decision.  Their easy view is that this is a battle between tradition and innovation – between those who want the shows in the Globe to be a kind of museum theatre and those who want to apply modern technology to the shows to make the plays contemporary.   

The reverse is true.  The technology that Emma Rice has installed in the Globe is the conventional lighting and sound available in every prosperous modern theatre.  She is a master of the use of that technology, but there is nothing new about it; fitting it into the Globe is a case – almost literally – of trying to put a square peg into a round hole.  By contrast, the Globe is a unique building.  Previous Globe directors – men and women – have drawn their inspiration from that building, and their exploratory work has been a wellspring of contemporary theatrical creativity.  They have helped us to look anew at the relationship between actor and audience, at live musical accompaniment, at movement, at costume, and at issues of gender and casting.

In that way, the Globe, as Sam Wanamaker intended, has reminded us of the value of the purely human in the theatrical experience.  In short, by using the space that inspired Shakespeare to look afresh at theatre unmediated by technology, the Globe has been a leader in creating unconventional theatre, and it has inspired theatre companies all over the world (most without connection to Shakespeare) to trust in the ability of actors and in the understanding of audiences to make great theatre without the support of performance-enhancing technology.  

The American Shakespeare Center is proud that the Blackfriars Playhouse is one of those unconventional theatres.

Education Retreat 2016

Once a year, the education department at the American Shakespeare Center ventures out into the social and artistic world that is NOT centered in Staunton, Virginia. We call these outings our “Education Retreat,” with the double-entendre of being educational experiences for us as well as the attendees consisting of members of our education department. Previous adventures have included attending plays at other theatres, going to Busch Gardens, and spending  quality time at the home of our Director of Education. All of these outings obviously vary in their educational and artistic impact on us and on their other audiences, but they are all united by the major goal of our “retreats;” camaraderie and team-building. This was the first educational retreat that I got to go on (being a new hire as of April this year), but in previous years attendees have ranged from just salaried staff, to interns, to education artists. The goal is to include as many people as possible each year, and to impact as much of our team as we can with a fun and educational experience.

This year’s trip included Sarah Enloe, Director of Education, Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager, Lia Wallace, College Prep Programs Manager, and me, Adrienne Johnson, Company Manager and Camp Life Coordinator.  We made good time driving into Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon, had dinner and saw Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches, the first part of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes at Round House Theatre produced in partnership with Olney Theatre Center. On Thursday we tried and failed to get into the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, and instead went to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and had lunch at Rasika before we had a few meetings at the Folger Shakespeare Library. We only hit a bit of traffic coming home, and were all back at work Friday morning.

YUZU Japanese Restaurant

We weren’t supposed to eat here. We actually had reservations for Jaleo, but we were late and they couldn’t delay our reservation by much. We still did our best to take the Metro across town in time, but were more worried about our curtain time since we probably lost our table. We literally walked into the nearest restaurant to the Metro station and (I think) found a little goldmine. Instead of a contemporary Spanish restaurant, we ended up in a Japanese restaurant with a personal sushi chef (with quite the resume). I was totally up for trying a new style of food… but sushi is my favorite food, so I was thrilled about the unplanned change. Collectively, we got edamame and tempura vegetables, spicy karaage chicken, udon, three different sushi, and two nigiri. Everything was delicious.

Round House Theatre

For this production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Round House Theatre teamed up with Olney Theatre Center. The two theatre companies have announced a “two-year commitment to co-produce outstanding plays in Montgomery County.” Angels in America is the first of this undertaking, and the next partnership (this time at Olney) happens in Fall of 2017. When it premiered in 1991, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. When we began looking at plays for our retreat, I suggested Angels in America to Sarah, mostly out of the selfish reason that I love the play and that I wanted to see some serious tech at work, knowing they’d at the very least need a fly-system. Luckily, there was a groupon. Sarah and I had read both parts before, and both Lia and I had seen the HBO version of the play, but Cass had neither read the play nor seen the made-for-tv special before our expedition on Wednesday.

I won’t speak for my cohort, but I loved the production. First, it was great to see some well-timed tech. As someone who stage managed for years before coming to work at the ASC (where we do it with the lights on!), I really miss seeing and executing what my stage-management professor from undergrad perfectly titled “a sexy light cue.” Timing cues is a detail-driven expertise that takes constant finessing, and something I miss most about calling shows. It is a skill that I am afraid I will lose if I don’t use it, and I was grateful to relish in a cleanly-executed production. There’s no better feeling than when a beautiful technical aspect in your play is timed perfectly with the talent of the actors. Well-done Round House/Olney. Secondly, the acting was superb. It’s hard to pinpoint just one favorite character or scene or moment. Kushner obviously wrote a wonderfully balanced play, with great character arch and development, but putting that aside, just the acting was outstanding. I had never seen Thomas Keegan perform, since I’m new to the ASC, but Sarah, Cass, and Lia all had, but only ever in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I imagine that a Republican, Mormon, closeted-homosexual was out of the usual wheelhouse in which they’d seen him perform. Keegan toward above his detail-oriented partner, Kimberly Gilbert’s Harper. When reading the play, Harper is my favorite character, in Round House/Olney’s production, I really want to say she’s still my favorite. Her honest Harper was earnest in her delivery and meticulous in the use of her hands. Gilbert could teach a lesson to every Nina who asked what to do with them. But every scene she did, was topped by one of her cast-mates, and then again by her, and then again by her cast-mates (you get the picture).

It is hard to single out a single winning performance. And yet, I’m still going to try to. Sarah Marshall was noticeably Sarah Marshall in every character she doubled, with the exception of Hannah Pitt, the Mormon mother. Each actor in the production was good at making almost all of their words sound genuine, as if they were being delivered for the first time.  This is something we strive for at the ASC, because we believe that the quick delivery of Shakespeare’s text is crucial to understanding the language and executing the original staging practices of his plays. It’s a hard thing to do. I’ve tried, and maybe succeeded a few times in plays I’ve been in. Many actors find this “discovering” of language one of the more difficult practices of acting; how do you make words that someone else wrote, that you spent hours memorizing, sound like you’ve never spoken them before and definitely haven’t practiced saying them hundreds of times? I have never seen an actor execute this better than Sarah Marshall did in the scene where Hannah Pitt first arrives in New York and has a discussion with a homeless woman about getting directions to her son’s neighborhood.  Because of my obsession with tech in a show, it is very hard for me to “get wrapped up” in a production as I am constantly looking around the room to observe as much of the backstage elements as a I can. However, during this scene, I forgot to look around, because I couldn’t look away. It was the most real, wonderful connection of two fake people I’ve ever seen, and my heart went out to Hannah Pitt. Overall, the show was amazing, and my only regret is that I probably won’t get to see Part II before it closes at the end of the month.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

file_000-4

Photo by Cass Morris

We didn’t get in so I can’t talk about the actual museum (although I plan to go with my family in March, so might have more to say later). But what I can talk about is the overwhelming excitement and feeling of camaraderie as we waited to get in. We got to the line around 8:05, and were so close to getting in. If we’d been about 10-15 minutes earlier, we would have been in the pretty large group of people that got into the museum with their generous same-day passes (distributed at 9:15). The pre-sold tickets to the museum are currently sold-out through March 2017, but each day the museum reserves several “Same Day Timed Passes” to try to welcome as many people as possible, both those with reservations and those without. The line had between 200 and 300 people waiting to get in (rough observed estimate, I didn’t count), and I’d say we were almost in the middle of that group. The line was made up of a mix of African Americans, white Americans, other ethnicities, and I heard one man proclaim to a guide that “even the Canadians” were making the trip down to the museum! It was a lovely display of exactly what the museum is trying to highlight, #apeoplesjourney and “A Nation’s History.” The museum is for everyone. And we all have the opportunity to explore this new and exciting display of an integral part of American history, culture, and community. I can’t wait to check it out sometime next year.

National Air and Space Museum

I had been to the Air and Space Museum many many times (my family lived near DC growing up, so we frequently explored the museums and monuments whenever relatives came to town), but Lia and Sarah had never been before, so we quickly chose to explore this one. Like I usually do, I quickly passed by the fighter plane and war plane exhibits for the (in my opinion) way cooler part of the museum. I spent most of my time in the moon exhibits while Sarah, Lia, and Cass explored other parts of the museum and, of course, went to get some freeze dried ice cream. Duh.

The aeronautical collection began in 1876 but didn’t occupy its current building on the National Mall until 1976, and it has grown to be the largest of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. Although the exhibits have developed over time, when exploring the museum it is easy to see that a lot of the exhibits are outdated. We each noticed this about the museum and that actually sparked our biggest discussion once we left. It wasn’t actually about the content of the museum, but instead about curating and maintaining exhibits. Sarah asked us “If you had the funding to redesign a museum, what would you keep, what would you toss, and where could you begin from scratch?” Specifically at Air and Space, so much of the content is artifacts; actual pieces of planes and spacecraft, so we all agreed we could keep the actual pieces while updating what we said about them. This is a constant discussion for the ASC’s education department because we are always archiving our work (artistic, educational, and now administrative and marketing). We actually have three archival interns at the moment because there’s so much material to process. Although we don’t have our archived material on display, we are constantly cataloguing and rotating our data between our two locations, and visiting other theatres and museums offers important insight into how to catalogue and maintain our own historic records to make them as easily accessible to as many parties as need them in the future.

Rasika

Rasika is one of our boss’s favorite restaurant. For my birthday last year, he tried to take me there for dinner, but we couldn’t get in. The four of us did get in for a lunch reservation and were joined by an intern from the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, based in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She wanted to meet with us to discuss our community outreach and our interaction with our audiences before, during, and after they attend a production at our theatre. We were able to answer a lot of her questions, but are also arranging for her to speak with our development team members.

The five of us sat down for a delicious Indian meal in which I can honestly say I don’t remember what everyone ordered. We did begin with an order of Palak Chaat, which is a crispy spinach appetizer with sweet yogurt. It was amazing and I could have eaten just that. Everyone else ordered some form of meat or veggie/sauce/rice dish, varying in color, spice, flavor but similar in deliciousness. I ordered tandoori salmon that was the most tender piece of fish I’ve ever eaten. Finally getting to try this famous Indian restaurant was well worth the wait.

Folger Shakespeare Library

For the rest of the afternoon Sarah had arranged for us to meet with two leading members of the Digital Media and Publications team at the Folger; first with Michael Poston, the Database Applications Associate, and second with Eric Johnson, the Director of Digital Access. Poston showed us his current projects, an online version of the works of Christopher Marlowe (similar to Open Source Shakespeare from what I can tell) and a transcribing database of Early Modern manuscripts (less theatre history specifically, more all-of-the-things history). I must admit, I didn’t follow everything he was talking about, but, man, were Cass and Lia excited. I was most excited by Poston’s palpable enthusiasm for his own project. His hospitality and openness to take the time to engage with us was the best part of the meeting.

file_000-5

Photo by Cass Morris

We then had about a forty-five minute break before our meeting with Johnson, so Sarah and Cass explored the Jane Austen/Shakespeare exhibit currently in residence at the Folger while Lia and I wandered over to Capitol Hill to visit my sister on her lunch break who works as a clerk for the House of Representatives. Sarah loves Austen’s work and was excited about the mash-up of two great writers.

After the break, we met with Eric Johnson. While Johnson manages the various digital programs at the Folger and oversees Shakespeare Quarterly, he is most famous for creating Open Source Shakespeare, one of the most widely-used Shakespeare research resources. Lia was excited because the last time she met Johnson, she fangirled a little too hard, although he had no memory of the meeting. We had a nice chat, but I was mostly excited to see his collection of Washington Nationals memorabilia in his office. Again, I don’t always follow the academic depth of the conversation, but Johnson was friendly and welcoming in all the best ways.

14720599_10208593585131757_434939822047785651_n

Photo by Sarah Enloe

What We Learned

Although I’d been to the Smithsonian before and I wasn’t as enthused by the online academic resources as Lia and Cass were (but who is, really?), I can say I learned a lot about the exhibits, playhouses, and museums different from ours, and those that were similar. At every place we went, we were greeted warmly and openly, encouraged to participate, and welcomed to return. No matter where we go for future retreats, at least the four of us will get to go together and learn more about each other and the world around us. If engaging in the local, diverse, and exciting cultural and theatrical environment is the goal, I’d say we aced this retreat. If learning about each other as a team and as individuals was the goal, top of the class there too. Overall, I was grateful to take two days to learn about my team and, more importantly, how we as a team can fit into the world around us.

(Photo credit: Sarah Enloe)

“And, be assured, you’ll find a difference…” (HV): ASC Education’s work with teachers

file_001-1

Teachers working in groups at our Fall King Lear Seminar

Google “Shakespeare on your feet” and the first page of search results will reveal that entities from libraries like the Folger, media outlets like PBS, and theatres like the Actors Centre advocate teaching Shakespeare “through play” or “up on your feet” or “actively”. At the ASC, we certainly use that language as well, but the driving idea behind our approach is more about context than the work we see elsewhere.  Context is a term we take very seriously; it involves more than asking students to build models of the Globe or talking about Elizabeth’s life during the era. It really comes down to teaching our teachers and students to think like Shakespeare’s actors did when they approached the text.  Look around you and see the wooden platform, the audience in the light, the clues in the text (for those who don’t have a lot of time to rehearse), so that performance of the words is at the top of students’ minds.  

I know that “comparisons are odious” (Dogberry would probably have said “odorous”), but sometimes they are the “eftest” way to point out the essence of practice.  I have made a habit of attending my colleagues’ workshops whenever I can, of evaluating the materials they offer online and in print, and of thinking about the art of teaching.  What follows here is a basic statement of the ASC’s philosophy and how it differs from some work I have seen and studied elsewhere:  

Approach American Shakespeare Center The Other Guys
Setting The ASC acknowledges that most of the teachers we work with operate in English classrooms which feature desks, and that there is some difficulty in getting open spaces in many schools.  So our lessons work within those parameters. We believe that learning is individualized, so students can learn most deeply in situations which allow inquiry. We advocate for desks arranged around a playing space to invite the exploration of scene, arranged in thrust so that students are closer to Shakespeare’s theatre’s architecture.  We advocate for avatars and actors to demonstrate and help define the information but do not advocate that all students must be on their feet at the same time — something that is difficult to do in an English classroom and is not conducive to all students’ engaging with the text in context. Frequently, our colleagues’ lessons require a wide open space so that all students can be up and active simultaneously.
Teaching assumptions The ASC realizes that the vast majority of teachers working with students on Shakespeare’s plays have had few classes on the subject and are not versed in theatrical techniques (nor do many want to be; they teach English because it is their passion). We believe that teachers desire to deepen their own learning and knowledge in order to deepen their students’. We recognize that they have limited time in which to add to their knowledge, so we strive to make every minute that they spend in our professional development programs immediately applicable to classroom practice and to their own and their students’ enrichment.  We take the approach that if teachers know more about how these plays work and worked on the stage, they will have a richer understanding of why the plays are worth studying and be able to communicate to a diverse body of learners. Many professional development programs spend a lot of time teaching 21st-century theatre techniques; these do not give insights into the works Shakespeare wrote and are limited in scope — even within professional theatres.  The time spent on those could be used to connect Shakespeare to his theatrical practices so that we understand the ins and outs of what his actors saw on the page, rather than giving English teachers modern day theories of how to instruct their students in the fundamentals of acting.
Context We believe that context is everything. Context means we believe in treating the plays as plays, plays that were written for specific theatrical conditions that students benefit from knowing, and leaving the text in place in the lesson. This means that we do not employ “insult generators” or pull lines out of speeches to “throw them at each other”.  We do not advocate for separate lessons on Shakespeare’s biography, but fold the fact that he was a working actor into every exploration and note that his monarch and the political climate of early modern London may have had an impact on this character or that scene, as it arises. We consider the staging conditions he considered, as a means to get the students and teachers we work with closer to the performance Shakespeare imagined as he wrote the plays. Many in our cohorts take lines out of context to “show that Shakespeare isn’t hard”, in arenas like “Shakespearean insults” games or “text lay ups”. We believe that removing surrounding text achieves the opposite goal and says to students that “Shakespeare is too hard for you to understand unless I take it out of the play.” We think that students will enjoy the connections between Shakespeare’s plays and his biography if direct lines connect them.  We avoid assignments that advocate for set or light design for a play, since those projects fight the nature of the continuous action in early modern theatres.
Teaching teachers We believe that teachers’ time is precious and that they learn the most from fellow educators — educators who have the time to prepare detailed and specific lessons and handouts that they can immediately deploy in their classroom. We model those lessons so that teachers can see one approach and adapt each activity to their own style and purpose.  We arrange the lessons in an accessible way so that they can teach the unit in any order and blend the lessons together as they choose, but also provide a scaffolding section (The Basics) so that teachers have a baseline of knowledge from which to begin. We test the lessons and conduct focus groups, then we adjust them as needed, constantly improving the materials we provide and our approach to them. And, we enhance the lessons with feedback and input from our actors and the events that transpire in a rehearsal room, so that we are speaking truth and giving students and teachers the very important insights our actors share in classroom applicable ways. While many practitioners do provide outlines and handouts, the formatting and explanation is often insufficient for the busy teacher who is moving from teaching American Lit to Shakespeare or from one period to another.  Often, the handouts skip important steps, attempt to cover too much, or anticipate too much knowledge as a baseline.  Moreover, actor talkbacks and director discussions take a large percentage of the time in some seminars at other theatres, while these sessions can be fun, the bulk of the discussion does not translate to classroom practice or a better understanding of the plays.
Inquiry

(infinite variety)

We create a world of many, many right answers, and we suggest a method of inquiry-based learning — where each student’s answer may differ.  Shakespeare wrote incomplete works; he needed the actors he worked with and the audiences he played for to finish them.  Students are the actors and audience, and they can answer the questions that lead to the infinite variety of choices that continue to make his plays fascinating 400 years later. We encourage students to consider a number of choices — if video comes into our lesson, we use several clips from many different productions to emphasize how many choices are available. Stating that a scene is “about” something or that a character is “some characteristic” and asking students to inhabit that idea features in many programs’ methodology.  These opinions may be related to an instructors’ take or experience; however such approaches prohibit exploration. Using film in the classroom can be reductive, as it may limit the students’ idea of the play to one interpretation.
Materials We provide teachers with materials that are complete and formatted for ease of use in the typical English classroom (black and white, because most schools copiers are not color; few pages dense with information to save paper; and we are working to envision more in the digital classroom — white boards, etc) I have seen handouts totalling 25 pages, with color, or difficult to read facsimiles or, worse, fluff activities (word finds, crosswords, quizzes — time killers, not enrichment activities) that do not bring students any closer to understanding Shakespeare’s work, nor its relationship to his life and theirs.

In short, we aim to create an atmosphere of learning that makes gaining knowledge and engaging in exploration irresistible.  A space in which students dread the final bell because they will have to leave the topic, a room filled with voices and opportunities to state one’s thoughts — while realizing that difference of opinion is beautiful and can be shared respectfully.  A place where the learner can become the teacher and the teacher learns something every time the class convenes.  We believe the way to do that is by empowering teachers, giving students agency, and providing them with tools to examine words and meaning that stretch well beyond the classroom walls.  Even to a 400 year-old theatre, perhaps.

–Sarah Enloe
ASC Director of Education

Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the ASC Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how ASC actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the ASC Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

Impostor Alert

Never in my life could you have made me believe that I would teach anyone anything. Yet, here I find myself suddenly handed the authority to educate sixty eager young minds, to illustrate “how-to”s to professional actors and managers, and to lecture patrons more than twice my age and certainly twice as wise about Shakespeare’s plays and staging conditions. As I work through my notes, trying to remember to speak slowly and clearly, my panicked little brain is screaming, “Who put this authority here? I didn’t ask for it? Somebody else must have dropped it? Surely they’re now looking for it, this misplaced authority, because it’s definitely not mine? Right? Someone take this back.”

Hi! I’m Adrienne Johnson, the American Shakespeare Center hired me as the new (as in the position has never existed before) Company Manager and new (as in this position definitely existed previously and I’m a new hire.) Camp Life Coordinator in April of 2016 after I completed my second Masters in Shakespeare (because one definitely wasn’t enough). However, it seems that although I have these two incredibly specialized Master’s Degrees, I still suffer from what clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzzane A. Imes coined as “Impostor Syndrome.” In her book Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Imes defined the syndrome as the inability of a “high-achieving” individual to accept the success of their accomplishments and a “persistent fear” of being exposed as a “fraud.” While I wouldn’t say I’m exactly afraid of being exposed a fraud, I can’t say that it’s high on my giant list of things to-do today.

When my “Company Manager” job was first pitched to me, it didn’t really have a job description as recognized in a usual hiring process. I got a short email from one of my supervisors with a list of duties that could be (and probably would, and now are) on my plate if I accepted this job. It included managerial things like maintenance and facilities of all of our apartment buildings and of the playhouse, arranging the housing and hospitality of all of our visiting guests, and tacked on the end of the list was “ASCTC Camp life duties.” I’ve been a stage manager for years and had been the co-company manager of my MFA company, and so felt nicely qualified for the new job that the ASC wanted to create. Prior to my position, all housing duties were tacked on to our Tour Operations Manager, even though it really didn’t have anything to do with her job. I was happy to help lighten her load and happy to have a job right after graduation. I accepted the job and felt fully qualified to do it. Additionally, because I had been a counselor for ASC Theatre Camp twice before, I felt qualified and excited to help the new ( “New” as in the position definitely existed previously but she is a new hire and they changed the title!) College Prep Programs Manager, Lia Wallace, run ASCTC this summer. What I wasn’t ready for was having to dive right into something I never even really wanted to try.

TEACHING.

 

adrienne1

Photo by Maddie Buttitia

Although the part of my job that involves the ASC education department technically only happens for six weeks of the year (two three-week long sessions of summer camp), I found myself almost instantly observing the workshops and learning how to teach them, meeting with the other brilliant education artists weekly, and constantly discussing, brainstorming, planning, and executing great marketing for all of the ASC’s educational programs. This is when it became very obvious to me, but apparently to no one else, that my impostor-ism was showing. Any day now, I’m sure, I’ll be leading a workshop or giving a student feedback and they will laugh in my face and expose me for what I really am. A calendar-making, facilities-managing, hospitality-organizing fraud. I’m not a teacher! Look at this tool bag! No books in there at all! I can’t write on a board and talk in front of people at the same time! Delegate and don’t do all of the things myself, you say? No way!

 

In spite of my panic though, no teaching artist ever interrupted, “Oh hold on, you definitely can’t teach that workshop. Just kidding.” No parent ever complained, “My child learned nothing from you, they’re never coming back to camp again and it’s definitely your fault.” No Road Scholar ever scolded, “you’re definitely not Sarah Enloe! We want our money back!” But instead I got notes about how clear and personable I was during lectures, that I was a “model teacher” that responds thoughtfully to questions, how passionate I was when I really liked the topic, and how thankful our campers were for calm and individual guidance. In my four and a half months with the company so far, I’ve observed almost every workshop that we offer, taught and been approved to teach three of them, helped to develop one entirely new workshop, and helped to organize advertising and recruitment goals for both camp and other educational programs. But education can’t be my job… right?

 

adrienne2

Photo by Lia Wallace

The great thing about being hired in a Frankenstein-position that never existed before means that I get to design what my job description looks like and what my daily duties include. So far, I’ve been pretty active as both a company manager and a full-time education artist, at my own pace, motivated by my own desire to not be exposed in this teacher-suit I find myself wearing more and more. Even though I’ve been “teaching” every age student we get here at the ASC for months now, I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I’ve taught. I’ve learned that even the best teachers say “um” sometimes. I’ve learned that our students want to learn from us, and that they will listen and ask questions to motivate the conversation. I’ve learned that doing and showing is always more interesting than talking. I’ve learned that group discussion is fun and exciting. I’ve learned that everyone has to teach a workshop with no prep sometimes. I’ve learned that teaching a workshop with no prep sometimes isn’t actually that scary. I’ve learned how to cook three meals a day for forty people. I’ve learned about HVAC units and how to do minor plumbing tasks. I’ve learned how to coordinate the comfort, lives, and education of any combination of thirty staff members and sixty young adults.

 

While my tool bag still has a multi-tool, plumbing tape, and a flashlight, it now also has rhetoric flashcards and cue scripts. I don’t need to write on a board to teach a lesson. Although I never planned to be a teacher, I’m in a community that trusts me and values my expertise. They want me to succeed and they encourage me to extend my comfort zone. And mostly they try to make sure I never feel like an impostor. I literally get paid for the thing I insist I “can’t do.” And I am so grateful to all of them for that love. (And that paycheck, amiright?)

adrienne3

Photo from peopleiveloved.com 

Final Thought: As I was procrastinating writing this article by scrolling through Facebook, a friend’s post popped up on my newsfeed. I like to think it was serendipitous to come through my feed when I needed to see it most. I saved the picture (right) to my desktop, logged out, and continued writing instead. Writing the damned thing is a milestone for me and not just another educational duty I get to cross off of that ever-growing to-do list.

 

–Adrienne Johnson
ASC Company Manager & Camp Life Coordinator

New Study Guide Released: KING LEAR

This fall sees the release of a brand-new ASC Study Guide: King Lear. With this addition, we now have guides for twenty-one of Shakespeare’s plays, including all the major tragedies. I enjoy this play a lot, but it hasn’t been performed at the ASC since I started working here back in 2010, so this was my first opportunity to dive into it for ASC Education — and, boy howdy, did I dive.file_001

Weighing in at 273 pages, this is the longest Study Guide I’ve yet written. Admittedly, some of that is because I’ve provided quite a bit of text for comparative study — quarto scenes versus Folio scenes, scenes in Lear compared to scenes in other plays — but a lot of it is because I keep expanding on what I want to include. Every Study Guide now includes a Textual Variants section, which they haven’t always. Every guide now has information on cue scripts. Every guide going forward will have special, play-specific sections on both metrics and rhetoric. Lear also has fascinating stagecraft and dramaturgical angles to explore, so putting all the pieces together gives us a Study Guide with quite a bit of heft.

As always, the Basics sections provide a toolkit for examining text, with an eye towards performance and the questions that actors ask when putting up a play, using the first 100 lines as an example. As I’ve discussed before, the first 100 lines always teach me something interesting: I love looking at what Shakespeare chooses to reveal or conceal right from the start. In Lear, although he begins with the subplot, introducing Gloucester and Edmund before Lear and his daughters, he still gets right to the action quite quickly: the story progresses all the way to Cordelia’s explanation of her failure to flatter her father. What really floored me, though, was the word cloud:

wordcloud100-2

I would never have guessed that “love” would be the most-frequently-used word in the first 100 lines of Lear, but there it is — and by quite a substantial margin.

The play-specific activities mine the breadth of the fascinating themes and the intriguing stagecraft of King Lear. We begin by looking at the quarto and folio variations, since Lear is a play with a tumultuous print history. Our Staging Challenges sections focus on some of the most exciting things that can happen on stage: storms and combat. The storm in Lear is particularly interesting to examine since it goes on for most of an entire act. Language work continues in the Metrical and Rhetoric sections, where we examine verse-prose shifts and the linguistic patterns of madness. In our Perspectives sections, we connect Shakespeare’s world, the world of the play, and your students’ modern world by looking at family dynamics and the role of the fool. Finally, our Dramaturg’s Corner explores Shakespeare’s sources for Lear and the adaptations of the play that have occurred since his lifetime.

Intrigued? Here’s a sample activity for your perusing pleasure: Metrical Exploration.

file_000-1But King Lear isn’t all that’s new in the world of ASC Study Guides. The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet have all received polishings this year. Of those, I’m most excited about the additions to the Romeo and Juliet Study Guide. A new Staging Challenges activity explores Juliet’s not-really-a-balcony, and a new Perspectives section applies Elizabethan and modern viewpoints on courtship, marriage, and familial interactions to Romeo, Juliet, and the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet has long been one of my favorite plays, and getting to return to it and develop a few new activities was such a delight.

If you want to dive deeper into the activities of King Lear, join us for the Teacher Seminar on October 7-8. Registration for the Winter Seminar on The Merchant of Venice and the Spring Seminar on Romeo and Juliet will be opening later this fall.

All ASC Study Guides are available as PDF downloads or print-on-demand hard copies from Lulu.com.

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

After the dreaded return to school, were you ever required to distill the frenetic fecundity of your summer through the barren medium of the personal essay, struggling to capture in writing that which demands physicality, imagination, and experiential knowledge?

liablog1

Me, watching Director of Education Sarah Enloe, choosing my perfect moment to strike. Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography

Hi, I’m Lia Wallace. You may remember me from such ASC positions as “education artist,” “administrative financial assistant,” and “why is that intern still here?”. I’m speaking to you today from my newly acquired permanent position of College Prep Programs Manager, and I’m here to give you a retrospective on the 2016 sessions of the ASC Theatre Camp (my first as Camp Director) — or, as I like to call it: Lia Attempts to Adult, Summer Edition. What follows are things I learned, things I learned never to do again, some notable experiences, and ideas for next summer.

1. Adulthood has rules and those rules are terrifying.

The amount of existential angst over choosing a vocation is such a privileged conundrum. When I worked as a waitress, I never thought about “maximizing my professional enjoyment” or “cultivating constructive connections with colleagues.” The fact that work sucked was a given that I automatically accepted. Being in school forever was always supposed to pay off with an occupation I actually enjoyed in the field of my studies (I have three degrees in Shakespeare!) as opposed to a job I tolerated in the field of “it pays the rent.” I had been interning at the ASC for nearly five years when I was hired full time as the College Prep Programs Manager (aka Camp Director, for the purposes of this blog post) and yet I still didn’t realize that working full time for the ASC meant not working in a restaurant at all. In fact, working full time for the ASC put me firmly into the terrifyingly Real World of Adulthood.

liablog2

Staff quickly learns to grab shuteye whenever (and wherever) they can.

The Real World of Adulthood has strict rules it never explains. What are Adults supposed to wear, and when? How do Adults use Facebook? As an Adult, why is it no longer acceptable to eat ice cream for every meal? My biggest Adult fear was adjusting to a society that runs on a 9-5 schedule. I do not run on a 9-5 schedule, and forcing myself to do so is really hard — and, it turns out, not very good for me. See, I’m a late chronotype. My natural circadian rhythm causes my energy levels to rise and fall a few hours later than the “average” cycle. If left to my druthers, my job hours would be 11am – 8pm (with “lunch” somewhere around 3).

(Side note: I am not lazy – I work as hard or harder than you do. I just do it at a different time. Chronotype discrimination is real! [Editor’s Note: You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.])

This is probably why I was an excellent waitress and a successful graduate student. It also makes me a terrible receptionist, an unsuccessful fisher, an effective night watchman, and a really good summer camp director. Because guess who else refuses to live within the 9-5 boundaries of civilized society? Teenagers. Especially the sorts of teenagers that elect to attend a three-week residential Shakespeare theatre camp.

2. Have an Adrienne. And a Tess, if possible. Actually, a whole staff is pretty great.

liablog3

ASCTC counselors Kim Greenawalt and Mark Tucker pose outside of the Blackfriars Playhouse with Camp Life Coordinator Adrienne Johnson.

Of course, the campers didn’t universally like to live within my chronotypical boundaries, either. While I was welcome to create lesson plans or write blog updates at 2am if my heart so desired, somebody still needed to be up at 7 with the campers who liked to go running. Somebody had to set the kitchen up and make breakfast (during the first session, when the staff provided all of the food ourselves) or unlock the third-floor door to the dining hall (during the second session, when we had all resoundly learned our lesson) before 9, by which time hungry campers would usually mutiny. Running camp is a manifestly 24-hour-a-day job. I can go without sleep for a while but not forever, so that means running camp can never be a job for one person. Enter Adrienne, my Camp Life Coordinator.

At this point, I should differentiate between Adrienne and the rest of my staff. I hired professional directors to helm each show. I also hired a bevy of counselors dedicated to assisting: they served as both ADs (assistant directors) and very hands-on RAs (resident assistants). I had an administrative intern with a staggering amount of patience regarding my inability to ask productively for help. I don’t mean to minimize their efforts; they are all hardworking, competent, delightful human beings and every one of them did excellent work this summer — but nobody ever pretended the position existed without them. I feel that in the context of a theatre summer camp, residential and artistic staff in the form of directors and counselors should be a given. After all, we have dozens of teenagers per session. I am not going to personally look after all of them 24/7, because that is crazy. And though I am loathe to give up any modicum of artistic control, I still never expected to personally and simultaneously direct the 2-4 full productions that we mount each session. I had a lot of help in those areas, and while I am incredibly thankful for that help, I also expected to have it.

liablog4

Session 2 residential staff. From left to right: Molly Cohen, Glenn Thompson, Mark Tucker, Alex Donato, Marisa Skillings, and Jessica Andrews.

You know what I didn’t expect? Everything else. Do you know how unbelievably difficult and frustrating it is to compile all the information for each session’s final performance program (including headshots of every camper, many of whom are apparently allergic to standing still), format that document and get it printed, correctly and on time, without handing over my first born child? I didn’t, either. I also didn’t expect the number of sign-up sheets we would use throughout the summer, or the fact that those don’t just appear magically when we need them. I didn’t expect our first session audition space to be suddenly unavailable due to delayed construction. I didn’t expect the carefully built schedule to need constant tweaking. I didn’t expect the sheer amount of stuff we’d need and the frequent trips to the store that resulted almost daily. I definitely didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

 

%e2%81%aeliablog5

Adrienne looks on as I hug the breath out of Tess. Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography.

Adrienne compiled, corrected, and produced the programs. She made sign up sheets and schedules. She did CostCo runs, washed mountains of dishes, coordinated all the schedule changes (as well as the staff’s time off), finished the construction on the audition space, and converted all the infidels. And she did it while I slept, unaware of any problems. It didn’t hurt that she’s an early chronotype (cheerfully ready to go at 5:30 AM – but woe to any who try to keep her up past 9:30 at night), and it hurt even less that she learned the ropes of Camp Life Coordination hands-on from her predecessor Tess Garrett, who helped us with Session 1 before entrusting us to do Session 2 on our own. If any aspect of my first summer as Camp Director can be called a success, the credit is likely due to Tess and Adrienne. I frequently find myself receiving praise that should be theirs, and though I will cheerfully accept it (because who doesn’t love to be praised?), I am always aware that I owe everything to their dedicated, consistent, and tireless work behind the scenes.

 

3. Don’t attempt to solve problems you don’t understand; or, never ever force teenagers to do a staged reading of Henry VIII. Especially not twice.

2016 marks 19 summers of the ASC Theatre Camp (including YCTC sessions — the camp’s previous moniker was “Young Company Theatre Camp”) and the Education team had fomented big plans for our almost-vicennial. The idea cooked up in 2015 was that in 2016, camp would add a two-week college session in May, before the usual three-week sessions intended for high schoolers. These college campers would audition and be cast ahead of time in order to arrive off-book for a Renaissance-style rehearsal experience culminating in a performance of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s collaborative play King Henry VIII. This college session production, along with the high school session productions of Henry VI, Part 2 and King John, would unlock a significant achievement in the world of Shakespearean theatre: it would complete the canon. That means that in the 19 summers of its existence, the ASC Theatre Camp has managed to produce at least one performance of every single play (reasonably) attributed to Shakespeare. (Get out of here, Sir Thomas More, nobody invited you. You too, Arden of Faversham. And take Edward III with you!) How exciting! In anticipation of the milestone, all of the marketing materials for ASCTC 2016 proudly trumpeted this achievement by inviting potential campers to come “complete the canon at camp!”

liablog6This is all well and good, but the idea remained just that: an idea. When I began part-time work in the position in February, the only tangible developments toward this canon-completing college session were an empty Applications folder and those ambitious flyers. Cutting the college session was a difficult decision with many factors behind it — too many for me to explore now — but it had to happen. It would never have been a big deal if one little thing hadn’t needled me endlessly: without the college session, we had no camp production if Henry VIII. Without a camp production of Henry VIII, camp would not complete the canon (to my particular standards) in the summer of 2016. Not a big deal in itself — if we hadn’t put it all over our marketing material, essentially turning us into big fat canon-uncompleting liars.

Solution! I thought. Camp always features a mid-session performance of some sort, usually a showcase of scenes with elements of music, dance, and combat, though the format had never been definitively set. How about we do a staged reading of Henry VIII? It can have all the benefits of a full (hour-long) production with a professional director without any additional line memorization! I hired two more directors, crossed “canon completion?” off my list, and promptly moved on to the next task. I also congratulated myself on being so clever.

liablog7

Session 2 H8 director Patrick Harris teaching his cast some choreography, or leading the campers in a robust round of applause in response to my aforementioned cleverness? You be the judge.

I didn’t think about how hard it would be for campers to “showcase” any sort of talent while holding scripts in hand. I didn’t think about how Henry VIII, with its baffling plot, unusual character development, and relentlessly plodding grandiose speeches, might be ill-suited to the staged reading medium. I definitely didn’t think about the logistics of putting all of the campers into one play — in their main shows, the cast size is between 10-13 — with only a director, no assistants or stage managers, and with every camper required to attend all 20 hours of rehearsal. It was hard enough for the twenty-one campers in session 1, and it only got harder for the thirty-eight of them in session 2.

liablog8

Session 1 H8 director Merlyn Q. Sell in rehearsal with her cast.

Credit where credit is due: directors Merlyn Sell and Patrick Harris each did an excellent job with the impossible task I gave them. Some of the campers enjoyed the experience, and in many ways, we all benefited from the experience. But in the terms of the goals we want this mid-session show to accomplish, I failed miserably — though I definitely learned a valuable lesson. Let’s just say that ASCTC 2017 will look mighty different in this regard.

4. I am definitely in the right job.

Running camp was hard.

liablog9

Me again, leading a rhetoric workshop for campers in Session 2.

Frustrations and anxiety and fear were ever-present: the fear of failure, the anxiety of ineptitude, the frustration of incompetence.

I messed up a bit in some ways and messed up a lot in others. I never got enough sleep. I often felt like I was failing my staff, failing my campers, and failing their parents. Many times throughout the summer I wondered whether the reward of succeeding at my Real World job and legitimizing my Adulthood status would be worth the day-to-day struggles of being responsible for the world of camp. It’s a world that doesn’t make much sense, filled with impressive and impressionable young artists who look to you for guidance while their concerned parents question everything you do. Camp doesn’t care that you haven’t slept in 32 hours — if you turn your back on those impressive and impressionable young artists, you’ll turn back around to find them 40 feet up in a tree. With sleep deprivation, impostor syndrome, and no formal job training (outside of the five years of interning and three degrees in Shakespeare), I often felt as though I was being held hostage in the world of my own creation by the drunken toddlers I had invited to populate it.

Fortunately, as it turns out, that is exactly the kind of world in which I thrive. For all their tree-climbing and H8-hating, every single one of the fifty-nine campers I worked with this summer gave me countless reminders of why it is I love what I do with such a suffering, with such a deadly life, that in existing without it I would find no sense. I would not understand it. The campers come to Staunton to learn what I love to teach. They have no settled judgments, no points to prove, no professional agendas they need to forward. They come to explore things I know in a way I’ve forgotten, and it’s a joy and a privilege to explore with them.

liablog12

Session 1 campers rehearsing a scene from Henry VI, Part 2.

They asked tough questions. They tried new things boldly and with full spirit — or, sometimes, with only a small amount of coaxing. Sometimes they would burst into song as a group, often while following me through the streets of Staunton to wherever the next activity would be taking place, suddenly giving me my own theme song (usually “Bohemian Rhapsody”). They told me how camp changed them for the better, how they’ll never forget it, how they can’t wait to come back — and they thank me for that, as if their journey of self-discovery is somehow my doing. They are worth every sleepless night spent squinting at convoluted budget spreadsheets and questioning my self worth as a human being due to my inability to correctly calculate credit card fees.

I love what I do. Had frenetically enthusiastic, late-chronotype, generally bewildered Young Lia known that the Real World included jobs like running the ASC Theatre Camp, I think she would have been a lot less trepidatious about stepping into that Real World. I have a lot to learn — and that’s okay. I had fifty-nine amazing teachers this summer, and I can’t wait to learn whatever the campers at ASCTC 2017 will undoubtedly teach me.

–Lia Wallace
ASC College Prep Programs Manager

liablog13

Session 1 Final Group Shot – Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography