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!