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.
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.
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.
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.