The Intrepid Traveller: Born Skeptic turns Softie

When it comes to travel, I am a born skeptic.

Everything that can go wrong probably will.  The places we visit won’t be that great. The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading. The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities — or worse, they may all be annoying. The food will likely disappoint.  The days will be too long. Or, too short. The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  What is the point, really?

I know this cynical view doesn’t sound like a good starting point for the person organizing a trip for 22 participants. To England. For 10 days.

But, I think that, instead of proving the wrong attitude, my take may have made the trip even more enjoyable than it would have been if I had started in a more “Pollyanna-ish” state. Maybe it has to do with my personal adage: If you expect to be disappointed, you may end up being pleasantly surprised — only, in the case of the 2016 ASC Land of Lords trip, “pleasant” would be a huge understatement. I was joyfully, tremendously, thoroughly, and completely delighted by virtually every moment, certainly every person,  and absolutely the experience of the trip as a whole.  

Myth #1: Everything that can go wrong probably will.

Director of Mission and ASC co-founder Ralph Cohen, Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris (or, as we call her, the person in charge of words for Education), and I worked for over a year to put together this adventure we called Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords.  The fact that our fearless (Shakes-Fear-less, to be precise) leader was working on his book, giving a couple of talks a month in various locations across the US, and travelling to Italy for about four weeks immediately before our trip began might have spelled doom for many.

Added to Ralph’s lack of available time in which to provide guidance, Cass and I, of course, hosted our biennial conference for 300 in October 2015, as well as adding a few other conferences and events to our schedule for the Legacy year (400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death). Because that wasn’t quite enough, we also kept ourselves downright busy with other things like hiring new college prep staff and preparing to move our offices while we were in the UK. All of which should have added up to a trip that didn’t make — or at least, a trip that didn’t make with sufficient numbers for all of our team to attend, but instead, we found just the right number (and right mix) of intrepid souls to join us.

Moreover, excellent communication from Cass leading up to the trip (see her blogs here) built enthusiasm and provided essential facts to help us prepare for the group’s time together in England. With a couple of focused days (pinning down dates and addresses for our coach driver, calling and emailing all of the locations we would visit) and some true turns of luck — Why did flights suddenly drop 5 weeks out from departure? Anyone hear of Brexit (an unexpected boon to our budget)? — and the kindness of the group sales folks in the UK, we nailed every venue and tour guide down, we figured out every visit to the minute, and we began to look forward to a trip that would fill the non-skeptic with delight.

1It’s true, when travelling, the airport is the most likely place something can go wrong, so it proved to be no surprise when, yes, some flights were delayed. By some turn of fate, we still landed 19 of our 22 travelers with little to no delay (though stellar camper Rick M. unexpectedly added an extra leg to his journey in order to make it on time — two legs, if you count the walk between Terminals three and two).  Everyone got through passport control, we made it to our coach (and the amazing driver, Mike, who would guide us down all of the tiny roads one could find in Shakespeare Country) in good time after a lovely catch up and meet and greet in Terminal 2’s Caffe Nero at Heathrow.  What about the other three, you might ask? As Fortune would have it, they were on the same flight and landed the very next day, whereat, we were able to arrange for a car to chauffeur them directly to our lovely lodging in Broadway.

Myth #2: The places won’t be that great.

I just finished the final touches on our expenses, and that meant recalling every place we visited though the receipts they generated.  In 10 days, we visited 15 houses or castles, 10 gorgeous churches, 5 exceptional gardens, took 5 fantastic walks, ate en masse at 5 terrific places, saw two shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with some of our campers adding to that number in Cambridge), and saw not only Shakespeare’s birthplace and school but also, we were among the first 300 people in the world ever to see Will’s will in person–that three page document so closely associated with our reason for being in the UK. And, in addition to our own two fantastic faculty members (who gave lectures on almost every place we visited), we heard from four amazing guides, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  

202But more than sheer quantity, we saw quality places.    My eyes were opened to powerful art at Burghley House, while Hardwick Hall’s architecture blew me away (not to mention a lovely exhibit on Arbella, the Stuart who might have been Queen, had Elizabeth acknowledged her lineage above James’s). Chatsworth’s and Powis’s gardens stunned, and Alwnick connected Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and Hotspur in ways I had not imagined (but very much enjoyed). The ruins of Ludlow, Kenilworth, and Dunstanburgh presented space for quiet contemplation and re-imagining scenes, while walks to Heddon-on-the wall and Broadway Tower allowed me to get to know our participants better. When one travels with a certain Director of Mission, one should expect to see some churches.  But, oh, the churches we saw.  From the tiny churches like those Heddon-on-the-Wall, and Stanton (pronounced Stanton, believe it or not!), which revealed their periods of growth in architectural details outside and in, to the fantastic cathedrals in York and Norwich, we saw an array of churches which represented the changing faith of Shakespeare’s home land from his earliest History plays through to the period of his last.

Our day in the near-“Disney” Stratford-Upon-Avon was made perfect by a wonderful connection at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Cait Fannin-Peel. Cait took our program in hand, arranged for a fascinating talk to introduce the ongoing work of the Trust (and won a few donors to the New Place project), she got us into three open properties and gave us a sneak peek of New Place — a site that was two weeks from opening. She didn’t personally arrange for the National Archive to display Shakespeare’s will just on the day we were touring, but I think she could probably arrange — and would — something of that magnitude.  She walked us to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, took us to Hall’s Croft, shared her stories of Holy Trinity (and tried her best to get us into it when a wedding prevented it — then DID get us into it on Monday morning, first thing), made sure we saw the Guildhall and Shakespeare’s school, and basically gave us her Saturday.  We encountered so many people of like generosity, at Chatsworth, at Norwich Castle, and in our lovely hotels, it felt as though England had rolled out the red carpet for us.

Myth #3: The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading.  

First of all, I knew better than to think this about either of our faculty members. But having had them both in class, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hearing anything — or not much — new. Boy, was I wrong. If you have the chance to take Mary Hill Cole or Ralph Cohen on a jaunt around England, let me just say, I recommend it.  Mary Hill contextualized every location and made the coach trip fly by as we travelled from place to place.  Ralph has a knack for pointing out the visual clues to history and makes the being there matter.  He also falls into lovely coincidences, like the statue of the Saints Crispin in a Shrewsbury garden that wasn’t even on our itinerary–our leadership seminar uses Henry V’s Agincourt speech in every session we host, so I’ve heard that speech a dozen times in the last year at least–making concrete the words with which I work, and who knew they were the saints of Shoemakers?!

255Then, there were the tour guides. We found four people who not only really knew their stuff, but also, passionately, wanted to share it, in dynamic and delightful ways. Alan, of White Rose Tours  in York (chosen purely because Cass and Lia Razak, our College Prep Programs Manager, are such Yorkists) [Editor’s Note: #whiteroserightrose], led us on a humorous 90-minute excursion with perfectly timed stopping points and, yes, jokes. As it turned out, he is a stand-up comedian, so we were laughing about Richard III and the York wall, while also learning fascinating things about their history. Our Cambridge guides, Chris and Tony of Cambridge Tour Guides, had a gift for engaging the group, and as Alan had in York, for connecting Shakespeare to the surroundings. In Cambridge, as it seemed every tourist in the UK decided to visit the day we did, they expertly shuttled us around rambunctious teens from at least a dozen different countries and advised us on where to go and what to do post tour, too. They had a talent for getting us into sites just before a christening or between banquets so we felt like we had found guides with a magic touch — or superior timing, or both. Our staff guide at Alnwick seemed almost as delighted to talk about its use as a location in films from Harry Potter to Elizabeth and shows from Downton Abbey to The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.  As with all of our exceptional guides, his enthusiasm carried us right past the time set, and we almost all got to stay in Alnwick for the night; the gate began closing around us as we dashed back to the coach and on towards Dunstanburgh.  

Myth #4: The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities–or worse, they may all be annoying.

61In addition to places and guides, experiences, like breakfast every morning with a different friend to communal meals and banquets and teas, and even a rained out picnic, offered us all the chance to meet new people and deeply engage with their history and relationship to Shakespeare. We mixed up our seating on the coach, took opportunities for extra excursions (there wasn’t quite enough on the schedule already!), and made special dates for dinner and lunch just to visit with new group members.  At one of our first stops, I picked up a card set for one of the people I’d heard talking about wanting to know the Kings and Queens better, and thus began a tradition carried out by Cass, Ralph, and me.  At each gift shop, we would find something for each of our group — special to them. So Sandy, who looked for Green Men in each church, received a book on them at our final banquet. The ever-patient and sweet Ruth, always waiting for her photog husband Warren, found a folding fan to help her wait out his documentary excursions. Notebooks and poetry collections for our writers and teachers, our gorgeous Gay found a blue glass just the hue of her favorite necklace in wait, our “student” Donna will make use of her new book as she finishes earning credit for the trip, and Ed and Lois each got items to further their enthusiasm for learning more about the UK’s royalty. This project was as rewarding for me as for the gift recipients, as I delighted in thinking about them — what made each so special, George’s enthusiasm and kindness, Jim’s quiet intellect, Betty’s “just do it” attitude — and why each was such a special and perfect addition to our group.  

Myth #5: The food will likely disappoint.

162Well, that was just wrong. From our first lunch at The Mermaid in the charming Burford, to our speciality cocktail “Much Ado About Nothing” at Lygon Arms, to the unbelievable seafood at Craster–with a view of the ocean that only made it more sweet, to the meals out with friends–Indian (with an amazing Family size Naan) with Philip, Rick, Betty and Cass, and Scottish with John–to our Traditional Tea at the Swan in Lavenham, and finally, our last evening at the beautiful Felix Hotel, we ate our way through England quite, quite well.

Myth #6: The days will be too long. Or, too short.

When traveling, one must ask oneself if one wants to sit in a room (which would have been a great option at any of our hotels!) or see the places they came to visit.  Our guests felt free to choose, with almost everyone skipping at least one excursion to do something on their own.  Even those who didn’t, I would warrant a guess, enjoyed the easy balance of one day at each hotel stop which kept us close and allowed for some breathing space. We had among us, even, some adventurous types who visited a dance club in York — they shall remain nameless; I was only there to make sure everyone was safe, I assure you.

Myth #7: The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  

Well… Yes, this part was true. But, what a wonderful chance to see some shows and draw comparisons. The different spaces and the choices made by the productions we saw generated fascinating conversations, and we each benefited from seeing the work.

147Myth #8: What is the point, really?

The point is, when we leave our comfort zone, especially with others, we learn about life in new ways. History feeds the present, perhaps most in Shakespeare Studies, but in many other ways as well.  Perhaps more importantly, and my biggest takeaway on this trip, is that present feeds the present, too.  Present people, present places, present presents, expand minds, hearts, and give way to the sincere hope that we will see one another again. And soon.

The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp convenes annually in Staunton to provide enrichment to fans of Shakespeare and of life, especially those who seek a unique way to fill the hours of their summer.  We built 2016’s Land of Lords trip to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy in the 400th year since his death. The 2017 topic for our return to Staunton will be Shakespeare and Art. We hope to see you there.

–Sarah Enloe, Director of Education

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #4

Before I begin today’s itinerant interlude, a note: We do still have a few slots open, so if you’re enticed by what you’ve been reading on the blog, register now to join us in England in July!

Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in England, founded in 1209 by scholars who fled Oxford University in the wake of a dispute with the townsfolk there. Until the 1820s, Cambridge and Oxford were the only universities in England — unusual for a Western European country. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the universities featured prominently (along with the printing press in London) in the development of humanism and the classical revival. Education was conducted in Latin and focused on the seven classical liberal arts — grammar, logic, rhetoric, math, music, astronomy, and geometry — along with history, philosophy, ethics, and poetry. While Shakespeare never attended university, many of his contemporaries did — including Christopher Marlowe, an alumnus of Christ’s College at Cambridge.

Playmaking had its place at the university, too, as Shakespeare mentions in Hamlet.

Hamlet. No, nor mine now. My lord, you play’d once i’ th’ university, you say?
Polonius. That did I, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.
Hamlet. What did you enact?
Polonius. I did enact Julius Caesar; I was kill’d i’ th’ Capitol; Brutus kill’d me.
Hamlet. It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there. Be the players ready.
Much of our information about early modern theatre comes not from the public playhouses but from the universities, as they were often better at preserving documents, including scripts and actors’ parts.

We’ll begin our scholastic sojourn at King’s College, founded by King Henry VI — subject of three of Shakespeare’s plays — in 1441. Famous alumni of King’s include Robert Walpole (the first British Prime Minister), Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, George Santayana, and many famous writers, including Salman Rushdie, E. M. Forster, and Zadie Smith.

2016-03-31With its enormous fan vault, stained-glass windows, and elaborate wooden chancel screen, the King’s College Chapel is one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture. King Henry VI began work on the chapel in 1446. Construction was slowed, however, and eventually halted by the Wars of the Roses. When King Henry was deposed in 1461, the walls were only half-finished. King Richard III resumed construction during his short reign, stating that “the building should go on with all possible despatch.” Henry VII took up the job in 1508. Each time construction restarted, builders had to use stone from a different source, resulting in a visible line between the older, lighter stone and the newer, darker stone (much like that we Americans are familiar with on the Washington Monument).

The interior of the chapel was finally completed under King Henry VIII, who added the wooden screen in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. To put their own stamp — quite literally — on a project begun by a deposed predecessor, Henrys VII and VIII added Tudor rose embellishments throughout the chapel. Be sure to look for these during our visit!

Our collegiate tour continues at the Wren Library of Trinity College. Though founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Trinity’s importance stretches for centuries both before and after. Henry VIII actually formed Trinity out of two older schools: King’s Hall, founded by Edward II, and Michaelhouse, a smaller and less wealthy school. Today, at over 1000 undergraduates, grad students, and fellows, Trinity is the largest college at either Oxford or Cambridge. Alumni include Francis Bacon (once a popular focus of Shakespeare authorship conspiracies), Isaac Newton, John Dryden, Lord Byron, several Prime Ministers, a host of Nobel Prize winners, and HRH The Prince of Wales. Much of the famous architecture dates to the late 17th-century, including that of the Wren Library, designed by Christopher Wren. Those of you who were with us in 2013 saw St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, also designed by Wren (and Virginians may be familiar with his work here in America, as the oldest building at the College of William and Mary is also his design).

The Wren Library boasts over 1250 medieval manuscripts and over 70,000 books printed before 1800, including an eighth-century manuscript of the Epistles of St. Paul, a 14th-century manuscript of The Vision of Piers Plowman, Isaac Newton’s 1659-1661 notebook and a first edition of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, where he set out his laws of motion and gravity, and the Capell collection of early Shakespeare quartos.

Newton Apple Tree

Speaking of Isaac Newton: not only was he an alumnus of Trinity College, but a tree on its grounds is said to be the one which inspired his theory of gravity (or a grafted descendant of the original arboreal muse). Unfortunately, the story is apocryphal, as Newton was likely not living in Cambridge, but in Lincolnshire at the time of his inspiration — but, as Shakespeare knew, sometimes true history needs a little legendary embellishment! The tree is located beneath the window where Newton lived and studied while he was at Trinity.

University life wasn’t, however, all work and no play. Students had a less-than-glorious reputation in the early modern era. Various plays of the period portray university students as profligate spendthrifts, always writing home for money, and as drunken debauchers, enjoying a life of little restriction, far from their homes. Shakespeare tells us as much through Vincentio in The Taming of the Shrew, who laments:

“While I play the good husband at home, my son and my servant spend all at the university.”

Some early modern writers also noted the pompous airs that university students put on, as in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, where Tim, recently returned from Cambridge, disdainfully insists his mother call him ‘Timotheus’. He gets comeuppance for his snobbery when he speaks in Latin to his intended wife, the Welsh Gentlewoman (actually a knight’s cast-off mistress), who, thinking he cannot speak English, tries speaking back to him in Welsh, and whereupon he takes her for “a good scholar.”

DSC07031-1We’ll have a taste of traditional Cambridge entertainment when we go punting on the Cam. If you were with us in 2013, you’ll remember our adventure on the Isis at Oxford (picture at left). From what I gather, the River Cam is wider, shallower, and boasts far fewer obstacles in the way of overhanging trees and snarled underwater thickets.

Cambridge will be the last stop of our trip, and we’ll cap the day off with a fine feast of which any starving undergraduate would be envious.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Northumberland, home of Hotspur and Hadrian’s Wall.

And remember — you can still register to join us!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #2

This is the second installment in our series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. March 1st was St. David’s Day, a celebration of Welshness, and so for the second installment of our Land of Lords preview series, I thought I would discuss the areas we’ll be visiting in the Welsh Marches, the territory along the border of England and Wales: Shrewsbury, Powys Castle, and Ludlow.

First up: Shrewsbury, probably the most Shakespearean-ly famous of the sites we’ll be visiting in this area, thanks to the climactic battle in 1 Henry IV, where King Henry, his sons, and his allies overcome the forces of Harry “Hotspur” Percy.

ARCHBISHOP SCROOP
To-morrow, good Sir Michael, is a day
Wherein the fortune of ten thousand men
Must bide the touch; for, sir, at Shrewsbury,
As I am truly given to understand,
The king with mighty and quick-raised power
Meets with Lord Harry: and, I fear, Sir Michael,
What with the sickness of Northumberland,
Whose power was in the first proportion,
And what with Owen Glendower’s absence thence,
Who with them was a rated sinew too
And comes not in, o’er-ruled by prophecies,
I fear the power of Percy is too weak
To wage an instant trial with the king.

Battle_of_Shrewsbury_1403_01981Shakespeare stays reasonably close to the historical story: Henry IV was actually on his way north, ostensibly to support the Percys against the Scots, when he learned of their treachery. Henry swiftly changed directly and managed to reach Shrewsbury before the Percys could capture the town. Owain Glyndwr’s forces did not arrive in time to bolster Percy’s forces, allowing the king to cross the River Severn, cutting off Percy’s line of retreat. (At right, a 1781 imaginative illustration of the Battle from Thomas Pennant’s ‘A tour in Wales’)

Percy did have aid from his uncle Worcester, including some excellent Chesire bowmen who, according to one chronicle, made the king’s men fall “like leaves in autumn”. One arrow struck Henry, Prince of Wales — Shakespeare’s Prince Hal — in the face. He recovered, but was permanently scarred.

As in Shakespeare, Walter Blount was killed by the Earl of Douglas. Hotspur was killed not by Prince Hal in single combat, however, but during the charge, apparently due to an open visor. As Shakespeare depicts at the start of 2 Henry IV, there was some initial confusion about whether Hotspur or Henry IV had died. Had it not been for Hotspur’s death, the rebel forces might have won, as the king’s forces sustained much heavier losses.

The 1403 battle isn’t Shrewsbury’s only claim to frame, however. The town has ancient roots, serving as a capital for pre-Roman Britons and as the outpost of Viroconium for the Roman legions. Anglo-Saxons took over the area and built fortified earthworks in the 9th century; the Welsh tried to take it back in 1069, but were repelled by William the Conqueror. Shrewsbury came to further prominence during the late middle ages thanks to the flourishing wool trade. Today, the town retains its largely unaltered medieval street plan and boasts over 660 historical buildings, including several examples of timber framing from the Tudor era.

Powis CastleAerial North Castles Historic Sites

From there, we’ll cross the border into Wales itself, to Powis Castle (above), seat of a dynasty of Welsh Princes. It takes its name from the ancient Kingdom of Powys, a territory covering much of current Wales and Shropshire. (We can blame the English for turning that y to an i in the name). Owain Glyndwr, Shakespeare’s Own Glendower, was descended from these princes, and it was on that basis that he rebelled against King Henry IV at the turn of the 15th century.

Glyndwr proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and began his revolt in 1400, taking territory and castles throughout Wales. In 1405, he signed the Tripartite Indenture with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy (Hotspur’s father), an event which Shakespeare places before the Battle of Shrewsbury. Despite this alliance and help from the French, however, the rebellion foundered after 1406.

Owain remained free, a guerilla leader, and was never seen alive after 1412. He is presumed to have died somewhere between 1415 and 1421. However, he was never captured, nor was his body ever found, and so rumors of his survival continued for many years. He has since become something of a Robin hood figure for the Welsh, a noble and legendary hero.

And really, what better legacy could we want for the man whom Shakespeare has claiming:5f1b88d89a94476481b1cf3519e5fe1c

GLENDOWER
at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.

We’ll finish the day with tea in Ludlow, a market town in Shropshire that’s about 28 miles south of Shrewsbury, nestled in the bend where the River Corve meets the River Teme. The de Lacy family, who came in with the Normans, began building Ludlow castle in the late 11th century, and the area rose to prominence during the Plantagenets’ various attempts to conquer Wales.

Like the town of York, Ludlow also featured heavily in the Wars of the Roses. The Duke of York (later executed in York) used it as a stronghold early on, but Lancastrian forces captured it in 1459 at the Battle of Ludford Bridge. When Edward IV became king, he set up the Council of Wales and the Marches at Ludlow and sent his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to live there. The prince was there when his father died, and that is what brings Ludlow into prominence in Shakespeare. In Act Two, scene two of Richard III, Richard and the Duke of Buckingham discuss fetching the prince from that stronghold.

Ludlow_Castle_as_seen_from_the_tower_of_St.Laurence's_Church

Above, you can see the medieval town of Ludlow as it appears from St. Laurence’s, the parish church. Ludlow remained important in the Tudor period, remaining the headquarters of the Council of Wales and the administrative center for the Welsh territories. It was also where Prince Arthur, son to Henry VII, wed Catherine of Aragon.

So much for Wales! Next week: Hardwick Castle and the tale of Bess, Mary, and Elizabeth.

We do still have room in the trip, so if you enjoy beautiful venues, good company, excellent conversation, and all the history you can shake a stick at, register now!

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords – Preview #1

This is the first of a series about No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2016: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. Over the course of the ten-day trip, we’ll be staying in three wondrous hotels. The farthest north of those is Middleton’s in York. York has been a center of power throughout the history of the British Isles. During the Middle Ages, its distance from London meant that it could almost function as a separate political entity. Understanding the city better will be a way of getting a grip on the War of the Roses that Shakespeare stages in the plays about Henry VI and wraps up with Richard III.

Among the things we’ll do is walk some of the walls of York, which are a mere 7 minutes from our hotel. ​​York has more miles of intact city walls than anywhere else in England. While city walls were once common, even crucial to York2a city’s survival, most have deteriorated in the modern age. York’s extant walls are not entirely contiguous, nor all from the same era. The first walls were built in 71 AD, around a Roman fortress on the River Ouse. Little of this original stonework remains, but some can be seen in the Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens.

A legion at the time encompassed 5500 men, and their presence encouraged trade with enterprising locals. Through these interactions, the fortress eventually grew into the city of Eboracum, a busy port and cosmopolitan provincial capital. The Emperor Hadrian visited this fortress in 122, on his way north to plan his great frontier wall (the focus of a future Preview Email!), and Emperor Septimius Severus made it his base of operations for campaigning in Scotland in 208.

The city went into decline following Rome’s withdrawal from Britain. By the 9th century, the walls were in poor repair, and when the Danes (“the Great Heathen Army”) invaded in 867, renaming the city Jorvik, they demolished all the towers except for the surviving Multangular. The Danes buried what was left of the Roman walls beneath earthbanks and wooden palisades. These were badly mangled during the 1069 “harrying of the North” that followed the Norman invasion and brought the northern counties under William the Conqueror’s control. The majority of the remaining walls, encircling the medieval city, date to the 12th-14th century and were built during the reigns of some early Plantagenets: Henry III and the three Edwards.

York1There are four main gatehouses, or “bars”, which restricted traffic in medieval times and served as tollbooths. Initially the walls also had 6 secondary gates and 44 intermediate towers, stretching over 2 miles encompassing the city and castle. York was an important outpost during the Plantagenet wars with Scotland, so much so that Edward I actually moved the seat of government to York in 1298. In the 15th-17th centuries, York and the surrounding county were the sites of many battles and sieges during the Wars of the Roses, various Tudor rebellions, and the English Civil War. (The map at left dates to 1617).

The walls of York play their largest role in Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 3, which features several scenes that actually take place on the walls as the two factions, each a branch of those ever-contentious Plantagenets, struggle for control not just of the city but of the nation. Early in the play, the Duke of York is captured by the Lancastrians, and in giving his execution order, Queen Margaret taunts:

Off with his head, and set it on York gates,
So York may overlook the town of York.

Margaret’s later reference to the head, when welcoming Lord Clifford to York, suggests that a prop may actually have been placed upon the “walls” — the gallery above the stage — to add to the gruesome spectacle:

Welcome, my lord, to this brave town of York.
Yonder’s the head of that arch-enemy
That sought to be encompass’d with your crown:
Doth not the object cheer your heart, my lord?

We’re unlikely to encounter anything so appalling on our trip, but we may pass by the very spot at Micklegate Bar (below) where the Duke’s head once stood, bearing a paper crown.

Micklegate_Bar

In 1800, the Corporation of York applied for an Act of Parliament to demolish their walls, as London and other cities were doing (since none of them had been invaded by ground in quite some time). They were met with fierce opposition from the populace, however, and instead of being torn down, were restored starting in the mid-19th century. Today they are a Scheduled Ancient Monument — just waiting for us to tread the same paces that legionaries, nobles, rebels, and monarchs have for nearly 2000 years!

For more on the history of York and some great interactive maps of the city and its walls, visit historyofyork.org — or join us to see for yourself in July!

“My life and education both do learn me how to respect you”: Teaching and the Art of Collaboration

Projects have a funny way of infiltrating one’s thoughts and setting up their own domain in  the mind.  I think this may be why research institutions want  their faculty showing the product of their labors (read: publication).  By encouraging faculty to invest time in  something–research, an experiment, a paper– they facilitate new solutions, innovations, connections. The project on my mind this summer is our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, for which Cass and I (collaboratively) selected the theme of collaboration.  As I’ve been planning for it,  it has tickled my brain about all of the work we do and how it connects (or, sometimes, doesn’t) to that one word.  

 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar who is new to town for coffee yesterday to discuss some upcoming projects and to see if we could work together.  I’d been giving a lot of thought to our work in the Education Department even before this meeting, in which, as we were trading tales and getting to know one another, my colleague asked “What do you do at ASC?”

Most of the time, when I answer that question, I tend to start with our divisions — College Prep, Educator Resources, Research and Scholarship, Life-Long Learning.  I talk about the programs in each, what they mean to me.  Depending on the day, one or the other may be my favorite.

But the programs we run are not, really, what we do.  We bridge a lot of territory here in our little world — or, as we often say, we wear a lot of different hats. Kim and I are administrators, wrestling with budgets, staffing, communications.  Cass and I are curriculum developers: we worry with Common Core, clear instructions, and quelling ShakesFear. All of us write and market and edit and network and schedule and (some days it feels like more than anything else) answer emails.  Each of us have been performers at various point in our lives, and we still enjoy the aspects of our jobs that entail performing and putting together scenes and plays. We don’t get to act so much at the office or day-to-day like our colleagues a block away at the Playhouse, but we do get to teach — and in a way, that is the most collaborative and rewarding kind of performing.

We talk a lot about collaboration in theatre, but  not so much in the classroom.  It is a buzzword in one part of my job because the folks in the arts need to be collaborators in the most essential sense of the word: from the OED (you know it is a good day when I get to open that baby up) col- together + labōrāre – to work.

The word seems to be so essential in theatre that I am a little surprised (okay, disappointed) that the OED doesn’t credit Shakespeare with being the first to record it.  Instead, it first appears in print a good two and a half centuries after his death,

To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

Shakespeare does record the concept in some of his plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck describes the how the Mechanicals “were met together to rehearse a play” and we see their first production meeting as they discuss the ins and outs of staging Pyramus and Thisbe. But one doesn’t find the same acknowledgement of learning, teaching, or educating together. In Shakespeare, those activities generally occur with singular pronouns — “I” or “you” or “she” or sometimes the royal “we/our.”

On the best days, the Education team gets out from behind our desks and go into a room full of people and we teach. We teach Shakespeare, history, acting, teaching.  We do it in a particular way that we learned from watching our boss, Ralph Alan Cohen, when he teaches, and from watching other teachers, who include both faculty in the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program and the actors who work on the stage at the Blackfriars.  We teach students who are with us for one hour or one week or one semester.

We learn something every time we stand up in front of a group of people. We are lucky that the people in our classrooms, unlike those, say, in a typical public school English/Literature arts class, have chosen to be there. They want to hear what we have to say. We are doubly lucky in that our classrooms have resources that win interest instantly — actors and the stage. We are triply lucky that in our classrooms we have the opportunity to take a collaborative approach to learning.  We are not lecturers or authority figures so much as facilitators. We take pride in showing our students paths and helping their navigation and exploration. In raising genuine questions and discussing them. In exploring options and working together to achieve the best result for that moment, that group, that classroom. Knowing full well that the next moment, group, and class may resolve the exploration in a completely different (and exciting) way. That collaborative journey and its different landing points is part of why Shakespeare stays fresh on stage and in the hands of students invited to think like (and given the tools to work like) performers.

Little Academe

 

Over at the Playhouse, the artistic staff and actors spend time in a room together from the beginning of rehearsals until the closing night. Whether they are closely studying the text in table work, getting up on their feet and blocking it, or taking their curtain call, they are giving space and sharing credit with one another. They discuss the colors of the costumes and the period of the props, the movements and gestures that will unify or create the feel they are looking for from a particular moment. They will try things in different ways and work through challenges and disagreements with conversation.  They will, essentially, model an ideal environment for learning and creating: an environment that the best teachers and businesses are interested in making the norm.

In the quote from Othello that forms the title of this post, I see the three essential pieces at the heart of any genuine collaboration: life (experience), education, and respect. I think it is the last one that causes the most problems for teachers and others looking to work in a collaborative way.  For some reason, respect is a feeling that is hard to conjure up for some people with a lot of life experience and education. In the recent past I’ve noticed that the ability to collaborate with our students or with our co-workers is inversely related to how much more life experience or education we think we possess relative to theirs–or, in short, to how much we respect what they bring to the effort.  Sometimes, those in  a collaborative may need to ask: how much effort we are willing to give to showing respect? What will make this collaboration a success?

Collaboration is not easy in the best of situations — as I think the ASC has learned in the act of putting up plays since 1988. At various times, whether while running productions by two to three troupes simultaneously, or because we added new initiatives like our College Prep camp (1997) and the Actors’ Renaissance Season (2005), we have discovered that it takes time and energy to establish the system that will make the collaboration fly. And, it hasn’t always worked right off the bat. Within a system, collaborators have to be willing to acknowledge when something is broken and to work together to fix it. Otherwise they risk, in the words of one of our recent Leadership participants, that “a problem for some can quickly devolve into a problem for none.” If one person alone is not forced to deal with an issue, then it never gets addressed at all, as everyone it bothers will assume someone else will handle it.  The challenge for groups working in a truly collaborative way is to show respect for one another by recognizing an issue and bringing it to the group, working on a plan to solve it, and taking steps to do so.  Once is not enough, though; newly rising issues require the same approach whether they occur once a month or once a day.

As I watch our partner program experiment with this notion with their new MFA third year, I am learning just how important both the systems and the dogged determination to deal with situations as they arise is to the healthy functioning of a group.  And how difficult it is to build truly collaborative work into the day to day tasks we do to DO our work.  Our new third year demands collaboration of 11-12 souls for a year of their lives, and has set up some guidelines and tools to make that possible. It is the ultimate melding of pedagogy and art–a model of how to teach collaboration through process.  It has taught me that Collaboration needs not just invitation, but also stakes–something that we MUST accomplish together.  Something that gets us out from behind the devices and into one another’s space, something that has a deadline and an audience, something that we can feel pride in together.

At No Kidding Shakespeare Camp this year, our study will focus on the collaboration we find evidence of in Shakespeare’s company, the collaboration we engage in daily at the ASC, and the discoveries about collaboration we are making in the MFA third year company. We will experiment with models of collaboration drawn from what we know of Shakespeare’s rehearsal process, explore musical collaboration to see if we can compose something together, and discuss the implications of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other artists. I hope we will find new ways to engage and “work together” that feed our campers when they leave and our organization as we continue to mount productions and learn about the world of  early modern theatre. Won’t you join us?

ASC Education in 2014

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you in 2014:

  • Teacher Seminars: We start the year off right with our Winter Seminar January 31st-February 1st, focusing on As You Like It and some of the wonderful learning techniques we’ve gathered from rehearsal practices during the Actors’ Renaissance Season. We already have teachers from six states registered to join us in a few weeks, coming from as far away as Oklahoma and Massachusetts. In Spring (April 25th-27th), we’ll cover Othello and The  Merry Wives of Windsor. Our Summer Seminar (August 15th) this year will be a Macbeth intensive. Our last Macbeth seminar was one of my favorites, leading to discoveries that I still bring up in workshops, so I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting the play this summer. In fact, I love it so much that we’ll also be covering Macbeth at the Fall Seminar, along with The Comedy of Errors. Registration is now open for the Winter, Spring, and Summer Seminars, and we’ll be opening registration the Fall soon.Little Academe
  • ASC Theatre Camp: We kick things off in January with an alumni reunion event: a weekend of celebrating the ARS and our former campers’ continuing love of Shakespeare. This summer, campers ages 13-18 will explore Measure for Measure, The Tempest, 3 Henry VI, All’s Well That Ends Well, and the anonymous Fair Em, the Miller’s DaughterApply now to join us this summer.
  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2014: We’re back in town this year for a week-long camp focusing on the theme of Collaboration. Our activities will explore the partnerships and the community necessary to create theatre then and now, from shareholding to co-authorship, from ensemble casts to audience contact. Registrations are now open, so make some summer plans to spend time at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Conferences: Our biggest conference news this year is that ASC Education will, for the first time, present a teaching workshop at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference in April. We’re excited to bring our classroom methods to SAA members and to the local teachers of St. Louis. Dr. Ralph will also be leading a rhetoric workshop at SAA. Read more about the 2014 Conference and the ASC’s workshop on the SAA website. ASC Education will also appear at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in January, at the Virginia Association of Museums conference in March, and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in September.
  • On the Road: Our workshops are currently roaming the country with the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, and next summer, we’ll build new ones for the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll be participating in Shakespeare Month at the Alden in McLean, Virginia in January, in the Virginia Children’s Festival of the Book at Longwood in the fall, and we anticipate expanding our Educational Residencies to new territories throughout the year.
  • In-House: We look forward to welcoming Little Academes from across the country during the ARS and the Spring Season, as well as to hosting the local chapters of the English Speaking Union and Poetry Out Loud Competitions. Our Leadership Seminars are also ongoing: we celebrate our continuing relationship with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, with programs throughout the year, and with International Paper, returning for another week-long program in April.
  • ASC Study Guides: In 2014, our Lulu offerings will expand to include a special guide on Christopher Marlowe, to celebrate the fact that the ASC will produce Edward II in the Fall Season and Doctor Faustus in the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll also be creating improved second editions of As You Like It, Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. You can preview all of our sixteen current titles online and purchase them as print-on-demand hard copies or PDF downloads.
  • Play-going Enrichment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works.
  • Perfect Pairings: Our 2014-2015 Staged Reading series will feature little-known plays which complement the shows produced in our seasons. After finishing the Slightly Skewed Shakespeare series in the spring, with Nahum Tate’s King Lear in March and The Famous Victories of Henry V in April, we will present Plautus’s Roman farce Menaechmi in September, in conjunction with The Comedy of Errors, and Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV, Part 1 in October, in conjunction with Marlowe’s Edward II.
  • Student Matinees: In 2014, we’ll be offering six titles for Student Matinees: Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, A Christmas Carol in the Winter, with a sneak peek at HamletThe Taming of the Shrew during the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring. 
  • And more… We’re working on new initiatives in Research & Scholarship, College Prep, and Educator Resources, so look for further updates as we launch new programs and partnerships throughout the year.
A very happy New Year to all the Shakespeare lovers out there — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2014!

“If’t be summer news, smile to’t before”

Accolades for ASCTC 13 Session 1 CampersWhoever dubbed this time of year “the lazy days of summer” sure didn’t work for ASC Education. We’re much more about “the very Midsummer madness”. Perhaps most prominently, this is the time when we host the annual ASC Theatre Camps for high school students. We’re in the  middle of Session 2 now, with students deep into work on The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Their final performances are on Sunday, August 4th. Though it can sometimes feel like the camps dwarf all other activity during the summer, they are far from the extent of ASC Education’s aestival programming — and this year, we seem to have more going on than ever before.

Since 2010, we have also held a summer camp for adults, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp. This summer, we’re taking the show on the road and heading to London for a week exploring Shakespeare’s old haunts. Several friends of the ASC, including MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, archaeologist Julian Bowsher, eminent Oxford scholar Dr. Tiffany Stern, Globe Education Director Patrick Spottiswoode, craftsman Peter McCurdy, and director and actor Nick Hutchison, are graciously sharing their time and expertise with the group. Our travels will take us to many important London monuments, as well as some lesser-known gems, including: the Bloomsbury and Covent Garden districts, the Globe, the new Wanamaker Theatre, Shoreditch, St. Bartholomew’s, St. Paul’s, the National Portrait Gallery, several of the colleges of Oxford, the Blackfriars District, Guildhall, the Inns of Court, Southwark Cathedral, the Museum of London, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, where Ralph is delivering a lecture on the early modern Blackfriars Theatre and our Blackfriars Playhouse as part of the “Shakespearean London Theatres” series. We’ll see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth at the Globe and One Man, Two Guv’nors at the Haymarket. We’ll also be exploring London’s culinary delights, from traditional pubs to Thai and curries. It hardly seems possible with all of those scheduled wonders, but we’ll also all have some time to explore the city on our own. (I’m hoping to catch a musical in the West End on one of our free nights, since, as I’ve confessed before, musical theatre is another of my great loves). Since I’m something of a photo-hound, I’m sure I will return with many, many pictures of our adventures, so look for those on Facebook and in an upcoming blog post, and if you follow me on Twitter (@ASC_Cass), I’ll be posting real-time updates with hashtag #NKSC13.

Summer is also a great time for Educator Resources. In 2011, we began hosting Summer Seminars in addition to our already-established school-year programs, and two weeks ago, we hosted the 2013 Summer Special Teacher Seminar, welcoming teachers from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Michigan. This seminar was a “Class to Cast” special, focusing on methods of producing a Shakespeare play in the classroom or as an after-school activity. We covered everything from cutting and doubling to audition techniques, from tablework to blocking and embedded stage directions, from marketing to music. You can hear the playlist we built for The Comedy of Errors on Spotify, and the Study Guide we used is available on Lulu. Here are just a few of the comments we received from teachers who attended this seminar:

  • “This was the best and most useful workshop I have ever taken.” — Martin Jacobs, Lincoln High School, Ypsilanti MI
  • “I would love to attend Class to Cast again. I feel comfortable with Shakespeare as an English teacher, but I knew very little about directing. This seminar gave me a good sense of the overall process of putting on a show, including things like stage management and marketing, which, as an English teacher, I probably would have overlooked. I learn something new and understand my prior knowledge even better every time I come to a seminar, so I would definitely come back. … Most of my other professional development experiences have been full of generalities without actionable suggestions. I can see direct applications of the techniques from this seminar, such as scansion, reading from cue scripts, and cutting the text, to my classroom.” — anonymous
  • “AMAZINGLY helpful! I would recommend this (and have!) and will be returning.” — Jeffrey Cole, Director of Education, Henley Street Theatre/Richmond Shakespeare
  • “I am used to attending seminars that are presented in a strictly academic manner. This seminar called upon me to participate fully, heart, mind, and , body in exciting ways. … I would not hesitate to recommend the seminar to a high school drama or English teacher. My first thought at the end of each day was that I didn’t want it to end. My first thought at the completion of the seminar was, “When can I take another ASC seminar?” The instructors were extraordinarily knowledgeable, creative, and articulate. Now, I understand why so many of the people taking the seminar return again and again.” — Barbara Johnson, Drama Instructor, Faith Christian School
  • “I will be back for sure! This was an AWESOME workshop! … Cass and Sarah were exceptional hosts and provided a wide-reaching program that really helped to capture and address some of my hesitance with approaching Shakespeare. With greater confidence, I plan to embrace the Bard this upcoming fall!” — anonymous

We were thrilled to welcome so many enthusiastic educators, and we thank them for being willing to step outside of their comfort zones for a few days. Best of luck to them as they take on the challenge of directing in their schools! And we hope to see everyone back for future seminars.

Summer is also, as Sarah noted back in June, high tide for our flow of interns. Our offices are teeming over with eager students, working on a variety of different projects. Just this week, we welcomed Ellington, a rising senior at Oberlin University, who will be working on media and technology for us. Jess, who will be with us through the fall, is preparing dramaturgy packets for the upcoming Actors’ Renaissance Season. Emily has joined the World’s Mine Oyster troupe, preparing materials for The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as helping with their workshop prep. Self-described “jack of all trades” intern Sadie is helping out with Hospitality, Development, and the Box Office, and Sara has delved into our archives. To keep up with our fabulous interns and their research, following the ASC Interns’  Blog.

So, once the summer ends, do things slow down at all? Not in the least. As soon as schools are back in session, we begin welcoming groups for tours, workshops, and Little Academes, as well as starting our regular Student Matinee schedule and the Blackfriars Lecture Series. Our Fall Teacher Seminar is October 4-6th, focusing on Romeo and Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well. And, of course, the 7th Blackfriars Conference occurs at the end of October. Acceptance letters for plenary papers and colloquy sessions will go out next week, and then we set to work finalizing the schedule, arranging banquets, preparing entertainment, printing programs and nametags, arranging catering, and shepherding all the other miscellany that go into making the Blackfriars Conference a unique and valuable experience for all of the scholars and practitioners who attend. Like the ASC’s Artistic Department, performing shows 52 weeks a year, ASC Education is truly a year-round institution, and we hope that you’ll come to the Blackfriars Playhouse soon — or talk to Sarah about bringing our Education Artists to you, wherever you are.

Shakespeare’s Influence, Far and Wide

It’s April 23rd again, and that must mean it’s time for the Shakespeare Birthday Project. I’m pleased to once again be taking part in this celebration of Shakespeare’s life and the great joy he’s brought to so many people for so many years.

The thing of it is — I wasn’t quite sure what to write about this year. I’ve already devoted a post to how Shakespeare shaped my life path, and last year I discussed his inspirational power to teachers. Fortunately, circumstances aligned to provide me an avenue for discussion, because this year, Shakespeare’s birthday falls swift on the heels of an incredible eight-day stretch of ASC Education seminars. We began on Friday the 12th with our Spring Teacher Seminar, and that barreled straight into this year’s second annual week-long International Paper Leadership Seminar. Having these two events back up against each other allowed me to see the full spectrum of engagement with Shakespeare, from our super-excited educators, eagerly throwing themselves into immersion, to a group of business professionals, lawyers, and mill foremen, most of whom had little lifetime exposure to Shakespeare, and some of whom primarily spoke languages other than English.

There are ways in which our Teacher Seminars are like shooting fish in a barrel, because those educators (particularly those attendees who come multiple times a year) are always hungry to indulge their love of Shakespeare. That can be a double-edged sword, however, because it means I feel a lot of pressure to give them new, exciting material. So, for this event, I was pleased to be able to give them over to our Tempt Me Further tour actors for two workshops. I think they always get different insights from such active practitioners, even if they’re covering the same material that Sarah and I would. They also got to listen to a Master Minds lecture from an MBC graduate student and had the opportunity to discuss common misconceptions about early modern female performance with her. Best of all, though, they threw themselves willingly into every activity, listening attentively, offering their own viewpoints, and feverishly scribbling notes to take back to their own classrooms. Thanks to their enthusiasm and cheerful participation, I finished the weekend feeling, as I typically do after Teacher Seminars, more energized, rather than drained.

Our Leadership Seminars are a different animal, since the people we see for those typically come from well outside the world of Shakespeare or even of education. On the first day of this program, the International Paper coordinator asked the participants to rate their impression of Shakespeare on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “would rather eat glass” to 10 meaning “have a secret crush on him.” We heard a few encouraging responses of 8+, but we also heard (not unexpectedly), a few in the 1-3 range — so we had our work cut out for us. We know that going in, though, and we’re always up for the challenge. 

The Leadership Seminar involves three major focus points: exploring Shakespeare’s examples of leadership through demos led by our actors and discussed by Dr. Ralph; writing and performing personal statements about a work-related challenge; and building short scenes in small groups through the use of cue scripts. Many of the challenge statements, perhaps unsurprisingly, focused precisely on the obstacle of communication — some of those quite literal, from those facing language barriers, others more abstract, as new leaders learn to negotiate team motivation or the transmission of information between departments. Others don’t feel like their team’s needs are always heard and recognized by those higher up in the organization. Our goal in a Leadership Seminar is to give participants the tools, using Shakespeare as inspiration and the vocal and physical techniques of the actors as a form to build around, to address these issues effectively once they return home. We examine both the technical construction of their statements as well as their presentation skills, adjusting each day. The difference from the start of the week to the end is always dramatic — and the great joy of it is getting to watch people get better at something through the coaching and exploration. We see the participants start to use their voices and their bodies to greater effect; we see them train themselves to plant their feet, stand up straight, and make eye contact; we hear them reconfigure their thoughts to be more evocative and persuasive.

What impressed me the most about our group from International Paper, though, was how game everyone was to try things out, even if they were uncomfortable, even if we were asking them to dig into something that was not their native language. It wasn’t easy work much of the time, but the participants were willing to engage and to make the attempt — and that makes all the difference. What they discovered was that Shakespeare is funny, moving, expertly constructed, and, the greatest surprise of all, often relevant to their own lives. The cue script activities taught them lessons about communication, leading by listening, and working as a team. The work they did showed the group that Shakespeare’s company faced many of the same basic problems they do in their positions. The demos, and the scenes themselves, often illustrated how those issues of communication, credentialing, and empathy speak across boundaries of time and language. Several participants ended up working Shakespeare’s lines, in direct quotation or in more oblique reference, into their challenge statements. Are all of these people likely to refer to Shakespeare often in their everyday lives? It’s unlikely. But they may think a little more positively about him — I think we converted some of those 1-3s into at least 5-7s by the end of the week, and we got at least a few lines into their mouths and into their brains. 

So, happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! Thank you for continuing not only to provide me with a career, but with the opportunity to share positive experiences with so many, so different people. May we continue to celebrate your natality for centuries to come.

No Kidding Shakespeare Camp Begins

This morning, ASC Education began our third year of the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults. I had not, initially, intended to blog about the camp at the beginning of the week. I thought I would wait until the end, make a wrap-up post, include some pictures, and that would be that.

But then something struck me, just here in the first few hours. As the campers arrived, I realized how many of them I know already — because they’ve come to the first two years of camp, or to Teacher Seminars, or to the Blackfriars Conference. Of the nearly-thirty campers, at least half are familiar faces. We started off with an informal brunch, to let everyone settle in and mingle a bit before diving into lectures. I saw people sitting together, chatting amiably like old friends, and I know that they met here. It really is like camp is when you’re a kid — you may only see these people once a year, but when you do see them, they’re friends. And it happens so fast — already today, our new campers are chatting with the group, laughing at shared jokes, and making new friends. We’re really starting to build a community with this camp, as well as our other events, of people with shared experiences and shared joy. As a result, they’re not just colleagues with a mutual interest anymore; they people who come here become real buddies. Watching that happen, and getting to be buddies right there with them, is a great experience.

When the introductions began, so many of the campers said things that made my heart swell. “This is my indulgence for the summer.” “I begged my family to let me take this week.” “This is my treat to myself every summer.” Many of the first-time campers are here because of our shows, and at least two of them said, “I thought I hated Shakespeare until I saw it here.” Another camper is here because our touring troupe had reached her. Another makes a six-hour trip several times a year so that she can see every show, and she jumped at the chance to spend a full week here.

I love that. Statements like those are the reason why we do the work that we do. Hearing one testimonial like that can make frustrating weeks completely worth it. Hearing a dozen of those testimonials in a row just about bowled me over. I love that this thing we’ve started, a Shakespeare camp for adults, has become a real vacation. These people are taking time off of their jobs and away from their families for a week because they really want to. It’s an incredible validation of our mission, “to recover the joy of Shakespeare,” to make it something that is a rollicking good time, rather than an academic tonic. I love that our shows are good enough to make people want more. Seeing a production, for some of our audience members, just isn’t enough — they want to dive in, get their hands on the text themselves, learn more about how our actors make their magic. Because of this draw, the camp achieved its optimal number of participants last year, in only its second summer of existence, and we’ve met that goal again this year. I’m so glad that we can provide this experience for all of these Shakespeare enthusiasts, and I can’t wait to see how the program, and our friendships, will keep growing in the future.

Leadership Seminar: International Paper

Last week, ASC Education embarked on a bit of an experiment by holding our first-ever week-long Leadership Seminar. We’ve been holding shorter seminars, anywhere from a quarter-day to two full days, since 2003, but this was our first go at expanding that model. A group of professionals from International Paper joined us Monday evening through Friday afternoon for a week examining persuasive techniques in Shakespeare’s plays, practicing communication and presentation skills, and exploring problem-solving techniques in teams.
The group consisted of individuals from many facets of the company – sales, IT, marketing, transit, legal, food services – and was truly international, with members from China, Venezuela, India, and Poland. Most of this group had little to no experience with Shakespeare, and for those international participants, it was literally a foreign language to them. So we had quite a challenge ahead of us, to get this group not only to see what Shakespeare could teach them about leadership, but to get them to have a good time doing it.
It totally worked, and in large part precisely because of Shakespeare’s stagecraft. All we had to do was show them the tools; once they got those down, they could see all the directions that he writes into his plays – everything from prop needs to movement to emotions to status markers. With that empowerment behind them, they easily grew out of their fear and into not just appreciation of but enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s plays.
Leadership Seminar participants from International Paper, back three rows, with ASC coaches and staff, front row.
Photo by Ralph Alan Cohen
 We structured our week as follows: Each morning, we examined “Shakespeare’s Models of Leadership,” examples of effective or ineffective leaders in Shakespeare. This included everyone from the obvious examples and heavy hitters – Henry V, Richard III, Antony – to less-overt or less-well-known examples of leadership and communication: Claudius, Feste, Jack Cade, Beatrice. The IP group got to watch our talented actors present scenes and monologues, and then Ralph talked through them, drawing attention to particular points of persuasion, audience appeal, personal presentation, and other aspects of communication. These examples gave us a ground level to start from and a common experience to point back at as examples throughout our other activities.
Early in the week, the group also heard from a few real-life, modern-day experts in communication and leadership, including Ronald Heifetz, the co-founder of and senior lecturer at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University and author or co-author of several important books on leadership, including Leadership without Easy Answers, Leadership on the Line, and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World. In his lecture, Heifetz talked about a leader needing to be able to “look down from the balcony” – referring to the ability to step back and look at the big picture. That language stuck with the group throughout the week. Again and again, they considered the benefits of standing apart from a situation, taking up residence on that imaginary balcony and exploring the advantages the new viewpoint provided them. Several of the participants mentioned Heifetz’s lecture as a critical component to the week, providing them with inspiration and with some concrete ideas to return to as they worked through their own leadership styles.
In the rest of the day, we explored language analysis and presentation in two ways. The first was by having the participants construct, practice, review, and alter “challenge statements” – brief descriptions of some challenge they are facing in their professional or personal lives. Confused? Here’s one that one of our actor-coaches, Gregory Jon Phelps, wrote during our planning sessions, which we gave to the IP group as an example:
When presented with the task of writing this Challenge Statement, it seemed at first to be an easy assignment; its purpose clear, structure simple, and design helpful toward fully understanding the participants’ experience. However, the actual creation and construction of this statement, given all the possible subjects from which to choose, has, indeed, proven to be a challenge. The solution is simple: set aside the time it will take to write the statement, be alert and focused, and a subject will come to mind. It still seems easier said than done, though, since it is the actual deed itself, not the theoretical planning, that must be completed. Once the time has been blocked off, all other distractions have been dealt with properly, and an environment conducive to writing has been established, I’m confident that I will be inspired with a subject, that it will be effortless to write the statement, and that it will prove to be no challenge at all, but, in fact, quite fun.
The goal is to be simple, succinct, and persuasive – to be concise, but to make a strong point. We gave our participants a lot of different things to consider. Who might their intended audience be? How can they appeal to that audience? Are numerical details important? Or a personal anecdote? Do they want to present a problem and then suggest a solution? Or just focus on the problem itself? There are a lot of options; the goal is for the participants to find the approach that will work best for them, to find the way to tell the story they most want to tell. Working through these, we asked the participants to consider both their physical and vocal presentation, using lessons learned from the coaches as well as from Doreen Bechtol’s morning warm-up sessions, as well as the structure of their thoughts, their word choice, patterns of speech, and specificity of language.
The second exploration challenged the participants to put together scenes out of cue scripts. In many ways, this involved leadership in practice more strongly than anything else they did during the week. Due to the nature of cue scripts, each member of the team only had part of the information necessary to build the scene, so they had to figure out how to communicate their needs to each other. The exercise also stresses the importance of listening, since one character might have embedded stage directions not in their own lines, but in what someone else says.
Both of these challenges made some of our participants pretty nervous on the first day. I could see the standard markers of hesitation and fear. We strove to combat those reactions by creating safe spaces for experimentation, and part of that meant starting in smaller, non-threatening groups. We started the week in small groups of three or four participants, attached to one coach (myself or one of the six actors working with us through the week: Miriam Donald Burrows, John Harrell, Daniel Kennedy, Gregory Jon Phelps, René Thornton Jr., and Jeremy West). Those small groups worked through both the challenge statements and the cue scripts on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, we teamed up into groups of five and six, with two coaches: slightly wider range of feedback for challenge statement, slightly larger and more complex scenes to work through. Thursday, we glommed further into groups of ten and twelve, with three or four coaches, and on Friday morning, the entire group presented their final challenge statements and final scenes. This structure allowed the experience to build from simple to complex, as well as fostering the participants’ increased confidence each step of the way.
IP participants rehearse a scene from Julius Caesar,
with acting coach Daniel Kennedy visible, lower right.
Photo by Cass Morris
It was amazing to watch. On Tuesday, my group members needed a lot of help from me. The coaches weren’t meant to direct, but I found that I did need to ask a lot of leading questions about both the challenge statements and the scenes. Is there another way you can try that? Was that a conscious choice, or an accident? Is there a place you can choose to move? What in the text tells you that? Who are you saying that to? So, too, my group had a lot of questions for me – about the language, about pronunciation, about character relationships. I gave them only the bare necessities, nudging them to look in the text for clues.
And they got there. By Friday morning, with four coaches in the room, they barely needed us at all. Many times, I would notice myself or one of the other three coaches in the room start to open our mouths to suggest something or to ask a question – only to shut them again because the group had already gotten there, had already found the clue in the text. The language was no longer a barrier. They were hunting out clues, listening for embedded stage directions, considering the stage picture and the requirements of the scene, making decisions about who could and should stand where, and when they should move. I could hardly keep from bouncing with glee, it was such a thrill to watch them, knowing how far they had come in just a couple of days. What’s more – they were laughing their way through it, enjoying even the errors, making big and bold choices and delighting in the process. I love things like this, because it verifies what we claim about Shakespeare – that he wrote those clues into the text, that he wrote for actors, with the ideas of staging in mind.
Over the course of the week, we coaches became pretty attached to our groups. Having the privilege of seeing a group through from Day 1 to Day 5 was incredible, and when one of “mine” nailed something in a presentation, I felt a burst of pride (and sometimes couldn’t stop from doing a joyous fist-pump in the air). As we merged with other groups, it was also great to see how their members had evolved, what challenges they had faced that were similar to or different from ours, and how they integrated those ideas when working together.
The final challenge statements were a world apart from where the participants had started at the beginning of the week. Instead of mumbling voices, shuffling feat, hunched shoulders, and aimless sentences, we had bold tones, clear enunciation, excellent posture, straight backs, and focused statements. From hesitancy and obfuscation, we got confidence and clarity. (And, as a bonus, I think we all learned something about both the mechanics and the business of producing paper). The best part, though, was that I could sense the confidence our participants had gained over the week. At the beginning of the week, it had been a bit like drawing teeth to get anyone to volunteer to speak. By Friday morning, they were queuing up, eagerly anticipating their turns to take the stage.
One of the most touching moments was when one of the Chinese participants gave her final speech. She hadn’t been in any of my working groups, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to see her through that process of evolution. Instead, I got to see a night-and-day difference. The first day, she had been shy, uncomfortable with presenting in a foreign language, apologizing for herself (even though, as we pointed out, absolutely no one was judging her, since she certainly knows more English than any of us know Mandarin). On the last day, she delivered her challenge statement in Chinese, rather than in English. Having no Chinese myself, I didn’t understand a word, but I could still see a world of difference in her presentation. She was confident, she stood tall and straight, and even though I didn’t know what her words meant, I could tell which ones were important. She was choosing places to pause, choosing where to get louder or softer, and using her body to tell the same story of emphasis as her words. It was remarkable, and I know I wasn’t the only one getting a little choked up, seeing how far she – and all the others in the group – had come.
Following those scenes, we had one last conversation with the whole group, and here, the participants confirmed a lot of what I’d been seeing in practice. Getting to hear, in their own words, what this week had meant for them and what they had learned was incredibly valuable, and also quite touching. Several of them found the cue script exercises to be valuable, particularly for what it taught about giving and receiving focus, about when it’s a leader’s job to speak, and when it’s a leader’s job to listen. Others had awakened to the value of trying out a speech different ways, with different inflections or different word choices, of playing around with the language, and of giving themselves permission to try something that might not work in order to find the thing that would. Still others appreciated the opportunity to be vulnerable and to go through the process of self-auditing and reflection. They talked about the value of asking questions, of showcasing different aspects of communication, of learning about different kinds of leaders, and of finding inspiration in unexpected places.
One of the greatest joys in my job is getting to see people awaken to both the great value and the great joy of Shakespeare, and last week demonstrated both of those as thoroughly as I could imagine. Expanding the Leadership program to a full week gave me and the other coaches the opportunity to see the transformative nature of this kind of work. Best of all, throughout the entire week, I never heard a single person say, “No, I can’t do this” or “No, I won’t do this.” Skeptical as they were at the outset, they were still willing to try – and once they took that first step, the infinite variety lay ahead, just waiting for them. I can’t wait to do it again.