For most young students summer is a time for relaxing, hanging out with friends, and basking in a blissful school free period of time. Yet, for four weeks in Balboa Park a group of 21 students ranging from 9th – 12th grade choose to dedicate some of their precious summer to an intensive program designed to challenge them, develop their skills, and to interpret and create original content based on the works of William Shakespeare.
The Pam Farr Summer Shakespeare Studio 2018 at The Old Globe is not an open class; each participant had to qualify through an interview process. Not everyone got in, so those that did are not going to throw away their shot at this opportunity.
Theatre students are an intense bunch; you always know them when you meet them. If you accidentally say something that is in a lyric of a musical they may spontaneously break into a performance of that entire show, choreography included. They’re the ones who, when living in a beach town during the summer, will instead work to get into a program that will put them indoors in a rehearsal hall or on a theatre stage.
For students like this being challenged to study, interpret, and discuss Shakespeare’s works is more like a gift; rather than the difficult work it can be. They relish voice, speech, and stage combat training. It is a chance to find and refine their artistic voices while creating original work. It really is an unbelievable opportunity to work in master classes taught by some of the staff and artists at the world renowned Old Globe. To be honest, I don’t know that I would pass up the opportunity myself.
The culmination of this year’s Pam Farr Summer Shakespeare Studio is a presentation that combines scenes from Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, with original material created by the students over the course of the program. So before their final presentation I got to sneak in and watch a rehearsal, before coming back to see their final performance.
It’s a Friday afternoon and this rehearsal is just about to start. The students enter in the theatre in a flurry of energy and conversation. Some gravitate into small groups to talk, others are looking at the props on the stage, and some are on the sidelines waiting for the rehearsal to officially start. All are upbeat, smiling, and excited to be here.
When the rehearsal starts all that energy and excitement snaps into a sharp focus. They stand in a circle and start their vocal warm ups, repeating tongue twisting phrases, or nonsensical words as the piano dances them up and down the musical scales. Their voices may soar to the back of the theatre, but these warm ups help ground and prepare them for the afternoon of rehearsals that are ahead of them. There is no messing around, pulling faces, or goofing off; these kids are here and ready to work.
They start at the top of the show with the original song “Why Should I Care”, which was written by the Shakespeare Studio ensemble. They do it once and the stop for notes. The timing was off in one section, they discuss what is causing that and how to fix it. The Musical Director explains what she is hearing and not hearing. Advice is given, they start again.
All of the students take the notes, respond in the affirmative, apply the feedback, and keep moving forward. These are as no-nonsense and open a preparation as any other professional rehearsal I’ve attended. They are all comfortable on stage, engaging in conversation with the professionals they’re working with, and concentrating on the task at hand.
The original material in this presentation doesn’t shy away from themes in the play. Love, jealousy, power, and friendship are all open for debate.
At the top of the play Hermia’s Father deciding decides who she will marry, or else be banished to a nunnery for the rest of her life. This starts a conversation about parental guidance and, counsel, and advice.
Oberon, the King of the Fairies, meddling in the love lives of the mortals has them asking about relationships boundaries, friendship, and if anyone has ever meddled in a successful manner.
Hermia and Helena fighting has them contemplating friendship, conflict, and how to disagree in the most productive manner.
The people that make up the Studio staff are direct with the students, they have respect for the students and it’s clear the students have respect for them. These students know they are dealing with some of the leaders in their field but they aren’t too intimidated to engage. Everyone on staff are there to help the participants deepen their engagement and understanding not only of Shakespeare but combining the interpretation and performance portion of this craft into one seamless presentation.
Eventually I sneak out of rehearsal, not wanting to disturb them. I shouldn’t have worried; they were too focused to be thrown by a stranger exiting the theatre.
The night of the performance has arrived. As I walk into the courtyard of The Old Globe it is teeming with people, a stark difference to the empty quiet walking into the rehearsal I attended. Some of the participants are excitedly watching people come into the courtyard calling out to those they know. They all have their cell phones out – they are teenagers after all.
When the lights in the theatre go down the audience bursts into an enthusiastic applause as the cast comes out. The performers are no longer the same excitable teenagers, the theatre professionals from the rehearsal have returned. Their moves are confident, and sharp. They have no microphones, so they have to emote and project – a sometimes tricky balance.
From this outsiders perspective this program challenged and succeeded in asking the participants to create a great ensemble, deepen their connection to Shakespeare, contemplate and reflect on the themes and conflicts in the play critically, and experiment their roles as artists by having them switch roles throughout the play.
One of the closing lines written by the students is “We all come from different backgrounds but look what we can accomplish.” The close of the performance is greeted with richly deserved applause for these young performers.
All this after just four summer weeks learning and honing their skills in the program look what they have accomplished; just imagine what they can do with their future.
Studio Ensemble members: Lev Boraz-Beaumont, Jennifer Dao, Teal Davis, Alexis Flores, Kaya Goats, Jaden Guerrero, Seth Holt, Jose Hurtado, Ariella Markus, Kimmy Meza, Grayson Miller-Hecht, Kimberly PAchecho, Jovana PArtida, Jenna Pekny, Isabelle Pizzurro, Joshua Powell, Quora Reese, Alejandra Salgado, Parnian Sartip, and Mary Sutton.
The amazing staff of The Old Globe’s Pam Farr Summer Shakespeare Studio 2018:
Co-Directors: Erika Phillips, James Pillar
Production Coordinator: Willie Mae Michiels
Music Director: Melissa Alcazar
Movement Teaching Artist: Erika Malone
Choreographer: Elvina Adams