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.
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!
“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.
“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…