Theatre in Shakespeare’s Time

A Brief History of Shakespeare's Theatre

By Kalina Ko, Literary Intern

The iconic donkey-headed Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dreamis part of a group of amateur actors, commonly referred to as “the mechanicals.” In Shakespeare’s time, it was fairly uncommon for a group of non-professional actors to come together to put on a classical production, as in Pyramus and Thisbe. Yet, the play-within-a-play does offer clues as to what theatre might have looked like then.

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Finding Our Inner Fairies

By Kalina Ko, Literary Intern

What would A Midsummer Night’s Dream be without fairies?

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Rosemarie Kingfisher (Cobweb, a fairy) and James Lewis (Robin Goodfellow) in rehearsal.

The mythology of fairies is incredibly widespread and varied. The term “fairy” itself dates back to the middle ages of Europe. However, similarities have been found between fairies, nymphs from Greek mythology, jinni from Arabic mythology, and other creatures in other cultures. Traditionally, fairies were viewed as very physically beautiful but evil and untrustworthy characters. They were often blamed for various tragedies and misfortunes. Common folklore related to fairies are fairy rings, circular rings often made up of mushrooms. There are a number of gruesome fates that can befall a human if they enter a fairy ring.

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Gods, Heroes, and Monsters, oh my!

By Kalina Ko, Literary Intern

Greek and Roman mythology has a wide and expansive influence. Recent movies such as “Wonder Woman” as well as classic novels such as “Frankenstein” all draw inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no exception. These are several pertinent mythological figures and stories that appear in the play.

Theseus and the Minotaur

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus is the Duke of Athens. The minotaur does not feature in this play but some scholars have made the argument that donkey-headed Bottom is meant to represent a comical take of the minotaur. You might also recognize the story of Theseus from the 2011 movie “Immortals” and the 2006 movie “Minotaur.”

The minotaur was a terrifying monster – half-bull and half-man. They were the child of the queen of Crete and a bull. When the minotaur was born, the king of Crete ordered that a complicated labyrinth be built to cage and contain the beast. Every nine years, fourteen people were sent from Athens to be sacrificed to the minotaur.
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Welcome to Midsummer!

After last year’s Hamlet, which celebrated SFShakes’ 35th Anniversary Season, we’ve set our sights to funnier fare in the 2018 season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The enduring love story showcases its comic romantic complexities right up front: Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia. Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father would rather she be smitten with Demetrius.

And that’s just the Athenians. We’ve also got some fairies and a troupe of actors rehearsing a play to perform at the Duke’s wedding involved. At this point, a diagram may be helpful.

As you prepare your visit to the park (whether it’s dusting off the lawn chairs or trying to decide what to bring in the picnic basket), enjoy these creative summaries to bring you up to speed.

Drum roll, please… announcing “$35K in 35 Days!”

$35K in35 Days

Earlier this summer, we announced our 35th Anniversary Campaign. And what a success the campaign has been: we’re thrilled to announce that we’re so, so close to reaching our goal! We only have $35,000 left to go, and we need your help.

We believe that, with help from supporters like you, we can raise that last $35,000 in the 35 days between Giving Tuesday and New Year’s Day 2018. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, is a global day of giving back to local organizations in your community. This Giving Tuesday, we hope you’ll help us launch our effort to raise $35K in 35 days!

Why give to SF Shakes this holiday season? 

Most adults know the Festival through our annual Free Shakespeare in the Park productions. Over 1 million students know us from our meaningful arts education and outreach programs. We’ve carved a niche in the Bay Area’s arts scene for our long history of accessible performances and for authentic engagement in our local communities. Any time you support SF Shakes, you’re supporting these programs.

But when you contribute to $35K in 35 Days, you’ll also be supporting a range of special capacity and outreach projects that will help us connect more deeply with communities all over the Bay Area. You’ll help us to build:

  • Our “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” performance series (only have a few speeches left to go)!
  • Our 2018 intern and Resident Artist companies.
  • An efficient and versatile unit set for future Free Shakespeare in the Park productions. (This will make it easier to bring our shows to communities across the Bay Area–did you know that we completely un-build that set and re-build it in a brand new location 5 times each summer?!)
  • An all-new musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It to perform in 2019.

So please consider starting us off strong by chipping in to $35K in 35 Days this Giving Tuesday, and then help us spread the word!

We have spent the past 35 years delivering on the Bay Area’s promise of inclusion and diversity, and your support so far has been a huge part of that success. It’ll only take 35 days to ensure that we can keep delivering on that promise for years to come.

We are honored to have you as part of the SF Shakes family. THANK YOU.



3 Questions for Tom Wells


Meet Tom.

Tom Wells arrived at SF Shakes this August to step in as our new Education Director. Since then, he’s been on an SF Shakes crash course, learning the ins and outs of running our major educational offerings. He brings an impressive resume with him: he spent years managing education programs at Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts, founded his own theatre company in Chicago (Two Pence Theatre Company), and boasts actor training with the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Moscow Art Theatre. We’ve loved getting to know Tom over the past weeks, and we asked him to answer a couple of questions to help you get to know him, too. 

1)      What are your initial impressions of SF Shakes, after your initial months here? 
This company is a tightly-knit community of people who all adore William Shakespeare. But though we’re tightly-knit, we’re not insular–in fact, quite the opposite. This is one of the most welcoming communities in which I’ve had the pleasure of participating.  I look forward to serving each and every member of the SF Shakes family.
Tom-Revels2)      What do you love most about teaching Shakespeare to K-12 students? 
I love being granted the opportunity to see the transformational, alchemical process inside a child’s early, ever-expanding consciousness. I love being able to see, literally see, their entire selves illuminated when they find a personal connection to this “400+ old white dude” (as Shakespeare’s often presented to students in the classroom), and see them wake up to the “wide and universal theatre” that is their life.  And watching when they begin to perceive that their life is a work of Art…that’s the most priceless gift I could receive.  I know that my job title requires me to wax eloquently about our work, but this also happens to be completely true. Which gives it that extra oomph of authenticity!
3)      What’s your favorite Shakespeare title to teach, and why? 
I don’t have a favorite title/play to teach, because each play contains its own genius.  I think the general perception is that there are four or five plays and only one playwright of the period (Shakespeare) that are the most brilliant. This view reduces Shakespeare to the only genius of the time. And I use the term genius with the Classical definition of the word in mind, which is from the late 14th century, meaning a “tutelary or moral spirit” who guides and governs an individual through life. 

UncleI think the idea that certain Shakespeare plays are more worth exploration than other plays is only partly true, especially when you look at the entire theatrical scene that was happening in the Early Modern Period. I think a play is the just the vehicle through which the deeper values of a period are communicated.  And Shakespeare was one of the humans who has best communicated the values that I think are important for the liberty of most humans on the earth: Compassion, Empathy, Curiosity, and Truth, just to name a few!

Thank you, Tom. We’re so glad to have you at the helm of our Education programs, and we can’t wait to watch you share your Shakespeare enthusiasm and inspire thousands more young people in the years ahead!  

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.


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 in early Spring 2018…