To Thine Own Self be True: An Education Intern’s Perspective

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by Frances Raynolds

It’s been a month since the last group of Bay Area Shakespeare Campers took their curtain call bows and we closed out camp for the summer. Every camp relies on the invaluable contributions of Education Interns and the interns, in return, learn a range of skills from our Teaching Artists…and sometimes from the students themselves! Below, 2017 Intern Frances Raynolds looks back at her summer with SF Shakes. 

My summer with SF Shakes was one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had. While interns are notoriously known for getting stuck with “grunt work,” the administrative tasks that I was doing never felt that way. Over the course of the summer I worked as an Education Administrative Intern in the SF Shakes office, then later as an Education Intern in a summer camp classroom.

While working in the office, many weeks I would move between different sites where camps were taking place and “sub” for absent teachers. I encountered so many different children, and just as many different personalities! But during my classroom visits I noticed that one thing remained consistent: all the children in each camp that I visited were enthusiastic about learning Shakespeare.

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Visiting classrooms, however, only gave me a small taste of the camp environment. I got to fully immerse myself in camp during my two weeks as an Education Intern at John Hinkel Park in Berkeley. The days were long, and they demanded my constant focus. I was nervous as well as excited to finally be able to work consistently with the same group. I was able to get to know each child well, and I felt both more grounded in and attached to my work.

In Bay Area Shakespeare Camps, campers have two weeks to put together and perform condensed versions of Shakespeare plays (this year my camp focused on Twelfth Night and Hamlet). In that time the camp focuses on both movement work and teaching children about Shakespeare. With such complicated language this might seem like a daunting task, but somehow we pulled it all together!

 

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“I had to be loud. I had to be goofy. I had to be unafraid of being judged.”

I was assigned to a Shakespeare Players Camp, for children ages 7 and 13, and truthfully it took more out of me than I imagined it would. I was on site from 9:00am-5:30pm every day, and with children of that age there never really is a break! They are energetic, loud, and filled with imagination — making them the perfect actors, but also occasionally making them more challenging to engage as a teacher. As an intern there is always an interesting level of unpredictability: what is expected of you varies day to day. Having two talented and experienced teaching artists working above me taught me a lot, and often I acted as both teacher and student. For instance, I participated in exercises with the students on a regular basis. By participating with the students, I was acting as an example, and doing so taught me about myself and my acting abilities in ways I didn’t expect. I’m a naturally cautious person, both onstage and off, but participating in exercises with the students required me to put my insecurities aside. I had to be loud. I had to be goofy. I had to be unafraid of being judged.

The line between teacher and student became even more blurred when one of our students suddenly dropped out of camp in the second week. At this point our group was in full rehearsal mode and losing a cast member was a setback. I was asked to jump in and become part of our camp’s Twelfth Night cast, playing Feste and Duke Orsino. Introducing myself as a cast-mate to my students posed an entirely new challenge. While I still wanted to be respected as an authority figure, this shift effectively made me, in some ways, even more of a camper myself! Warm-ups and other exercises became less about setting an example and more about being a supportive cast-mate, although I still did the former sometimes. For instance, most campers played multiple roles, like I did, and the only way to distinguish between different characters was using different costume sashes and changes in physical presence. My two characters, Feste and Duke Orsino, were very different, and I wanted to make sure I set an example for the students by showing that difference clearly onstage through acting technique.

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“Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this camp was to not shy away from the elements of play in life.”

The final performance took place in the famous John Hinkel amphitheater, and it was incredible to see how much can be accomplished in two short weeks! Each child had an understanding of both their character and the play, I was impressed by how the format of the camp made it easy to understand such complicated language and text.

In Hamlet Polonius states, “This above all: To thine own self be true.” Before coming to work for Bay Area Shakespeare Camps, I didn’t know what to expect. Through this experience my students taught me more than I ever expected! Their patience, their willingness to work hard on things they were unfamiliar with, and their dedication to each task at hand was motivating and impressive (especially considering their young age). Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this camp was to not shy away from the elements of play in life. I’m in my senior year of college, the “real world” is approaching, and through this experience with my campers I’ve learned that you can’t take anything too seriously. As I mentioned before, this age group is the best and most difficult to teach because their minds are still open to so many different possibilities. Especially with a younger group, each child possesses the ability to be completely comfortable with themselves. This comfort is often lost with age, but encountering it and being surrounded by it every day made it contagious. Although my time with SF Shakes was short, I have left with a greater sense of both myself and, of course, Shakespeare!

Thank you, Frances, for being part of our Education team this summer. We wish you the best in your senior year of college!

Want to apply to be an intern in 2018? Keep your eye on sfshakes.org in early Spring 2018… 

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Why We’re So Excited about our “Ramayana” Residency

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You might have noticed, since we keep mentioning it, that we’re just a little bit excited about our first-ever Residency collaboration with both EnActe Arts and the City of Cupertino. We’ve had people wonder, though: “Why Ramayana? Why not the usual Shakespeare play?”

There are plenty of answers. We love Shakespeare and his stories–we’ve proudly named him our house playwright. We recognize, however, that there are countless other stories from cultures around the world that are every bit as exciting, as fascinating, as full of depth, and as brilliant as Shakespeare’s plays. Ramayana is definitely one of those stories. We asked SF Shakes Artistic Director, Rebecca Ennals, and Sukanya Chakrabarti, a Co-Director for the production and EnActe Strategic Relations Manager, to weigh in on why this is such an exciting project.

 

1) What excites you most about this project, and the collaboration between SF Shakes and EnActe Arts?

Rebecca Ennals: I love the story, and had a great experience working on it in Pleasanton about 5 years ago. That time, about 10% of our participants were of South Asian heritage, so it was really new to many of us. This time, we’re going to learn so much more because we have EnActe Arts as a partner, and we have so many more participants who have cultural familiarity with the story and its importance. With Shakespeare, we’re often the experts in the room. This time, we know that we’re good at working with youth and putting up compelling shows, but EnActe and many of the kids will be the experts on the material.

Sukanya Chakrabarti: The Ramayana is a centuries-old Sanskrit epic that has been told in various forms, methods, languages, and narrative styles. The epic has been performed and retold in the Indian subcontinent since its conception in the form of books, live performances, films, television serials and comic books. Growing up in the 1980s in India, when the television industry was emerging, Ramayana was one of those serials that brought our family, friends and neighbors together. I encountered Ramayana for the first time over television as a four-year-old, much before I had read any version of the epic. The visual aspect of the storytelling, therefore, undoubtedly influenced my perception of this complex narrative. What is most exciting for me is the opportunity to reprise this timeless epic on stage in Cupertino, thousands of miles away from the land with which it is associated, and yet still find its relevance in everyday life in America.

To be able to preserve our ancient and rich culture of storytelling without succumbing to any fixed notions of what ‘tradition’ may imply is a tricky balance. While treading the tenuous line between tradition and contemporaneity, I find it both challenging and exciting to take on this project, with a responsibility towards our next generation for them to remember, experience and absorb the essence of our age-old epics that teach us about life, love, duties and, most importantly, how to be good, dutiful and responsible human beings. To be able to collaborate with SFShakes, I feel we reach a wider and a much more diverse audience in the Bay Area, and we’ll also have a multicultural cast, which is most exciting for me as a director.

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2) What do you think that Shakespeare’s works and the Ramayana epic have in common?

SC: I think the way the plot, characters and interactions between characters are developed in Ramayana and many of the Shakespearean plays can be considered Aristotelian: while there is an evocation of ‘pity’ and ‘fear’ in many senses, the denouement of the epic almost makes it seem like a comedy. But the various strands and overlapping layers of the epic complicate the narrative, and raise pertinent questions for all of us. Like Shakespeare’s works, while Ramayana deals with grand dramatic plots, it also incorporates light moments of comedic relief. And besides such parallels in dramatic structures, I believe that this epic–just like Shakespeare’s works–ultimately deals with the human condition, human fears, insecurities, strengths, resilience, passion, devotion, and love.

RE: I think both Shakespeare and the different writers of the Ramayana epic were interested in what makes human beings behave as they do, as well as the human relationship to the divine. We’re in the middle of Hamlet right now, and the character of Hamlet is so concerned with the larger universe, the things outside human understanding: for example, what happens after death, and whether there is such a thing as a moral imperative. Ramayana also asks a lot of questions about the obligations of the spiritual person in the world – is it better to live as a holy recluse removed from worldly things, or to go to war against evil?

There are also some interesting parallels between the women in these two stories. Women are equally held to unreasonable standards by Hamlet and Rama, and accused of crimes they didn’t commit. The women in Hamlet don’t fare very well, so it’s nice to see that in our version of Ramayana, Sita proves her righteousness and power.

 

3) What about the Ramayana story makes it accessible and enjoyable for people of all backgrounds?

RE: I think it’s exactly that – we can relate to aspects of the story that feel universal. Ramayana really asks what it means to be heroic, in the true sense. Rama and his brother Lakshmana are the two men on the side of good, but sometimes they don’t behave heroically. Sometimes their foe, the demon Ravana, behaves in a noble way, as do other demons. And the most brave and heroic characters are not men, but animals and Sita herself. There’s a lot of nuance in the story about what it means to live a good life and fight on the side of right, but it’s not cut-and-dried or black-and-white. I think that’s useful to us in the world right now – I think there’s a tendency politically for people to declare their side as good and the other side as evil, without really looking at the nuances involved. Ramayana invites you to empathize with every character, even the ones you would assume are the most evil.

SC: I think more than any cultural specificity, what Ramayana offers us is a complex labyrinth of adventures, drama and human emotions. Ramayana, to me, has always operated at various levels – at the level of a metaphor, that of a literal adventure story, and a book of ethics working at the level of spirituality. It’s a story depicting a range of human emotions such as love, lust, greed, compassion, duty, devotion, nobility, hubris and hamartia – not too different from its Greek counterparts. While the narration may be complex and layered, the essential core of the story is warm and endearing, and appeals to universal human emotions. Sita’s travails as an abducted woman in a foreign land, as a wife separated from her doting husband, and as a woman having to prove her purity; Rama’s conflicting emotions between his love for his wife and his dharma as a king; Hanuman’s unflinching devotion towards Rama; Lakshmana’s and Bharata’s sense of dharma; Kaikeyi’s insecurities and jealousy arising from her maternal love; all these examples in the story are not only representative of the whole gamut of human emotions, but also provide for us human values towards which one can aspire. Ramayana is both an elevated epic and a most relatable story of human flaws, aspirations, love and human condition, which makes it both engaging and inspirational at the same time.

We are thrilled to partner with EnActe to present a production of Ramayana featuring young actors ages 8-18. Enrollment is still open until August 14 at http://www.sfshakes.org/programs/tailor-made-residencies/ramayana.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: An Interview with Carl Holvick

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Carl as Romeo in the 2015 Free Shakespeare Production of Romeo and Juliet.

This week we bid a sweet yet sorrow-filled farewell to our beloved Education Director, Carl Holvick, who will begin an exciting new chapter of his career by pursuing his dual MBA/MFA in Theater Management this fall at Yale University. Kristin Hall sat down with Carl and asked him to reflect on his eight years with SF Shakes. 

Kristin Hall: This is your last week with SF Shakes. What will you miss the most?

Carl Holvick: I’ll definitely miss the people most. I’ve built so many relationships over my eight years here, that have been huge influences on me: as mentors, as colleagues, as people that I’ve mentored myself. It’s hard to say goodbye to all those people.

KH: We’re going to miss you, too! Tell me a little bit about your journey with SF Shakes.

CH: I started in 2009, playing Hamlet in our Shakespeare on Tour production, and I was a teaching artist as well, teaching Playshops through the Tour. I had actually been teaching Shakespeare elsewhere the summer before, and then in 2010 I became a teaching artist in SF Shakes’ Bay Area Shakespeare Camps. I continued working year-round for the Festival up until 2012, when I came on staff with the Festival as Education Program Manager, and then became Education Director in 2013. It’s been amazing. I’ve gotten to act in Free Shakespeare in the Park. I’ve gotten to direct the tour. Directing teens has definitely been a highlight of my time. I love it all!

KH: What speaks to you about teaching Shakespeare in particular?

CH: My philosophy about teaching Shakespeare has actually changed over the years. I think I originally came to it with a very purist mindset of trying to preserve the brilliance of Shakespeare’s works for eternity. And the longer I spent on the job, I became less of a purist. While the text was always the guiding principle that I followed, the evolution of the text and the story and the performance of the plays was more important to keeping it alive. It was more important to let the students come up with their own ideas about what the story meant, or how a particular line could be interpreted, and use their own inspiration to fuel continued interest in Shakespeare’s work.

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Carl and Resident Artist Sarah David teach a Bay Area Shakespeare Camp session.

KH: Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play to direct with kids?

CH: One of my favorites has to be The Tempest. I think the play is infused with such cool imagination. There’s magic, comedy, some adventure, and a shipwreck. But it all has depth to it, too, in Prospero’s release of control at the end, and in some of the journeys that the other characters go through. So Tempest is probably my favorite thing to direct with kids. I’ve always had a wonderful time directing Twelfth Night as well, because that play is so full of light and heart and fun. Macbeth and Hamlet, on the tragedy side, are also standouts for me to direct in education programs. I know those are all the heavy hitters, but I think there’s a reason that those plays are produced so often: they have something that really speaks to our time.

KH: What’s your favorite thing about teaching each different age group?

CH: When working with younger students, there’s much less pressure about creating a polished final product. They become storytellers,and they bring a story to life with their imaginations and whatever else they happen to bring to the table. There’s less pressure for them to have a transformative acting experience; rather, you see them just play as hard as they can and bring the play to life.

I would say I’ve always felt most challenged working with middle schoolers. Middle school was really challenging time for me, so I have a lot of empathy for them and the crazy changes going on in their lives. I watch them struggle because they’re being asked to take risks, and that is so hard in the early teen years, when everyone is judgmental and there’s a tendency to want to unify.

Teens, of course, work at a more advanced level so we can go more in depth into some of the acting principles and the verse work, and it’s so amazing to infuse the text with their ideas. They make discoveries about the text that I’ve never thought of, and they surprise me day to day with their commitment to embodying the characters that they play.

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Carl and Resident Artist Stephen Muterspaugh pose with participants in the 2012 Salida session of our  Shakespeare for All program.

KH: What are you most proud to have accomplished in your time at SF Shakes? 

CH: Something I hope I’ve brought to the Festival during my time here making SF Shakes is a good place to work. I hope people find that teaching in our programs or acting in the plays that I’ve directed has been a supportive, nurturing environment where they get to have genuine artistic experiences. I hope they feel like a lot of the logistics and headaches are, if not completely taken care of for them, then taken care of as much as possible. I hope they feel that the support staff is here to help them create healthy, creative environments to work in. That was a big goal of mine when I started working for the Festival, and I feel that I’ve been really successful at that. We see a lot of retention in teaching artists from year to year, and at the same time we’re also developing new teaching artists and creating a legacy of teachers at SF Shakes.

KH: What have you personally learned about Shakespeare through this job?

CH: When I hear Shakespeare’s text, I now feel like I can almost hear his particular voice, because the words have become so personal and meaningful to me.  I’m able to really hear the text as though I’m having a conversation with a playwright from 400 years ago, hearing his unique voice. Only spending eight years doing nothing but Shakespeare could have given me that gift!

 

KH: You’re pursuing a dual MFA in Theater Management/MBA from Yale. What inspired you to take that path?

CH: My personal evolution at SF Shakes has progressed from a Performer/Teacher role into more leadership positions, managing the education programs. I’m inspired by leadership in the field. I want to broaden my horizons beyond Shakespeare and beyond education, and I want to impact this difficult industry on a wider scale. I want to help to create art that reaches as many people as it can. That’s my new mission: adapting and carrying forward SF Shakes’ mission and the values that I’ve learned from my time here.

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Carl as Arviragus in the 2011 Free Shakespeare in the park production of Cymbeline.

KH: You’re leaving some pretty big shoes to fill. If you could give your successor any advice, what would it be?

CH: Believe in the staff, and the artists, and the students. This organization hasn’t lasted 35 years and reached hundreds of thousands of people with our work by mistake. Remember that, when the going gets tough!

We love you, Carl, and we wish you all the best in your new adventures. Thank you for touching so many lives through SF Shakes’ programs over the years!

 

 

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Our Dream for the SF Shakes Resident Artist and Intern Companies

THE DREAM

In 2017, we celebrate 35 years of performing Shakespeare in San Francisco. One of the many things we’re celebrating is our dedication to artistic excellence.

To achieve artistic excellence, a theater company needs not only great plays (Shakespeare… check!) but also great artists. Since Rebecca J. Ennals became our Artistic Director in 2012, the Festival has worked hard to develop a family of Resident Artists (“RAs”) to bring a collaborative ensemble spirit to Free Shakespeare in the Park and ensure our educational programs meet the highest standards possible.

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Resident Artists Carl Holvick and Lauren Spencer* in our 2015 production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Reflecting on the connection between education and artistic excellence, and recognizing that we have a responsibility as an anchor cultural organization in the Bay Area to develop the next generation of artistic talent, we’ve also created an internship program to give aspiring and early-career artists professional opportunities. These internships cover a variety of theatrical fields, ranging from performance to design.

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2017 Performance Intern Erin Lockett performs in our Green Show.

Interns learn from professional artists throughout our company every summer: they get hands-on experience in everything, from writing promotional blog posts, to hanging stage lights, to performing our Green Show before Free Shakespeare in the Park.

A reliable, skilled, and loyal base of artists is crucial to accomplishing the SF Shakes mission of making the words and themes of Shakespeare accessible to everyone. Our dream is to offer scholarships and stipends to these two groups: doing so will allow us to diversify and strengthen the Resident Artist and Intern Companies. Professional recognition of these artists, coupled with further professional development, benefits not only the Festival (by improving the quality, reliability, and capabilities of our personnel), but also benefits our community (by providing more meaningful and more responsive artistic and educational programming).

These two programs are the bedrock of the SF Shakes artistic legacy: the Resident Artists have shared values and shared practices that they live and develop right now, and they ensure that those values and practices live on in the future and outside the Bay Area by sharing them with our interns each summer.

WANT TO SPONSOR THIS PROJECT?

You can sponsor stipends for our Resident Artist and Intern Companies as part of our 35th Anniversary Campaign. A gift of any amount helps!

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PROJECT BUDGET

The $60,000 budget for this project includes stipends for all Interns and Resident Artists, development of both companies, and training for members of both companies from leading experts in the field.

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Resident Artists Phil Wong and Phil Lowery in 2016’s “The Winter’s Tale.”

HELP US TO FOSTER GREAT ART

If you care to join our efforts, it’s easy to make a contribution to our 35th Anniversary Campaign. Help us provide top-notch education artists to all of our students and foster the next generation of incredible artists!

 

Reflections from the Director of “Hamlet”…

by Stephen Muterspaugh

This note appears in the printed program for the 2017 San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production of “Hamlet.” In the note, Stephen discusses some of the decisions that informed our production.

“The time is out of joint…” – Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5

I sit down to write this note — hopefully to prepare you in some manner for the play you
are about to see, maybe to enlighten you regarding a few choices or moments you will encounter shortly — on day three of rehearsal. It’s our first day on our feet, exploring the physical world of Hamlet. Which is to say, I’m writing this account at the beginning of our process as a company – trying in vain to project all the discoveries we’ll make along the way that will lead us to this moment you find yourself in, sitting in the park, reading my words, awaiting the start of Shakespeare’s great work. For me, the beauty of Hamlet exists between the action, in the intimate moments shared between audience and title character — the intricate journey of the mind and soul that takes a nonlinear path to a conclusion that could technically be reached within the first 30 minutes. This is the beauty of Hamlet.

Shakespeare is so audacious in revealing the inherent truths of the human condition, the frailty of our individual lives and the fear of what comes next that impedes our ability to act. It is at once a work of massive scope and intimate detail.

“If it be not now…” – Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2

The world of Hamlet is in upheaval: a questionable transition of power has occurred
and Denmark is in a place of uncertainty. It is a world that is eerily familiar to the current landscape of our country and the world at large. As such, I’ve decided our Hamlet is a Hamlet of now, set in a contemporary world, dealing with issues of political and personal unrest all too resonant regarding our current events.

“…the whips and scorns of time…” – Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1 (or Act 2, Scene 2)

I’ve cut the roughly 29,762 words that make up First Folio copy of Hamlet — making it Shakespeare’s longest play — in half, using the First Quarto as a guide. This lean cutting seeks to propel the action and heighten the tension, while remaining true to the journey.

Other changes I’ve made are to place the “To be, or not to be” speech in its First Quarto position (two scenes earlier than the usual position). I find the placement of this speech in various modern productions infinitely fascinating. The First Quarto position helps enhance the pressure and keep our hero in a dubious state of mind while striving for the impossible answers to his quest, and provides a ripple effect that is felt by all who interact with him.

“To hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature…” – Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

Another change you’ll be sure to notice is that of gender and its place within our world. Shakespeare wrote two female characters; we have seven. It is important to me that our
cast not only be 50% women, but that the characters they play also be women — pronouns and titles have been altered to accommodate this evolution. Another step towards greater representation takes us beyond the binary — in this production of Hamlet, the character of Ophelia is gender fluid — referred to as a woman, sometimes presenting as a man, not adhering to the binary. How she fits into the court of Denmark and is treated by the various characters that populate it is still very much in the discovery phase as I write this, but daily discoveries and how this new given circumstance shines new light on the text and our characters is a gift to behold.

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” – Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5

All of this is well and good, but the real goal is to successfully tell the story of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing:
breathing new life into a 400-year-old text. Having spent the better part of the last year
looking through this text, reading the various criticism available, watching the famous performances, I now find myself in a room with an amazing group of actors all breathing life into this wonderful work. Back to the rehearsal room… back to discovery… back to the journey… see you in the park!

Humors, Madness, and “Hamlet”

by Cassandra Clark, SF Shakes Literary Intern

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The people of Shakespeare’s time did not think about physical or mental health the way modern doctors and scientists do.

Just as we now believe that mental illnesses may in part be due to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, Elizabethan doctors similarly believed that certain personality traits stemmed from an excess of specific fluids in the body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. This idea was called Humorism, and claimed that the excess of any of these four fluids would produce one of what was known as the four temperaments, each connected to a different element.

four-humors-grangerAn excess of blood created the Sanguine (associated with air)  temperament, which was considered the most desirable temperament. Sanguine people were fully functioning members of society–they were enthusiastic, active, and social. The Choleric (fire)  temperament was associated with aggressive behavior due to an excess of yellow bile in the body. The Phlegmatic (water) temperament was associated with apathetic behavior, or a lack of feeling, due to an excess of phlegm in the patient’s body. The Melancholic (earth) temperament’s excess of black bile was thought to cause what we would now call depression.

How does all this relate to Hamlet? The melancholic humor is often used to describe Prince Hamlet’s temperament. During Shakespeare’s time, it was also thought that people with an imbalance in one of the four fluids, especially those people who were melancholic or choleric, were some of the most vulnerable to the wills of wicked spirits who might use them as means to evil ends…which explains Hamlet and his friends’ hesitation about whether or not to trust the Ghost of the dead King!

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SOURCES

Hamlet: William Shakespeare, A Norton Critical Edition edited by Cyrus Hoy