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.

 

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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?

 

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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?)

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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

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

Guest Post: Theatrical Duality: On- and Off-Stage in ‘Julius Caesar’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

Julius Caesar has been a part of our Dangerous Dreams tour and the 2016 Spring Season, closing this week. It also featured in 2015’s ASC Theatre Camp. Ellis Sargeant is an ASCTC alumnus and a student at Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School.


Theatrical Duality: On- and Off-Stage in Julius Caesar
by Ellis Sargeant

A hush falls over the crowd, a low chant rises from the discovery space, and the cast strides onto the stage. Julius Caesar begins.

We arrived at camp three weeks earlier, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on whatever challenges we encountered for the next three weeks. The murky cloud of untold possibilities facing us was the same one that the characters of Julius Caesar grapple with.

Both the journey of our production and the play itself begin with tension. We walked into auditions excited and anxious, hesitant and eager, with anticipation for a future we could not see. We took our seats, hearts pounding, and waited to audition in front of our directors and peers. Likewise, in Caesar the Roman senators walk the streets, excited and fearful, with anticipation for a future with Caesar as king. They sit in the Senate, hearts pounding, and wait for Caesar to inch closer to ending the Republic. Both of these tense moments are preamble leading up to the main action: at our auditions, our play hadn’t yet begun, and in Caesar, the senators’ worry is the backdrop to the play’s opening. This duality of on and off-stage experience is something that echoed throughout our exploration of the play.

Julius Caesar is a play draped in background. The play only makes sense in light of Roman history and culture. All of the characters’ choices are inseparably tied to their idealistic view of Rome. Each character in the play is convinced that Rome is the greatest city in the world, that it represents what is good in humanity. Conflict arises over that definition of “good.”

Our rehearsal process opened with a read through. We needed to get a feel for our characters in order to begin exploring the play. Similarly, the play opens with Flavius and Marullus giving background. Shakespeare needs to provide his audience with a feel for the wars that have just ended and the current political situation. Our cast then moved into rehearsing our first scenes. The plebeians party, Caesar strides onstage, and finally only Brutus and Cassius are left. We stand onstage, facing each other and the end of Rome as we know it.

Caesar is a play about the state versus the personal. Every character has to weigh what Rome itself is worth and what they would be willing to sacrifice to preserve Rome. Happiness? Security? Their own lives? The life of a best friend?

We faced similar questions during camp: What are the actors willing to sacrifice for the sake of our play? How much sleep will you give up to learn your lines? How much pride will you swallow to accept your director’s notes? How much of yourself will you give, every day, to your fellow actors and the work you are doing together?

Caesar is a play about intense decisions and life-changing events. Every conspirator has to make the decision to kill Caesar, but how do they decide? Some hate Caesar; one loves him; some love Rome; some only love themselves. The same is true for us actors. What motivates us to come to rehearsal every day and give our best? Do we come because we want applause, or do we come to build something beautiful with our castmates?

Caesar is a play about violence and chaos. It examines why people react with such anger and aggression. Retaliation, revenge, bloodlust, it’s all there. Underneath the exterior of every noble Roman is the potential for a butcher.

In the second week of rehearsal, we played a game. Our director gave us foam swords and had everyone form a circle around two people who are fencing; the first to three points wins. Then he took it up a notch, instead of three points, we fought to the death, actually acting out our wounds. Terrifyingly easily, even with foam swords, we were driven towards our killer instinct. In just a few short minutes, I went from mild-mannered camper to deadly hunter.

After the death of Caesar, Mark Antony gives the famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech as a eulogy for Caesar, but what he really wants to do is drive the plebeians into a frenzy. He wants them to become a mob of rage and grief that he can direct at the conspirators. He takes ordinary people and fills them with enough rage that they murder a man just for having the same name as a conspirator. Antony taps into their killer instinct through grief and turns them into a frenzied mob.

Caesar is a play about justice, war, and conflict. Right before the war, Brutus and Cassius have an argument that almost turns deadly. They argue about whether they can compromise on the ideals that justify their murder of Caesar. Cassius wants to excuse an officer for taking bribes because it is impractical to punish him. Brutus refuses to accept that. He argues that they cannot claim they murdered Caesar for a higher good if they can’t stick to those ideals. When does a just war stop being just? When does turning a blind eye negate our ideals? How can we reconcile our ideals with pragmatism? Actors face questions not about war, but about ego: When is an idea worth fighting for? When do I have to set my own pride aside for the good of the cast? When do we have to sacrifice a concept because of the limitations of time and space that we have at camp?

Caesar is a play about duality. Although the first half may be what everyone remembers, there is an entire war after Caesar’s death and the funeral orations. Thus, there’s a story that everyone remembers and a story that everyone forgets. There is also a duality in our perception of the characters Brutus and Cassius. Even though Shakespeare gives them a fair treatment and shows the reasons why they chose to kill Caesar, throughout the Renaissance they were hated. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante places them as two of only four people evil enough to be in the final circle of Hell, along with Satan and Judas. Their struggles, their stories were largely forgotten outside of their role in Caesar’s death. Thanks to Shakespeare, in modern times, we remember the ideals they struggled for and not just their monstrous deed.

There is a duality to every theater production. The story that audiences see is the one that is there when the curtain opens, not the one that is played out in the rehearsal process. That behind-the-scenes story is full of struggle and failure and pain as well as fun and success and joy. Our audience never sees us arguing about our opening song or wondering if we would be able to pull it all together in time. Our families don’t know that one cast member became gravely ill during the curtain call. They also didn’t hear the actors playing with their stage daggers and yelling “Stabby STABBY!” or see our director launch into an impassioned ten minute rant about the problems with the Game of Thrones series. We could only give the audience one glimpse of all the work and love that went into our play, and one chance to see the conflicts and questions of the world through Shakespeare’s eyes for a single glorious hour on a Sunday afternoon as we strode onto the stage and performed Julius Caesar.

Apprehend a world of figures: Rhetoric and the SAT

ROADS boxA recent feature on NPR’s The Takeaway discussed changes to the SAT exams (which many students will be taking tomorrow), and it included a reference to the fact that rhetorical analysis is now a component in assessing a student’s verbal skills.

This was news to me, but also delightful. I’ve been arguing for the inclusion of rhetorical studies in high school classrooms for years now, and as I did some research into the new SAT’s format and focus, it became clear to me that the ASC’s R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric materials are designed specifically to give students an entry-level understanding of precisely what the test now seems to be looking for:

  • From the College Board’s SAT study guide: “Analyzing word choice: Understanding how an author selects words, phrases, and language patterns to influence meaning, tone, and style; Analyzing text structure: Describing how an author shapes and organizes a text and how the parts of the passage contribute to the whole text”.
  • From Five Tips for a Top Essay on the New SAT: “For a high-scoring essay, don’t forget to use some rhetorical flourishes of your own: big words, literary devices, and even statistics and quotations you’ve memorized as part of your test prep. Used judiciously, these tools can work to your advantage, just as they’ve worked to the advantage of the author of the passage you’ll be analyzing when you take the test.”
  • From BodSAT’s News: “Any good rhetorical analysis process includes the head as well as the heart. Good English teachers know the importance of having students engage with the text before they analyze it.”
  • From Montgomery School of Maryland’s SAT prep: “Reading: The student needs to analyze the passage’s word choice and text structure, along with analyzing the author’s point of view, purpose, and argument (how the author builds, structures, and supports the argument)…. Writing: These questions focus on revision of text to improve the use of language to accomplish particular rhetorical purposes.  While reading, the student needs to ask him/herself questions like… – How is the author using phrasing and word choice to accurately, clearly, and concisely state the intended message? – How does the wording and sentence structure affect the style and tone of the passage?”
  • From Study Study Tips for the 2016 SAT Essay: “Point out specific rhetorical devices that strengthen the argument and connect the author to the reader. Common examples are word choice, hyperbole, figurative language, rhetorical questions, and emotional appeals – devices that you’ve probably learned in school.”
  • From Persons for the People: “An overview of Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos: The Ethical Appeal, demonstrates credibility, author is trustworthy/fair, emphasis on morality, right v wrong, considerate of both sides; Logos: The Logical Appeal, author uses reason, facts, evidence, charts, graphs, figures, general thoughtfulness; Pathos: The Emotional Appeal, taps into audience’s feelings, passion and possibility, pity, sympathy, sadness, seeks the ‘gut’ reaction, about the ‘experience’.”

This is right in line with everything we say about rhetoric and how it can help actors and students mine information about character, expression, intent, and action out of the text. (Plus, as I discussed last month, it’s pretty sexy stuff and totally fits with modern media). But it’s not enough just to be able to regurgitate definitions: students have to experience it in ways that are vital and visceral in order to learn how writers use rhetoric to shape critical thought and emotional affect. That’s where the application comes in — and there’s no better lens than Shakespeare for exploring rhetoric-in-action.

Here’s a snippet of what I encourage students to look for once they’ve got a basic grasp of rhetorical patterns:

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So, if you’re a teacher wondering how to approach this new requirement of the SAT exam, I encourage you to join us at an upcoming Teacher Seminar, or, bring your class in for a R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric workshop. We’re also happy to travel to you for classroom visits or in-service training. Whether or not you study the play we’re covering — or even if you don’t teach Shakespeare at all! — our methods of rhetorical analysis are cross-applicable across all language studies and will help to make your students better readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers.

And if you’re a student looking to get a leg up on the SAT exam? Try our Rhetoric Flashcards, available in the Box Office and through our online gift shop. Your classmates may all know what alliteration is, but you’ll be the one walking home with 800s when you drop terms like antanaclasis, polysyndeton, and anthimeria into your essay.

The Benefits of Summer Camp: “Here’s a change indeed!” — Othello, 4.2

Summer camp marks an important time of growth in the life of teens, and the effects of camp reverberate with them long after they leave a summer program. The ASC Theatre Camp provides more than just an intensive theatrical performance program for the students who study with us. ASCTC also meets teens’ developing social and psychological needs in an environment that provides more individualized and positive support than what most students receive at school alone.  Campers gain skills that are essential to spreading their wings as independent thinkers, no matter what they end up studying in college.

From ASCTC13's Pericles; photo by Miscellaneous Media

From ASCTC13’s Pericles; photo by Miscellaneous Media

Anyone who has been to the ASC Theatre Camp performances can attest to the incredible depth of skill, heart, and bravery that the campers bring to the stage during each of their shows. The performance festivals are just the capstone to what many campers describe as a life-changing transformation. The challenges which campers face in the three weeks that they spend here help them to grow into better performers and set them on a path to being conscientious leaders and artists.

The teens that find a home-away-from-home at ASCTC know that being part of our community will imbue them with a spirit of creative generosity, which is something that they can apply to any discipline. Some of our incoming 2014 campers already know their “dream jobs”; many applicants indicate that they want to be actors, but many more share that they are thinking of other paths – being musicians, anthropologists, teachers, writers, psychiatrists, journalists, lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, and astronomers.

Performing Shakespeare is just one way for all of these talented young students to celebrate their collective diversity and their inherent need to communicate about all the complexities and challenges of life, things that Shakespeare can capture in the turn of a phrase. Shakespeare speaks to teens in a way that sometimes their parents and teachers cannot.

At the conclusion of each camp session, we survey our campers about their experience. Sometimes, they write to us to share their heartfelt reflections on their time in Staunton:

“One of the first things I remember hearing at camp was “I am enough.” This was a phrase that constantly resurfaced in my mind while at camp and even now three months later and 900 miles away from Staunton …At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, I experienced abundant support from each person with which I made contact.”

Many teens come to camp burdened with the social weights of high school peer pressure. Although our students are already bright, confident, and mature, they leave camp with an extra boost of self-assurance that propels them to another stage of independence – that stage where being yourself is cool, nerding-out is acceptable, and Shakespeare’s words transform into personal mantras. “We have heard the chimes at midnight” is one of my favorite quotes from Henry IV, Part II, which ASCTC produced in 2006. I might not be as old as Falstaff, but recalling the days of youth and summer will always remind me of the transformative power of camp.

“It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about being judged. Camp takes you out of your comfort zone, but in a good way. It really allows you to be yourself as well as figure out who you are.

My self-confidence improved monumentally during the time I was at camp. I went into camp shy and quiet, constantly fearing that I was going to be judged negatively. By the time camp was over, I truly believed that it didn’t matter if people judged me because I am enough just how I am.

The support that our campers receive from our staff, counselors, and guest artists reverberates through their lives, especially as they prepare for college and the daunting experience of starting their careers. Building positive, professional relationships with trusted adults helps campers learn to articulate their own ideas as well as fostering self-efficacy.

From ASCTC13's Volpone; photo by Miscellaneous Media

From ASCTC13’s Volpone; photo by Miscellaneous Media

“Every single one of the teachers seemed very concerned with giving us all the advice, guidance, and knowledge they could offer so as to improve our theatrical craft; the classes, rehearsals, and performance experiences truly helped me grow as an artist in so many ways. I feel ASCTC was the perfect vehicle for college preparation for me.”

“ASCTC has helped me further discover who I am and what I love to do. The environment and people have helped me thrive into becoming a more confident and happier individual.”

Perhaps the most profound impact that camp has on our students is that they leave inspired to continue to share their joy of Shakespeare with others. We do our best to stay in touch after they “graduate” from our program. Many campers return as counselors in following summers to share their knowledge with the next crop of young Shakespeare enthusiasts. Here are some of the other great activities that our alums have been doing after they leave our program:

  • Managing and working for many professional theatre companies across the country
  • Working as engineers, computer programmers, filmmakers, librarians, business managers, producers, and entrepreneurs
  • Teaching Shakespeare to middle and high school students
  • Forming and sustaining collegiate Shakespeare companies at Exeter University, Yale University, New York University, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and many others.
  • Touring Shakespeare’s plays to schools
  • Pursuing graduate work in many disciplines, including Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies at Mary Baldwin College and King’s College London.

The ASC Theatre Camp is a community of students, young professionals, and seasoned teachers and artists who continue to create theatre, to support each other’s artistic and educational goals, and to build professional opportunities long after the summer fades away. My hope is that we enrich the lives of the campers who study and perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse and that we always cherish the contributions of young artists to the rich history and new horizons of Shakespeare in performance.

This summer, Session 1 campers will perform Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Measure for Measure, as well as Fair Em by Anonymous on July 13. Second session campers will perform Henry VI, Part 3 with two casts along with All’s Well That Ends Well on August 10. We hope you can join us.

“I will return to camp next year because camp is the most wonderful place in the whole world. I learn so much, I make so many friends, and I get to be 100% of my nerdy self 24/7. It’s fantastic!”

 

-Kim Newton

“Advantageable for our dignity”: Teaching at Home and on the Road

I sometimes feel like a very spoiled educator. Most of the time, I get to teach students who really want to learn from me — the groups who come to the Blackfriars Playhouse for workshops and Little Academes are not only captive audiences, they’re generally self-selected enthusiasts with at least some interest in Shakespeare, theatre, and/or performance. Many of them are repeat customers, students I see multiple years in a row, not just passively interested but actively excited to stage a scene from Macbeth or to examine the rhetoric in Othello. Even when that isn’t the case, however, less-interested students still tend to be more respectful in our space. Maybe it’s because it feels a little like a church. Maybe it’s because they fear losing privileges if they misbehave on a field trip. Maybe it’s just that slight edge of discomfort that comes from being in a new location, but even the troublemakers tend to remain, if not actively engaged, then at least non-disruptive.

With AP Lit students in Salina, KS

With AP Lit students in Salina, KS

When we take residencies and one-off workshops into middle and high schools, the feeling is definitely different. We’re on their turf. They have the home court advantage, and they are generally not shy about pressing it. A visitor in class might be a disruption to the routine, but not so great that it shakes students from their normal modes of operation, whatever those may be. I often feel powerless to stop a student who is texting or sleeping during an in-class workshop — if their own teacher is letting them get away with it, what ground do I have to impose new rules? Sometimes we get brought in when a regular teacher is out, adding the hurdle of a substitute teacher’s impaired authority to the mix. If our workshop is not in an individual class but a large assembly, then crowd control becomes the challenge — even if the students are interested and enjoying themselves, the noise levels can rise somewhat incredibly, particularly as side conversations start splintering off, and it can feel like we spend as much energy re-focusing attention as we do teaching.

It’s also an unpredictable experience. When I first started attempting to do our Cue Script workshop using the assassination scene of Julius Caesar with high school sophomores, I was far from certain it would actually work — but it did, magnificently. On the other hand, what I thought would be an exciting, active exploration of Hamlet‘s play-within-a-play fell totally flat. An activity that works in one classroom might not in another. I’ve had senior AP students react with great enthusiasm to my rhetoric workshop, immediately able to find its cross-applications to other material for their AP exams and college essays, and I’ve had senior AP students fail to show even the slightest flag of interest. Engagement can vary wildly within a single class, and it’s easy to feel how teachers can struggle on a daily basis with keeping tabs on the disaffected while still rewarding the work of the attentive. The experience can be, admittedly, an exhausting one — but there are always little gems of moments that make it worth it, when the kid you thought wasn’t paying attention suddenly pops out with a great observation, when the students fall over themselves giggling during a scene, forgetting entirely that they thought this was hard, when someone looking at a cue script exclaims, “Oh! I get it!” The light bulbs make the effort worth it.

These on-site experiences are so valuable for me, and not only because they make me dearly wish to apologize to some of my own erstwhile high school teachers to whom I may have been less than respectful. (No one teaching me Shakespeare ever had a problem, but I confess that I was not always a model student when it came to learning physics at 7:30 in the morning). On-site workshops not only enhance my respect and appreciation for what teachers do every day, but they also give me insight into what really does work in the classroom. It helps me evaluate the ASC’s materials, in our Study Guides and in our workshops, so that I can build better activities for the future. How can we engage the most students? What tools can we give teachers to compete with the many distractions available to high school students? I know we won’t be able to convert every student to a Shakespeare scholar, but how can we at least help them find out that Shakespeare is fun, not a tonic? I can’t figure out solutions to those problems without knowing the given conditions of the classrooms they’re in.

Fortunately, Shakespeare gives us answers to these questions as well — or at least he presents us with characters facing the similar challenge of how to get through to someone. Henry V does his best to inspire and hearten his soldiers, but the skeptical Williams counters his every argument with a cold dose of pessimism. It shakes Henry enough that he lets himself be drawn into a quarrel, thus lowering his own status, and then he has to talk himself back up. Richard III has trouble moving his soldiers to high spirits and must in the end resort to focusing on consequences rather than rewards — a less satisfying pathway for everyone involved. Iago tailors his persuasion to his audience, using soft suggestion and leading questions with Othello, brute bullying with Roderigo, sly manipulation with Cassio — a tactic which works until all those moving pieces spiral out of his control.

We most often examine these scenarios in our Leadership Programs, but I think they’re applicable to teachers, too. It’s all about finding the right avenue of persuasion, the right technique, the hook that will draw the audience in. And sometimes, it’s about knowing how to take the hit and try again if your first attempt sputters out.

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 

Immortal Longings — YCTC 2010 Session 2

I spent this afternoon at the performances of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra put on by Session 2 of the ASC’s Young Company Theatre Camp. While I’m always excited to see the YCTC shows, I was extra-enthused, since these are two of my favorite plays.

Today’s performance — in a Blackfriars Playhouse again crammed to overflowing with parents, friends, former campers, grad students, ASC actors, and members of the Staunton community — began with a choreographed pre-show performance involving all of the campers. Eastern-influenced music played as the campers presented a stylized version of Cleopatra’s death scene. A line of campers in theatre blacks and red scarves formed a chain and acted out the striking of the asp, in a development of an activity that originated weeks earlier, at their auditions. The effect was visually striking and quite impressive. After that, we saw Alexi S. as Shakespeare, trying to pen the Battle of Actium, and eventually deciding — despite actors engaging in combat and building ships out of their bodies — to leave the famous battle out of the play. The pre-show demonstrated some of the skills campers acquired in their Master Classes during the last three weeks, including Elizabethan dance, belly-dancing, combat, and details of Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions. The pre-show culminated in a song based on a poem that Jane J. wrote for the “What You Will” talent show, detailing the plots of each show.

Doreen then stepped up to give her general introduction, acknowledgments, and inspirational speech. She summed up this session with the word “abundance,” referring to the prolific creativity of the campers. Having seen so many talents demonstrated in the pre-show, I think she definitely picked the right word. Two campers then presented a more traditional pre-show for the ASC. This pre-show also gave me a new favorite knock-knock joke — but there’s a physical component, so you’ll have to ask me if you see me around town. 😉

The first show of the afternoon was Julius Caesar, directed by MFA Candidate Laurie Riffe. The show began with a version of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” modified to reflect Roman patriotism. I was impressed by the energy and vigor which the campers infused into the show. While all the campers put in great performances, I particularly liked the Cassius, Rose B., who played the role with wonderfully choleric charisma. Caesar’s death was highly stylized and set to drumbeats, and it packed quite an emotional punch when Caesar, stabbed by the conspirators, stumbled into Brutus’s arms, only to receive the final blow. Another interesting staging choice was the decision to have Caesar’s Ghost watching the suicides of Brutus and Cassius from the balcony — I suspect drawing inspiration from Brutus’s line “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords in our own proper entrails”. Overall, Caesar was an exciting show — anyone who’s ever accused that play of being boring ought to take a cue from the YCTC cast.

Antony and Cleopatra, Part 1, directed by father-son team James and Thomas Keegan, opened with a rendition of “Midnight at the Oasis” that drew laughs from the crowd. In this cast, Hannah M. portrayed the fiery Queen of Egypt with mercurial excellence, and Margaret C. made a powerful pint-sized Antony. I was really impressed by — and glad for — the decision to cast a female actor as Antony. This production made fabulous use of the space and its possibilities. One great joke hinged on the use of diagonals: Cleopatra, all the way in the downstage-right corner, tells Antony, entering at the upstage-left corner, “stand farther from me”. Antony then made a wonderful “where’m I gonna go?” gesture, to audience appreciation. All of the actors used the audience well, particularly the comic Enobarbus, played by Rachel B., who aligned herself with those sitting on the gallant stools at every opportunity. This cast didn’t shy from the sexuality in the play, which seemed to shock some audience members, but clearly delighted others (myself included). The production ended, halfway through the play, at the moment of broken fellowship between Octavius and Antony, with an epilogue written by the students. With the cast on-stage, the key players from Part 2 came out to receive significant prop or costume elements from their counterparts. This technique was a wonderful way to link the productions and help the audience out for the beginning of …

Antony and Cleopatra, Part 2, directed by Jeremy West. Jeremy described his cast as “uninhibited”, and suggested that it was something adult performers could learn from the kids. The play opened in similar formation to the end of Part 1, using lines from the epilogue set to drumbeats. These drumbeats continued throughout the production, almost beating out the remainder of Antony and Cleopatra’s lives. Daniel H. and Rebecca R. threw themselves into the tragic fall of history’s famous couple, but the production was not without humor. Shakespeare puts moments of levity around both deaths, and the campers embraced those. One particularly neat staging trick — that Jeremy West admitted had come to him from James Keegan — was the way they lifted Antony up to Cleopatra’s monument. Instead of actually bringing Antony up on the stage, Cleopatra and her handmaidens dropped a rope where they stood, but not off the front, but rather towards the back, at the same moment that another rope appeared where Antony was in the discovery space. The women pulled up on their rope as the discovery space curtains swung shut, giving Antony the time to go up the stairs and crawl under the curtain at the back of the balcony, making it appear as though he had been pulled straight up. As someone who has previously cringed watching an Antony scale the frons scenae, wondering if I was about to see disaster, I really appreciated this clever approach to a difficult bit of staging.

All three shows were wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. I’m just sorry the summer’s over, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting next year’s camps. Best of luck to all of our campers in the upcoming school year!

YCTC Session 1 All Wrapped Up!

The first session of YCTC 2010 has come to an end. The ASC’s Young Company Theater Camps are part of our College Prep program, geared towards offering high school students Shakespeare study, theatre training, and performance experience on the Blackfriars stage.

The campers from Session 1 performed on July 11th to an enthusiastic house, full to brimming with family, friends, and members of the community. I was glad I got there early enough to get a good seat! While prefacing the shows, Director of Youth Programs Doreen Becthol summed up this year’s Session 1 with one word: “endurance.” Apart from the rigors of putting up a show in just three weeks, while also attending classes and lectures, these campers did it all during one of the hottest summers Staunton has seen in quite some time. Bechtol, the ASC actor-directors, and the camp counselors could not praise their young actors enough for their energy and their determination, and the final performances showcased all of their hard work and dedication.

The first show, Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kelley McKinnon, was a wild romp of a romantic comedy. McKinnon said her goal was to make the campers make their own choices about the show, and also to help them “understand what a gift the Blackfriars stage is.” The actors took her lessons to heart, engaging the audience at every opportunity. The action of the play reached its height during a hilarious Muscovite masque, as the young men attempted to woo their ladies in disguise. The masque featured some of the special talents of the campers, including dance, tumbling, trumpeting, drumming, knife-juggling, and a bagpiper playing “Scotland the Brave” — which I feel to be a reasonable representation of how Navarre, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville would have interpreted Muscovite culture.

Though director Dennis Henry warned the house that the second show, Richard III, would be quite a change from the comedic Love’s Labour’s Lost, the actors managed to bring some black humor through the darkness nonetheless. I always enjoy it when a show proves something of what we teach about the value of “doing it with the lights on.” Richard’s relationship with the audience is so crucial to the success of the play, and universal lighting creates an extraordinarily different atmosphere. In this case, it encouraged some ironic laughter – either nervously, as the audience became his unwilling conspirators, or a touch vindictively, as we were allowed to enjoy his downfall. Contact with the audience also increased the pathos for the play’s many tragic victims. Boiling Richard III down into a one-hour format made for an intense tragedy, with a body count that spiraled rapidly towards the show’s thrilling final combat between Richard and Henry Tudor. The campers also took the opportunity to show off their musical talents with three songs at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the show.

The last show of the day was As You Like It, directed by Josh Carpenter. This performance highlighted physical comedy and lots of action; the campers were not at all afraid to throw their whole bodies into the production. I was really impressed by the good use the As You Like It cast made of the Blackfriars stage, with actors demonstrating what they had learned about the blurring of the distinction between audience-space and actor-space: Orlando scaled a column to pick apples, and the shepherd Corin spent one conversation fishing off the edge of the stage. These actors were really thinking creatively, giving this production of As You Like It a unique flavor. I particularly enjoyed the addition of sheep to 3.2, who wandered onstage to eat Orlando’s poetry (probably the best possible thing to do with it). Enthusiasm and energy never flagged in this pastoral comedy, which ended in a lively dance.

As all the campers took their final bows and gathered for pictures on the Blackfriars stage, I saw actors laughing, hugging, and crying. At the beginning of the afternoon, Ralph Cohen had told us, “When you’re working and having fun at the same time, there’s a place where you can’t tell the difference.” I think those two conditions had truly become inseparable for these campers. The actors of Session 1 had both worked hard and played hard, and none seemed ready, at the end of the day, for the experience to end.

I’m already looking forward to YCTC Session 2, for campers ages sixteen to eighteen, which begins on Sunday, July 18th, with final performances on August 8th.

Pictures from Session 1 can be found at our College Prep Flickr group.