Casting “Hamlet” to Reflect Today: A Conversation between Rebecca Ennals and Stephen Muterspaugh

Hamlet slide -5in

We’re thrilled about our recently announced cast list for this summer’s Hamlet. We’re especially thrilled about the way that this cast reflects our commitment to inclusive casting. Putting that commitment into practice, however, takes a LOT of consideration and a spirit of exploration. SF Shakes Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals sat down with Stephen Muterspaugh, SF Shakes Resident Artist and the director of Hamlet, to pick his brain about the thoughtful casting process for Free Shakespeare in the Park 2017.

REBECCA ENNALS:  We are committed to casting at least 50% women and 50% actors of color. I know you deeply value inclusive casting and what it can bring to the text. How did that artistic value affect your early thoughts on the play?

STEPHEN MUTERSPAUGH: Hamlet, as compared to, say, The Winter’s Tale, is a relatively small play in terms of the cast.  I was interested in keeping it intimate and wanted to go with 9 or 10 actors total…I wanted to highlight our current political hierarchy, largely casting older white men and women as the authority figures with a more diverse younger cast.  While these were my guiding principles, the discoveries that inevitably occur during the audition process further shaped my final casting thoughts.

In terms of affecting my early thoughts on the play – your blog post back in 2013 helped to hone my focus on how to make this particular production of Hamlet relevant to the here and now – to continue to push the inclusive nature of our productions.  There were only three roles for which I came into the casting process with gender locked down: I wanted to keep Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet Sr. in their genders as written.  Otherwise, I was open to the potential of anyone playing anything.

 

RE: Describe the process of auditioning the role of Hamlet.

SM: It was a bit terrifying to announce we were doing Hamlet last September and not have a Hamlet cast!  I feel Hamlet, more so than any other show, requires an almost symbiotic relationship between the director and the actor playing Hamlet.  To that end, I chose to wait until we found a Hamlet before I settled on my “vision” of the play, because at the end of the day it’s about the relationship between Hamlet and the audience that carries the show.

In August, I started having one on one meetings with the Resident Artists that were interested in being considered for the role.  We sat down and discussed the role: what drew them to it, as well as their thoughts on the play, etc.  Again, it was invaluable to have a company of artists all willing to give input, whether pro or con (yes, believe it or not, there are people who don’t love this play)!

Then, in October, we began the casting process in earnest.  I can’t stress enough how incredibly useful it was to witness the various “Hamlets” that walked into the audition room, each one with a specific take that illuminated a particular aspect of this iconic role.  We invited about 20 men and women to read for Hamlet. I requested that everyone prepare the “Rogue and Peasant Slave” soliloquy and another soliloquy of their choosing.  Their choice of soliloquy alone spoke multitudes about how the various actors were approaching the character – what was resonating with them.  After the speeches, we put every potential Hamlet through a “fight callback” [a callback is a second round of auditions], to assess their combat skills.  The role of Hamlet not only requires an excellent actor, but an excellent combatant as well.  After those two auditions, it was time to decide who was going to be my Hamlet.

I have to thank all the other actors for the gift of their auditions.  It was an amazing representation of Bay Area talent that paraded through those doors – each and every one helping me to see the various layers of this great role and play.  

 

RE: How did casting Davern affect how you thought of the other roles?

SM: Davern’s casting cemented three things:  One, we’d be setting it present day (something I was already leaning towards, but not entirely committed to). Two, we’d be playing in a much more raw world, at least in the terms of the way Davern was exploring and approaching the role. Davern has an almost chaotic process when exploring this text – nothing is sacred and everything is possible.  In order to preserve that, I set about to people the world of our Hamlet with actors that would not only complement Davern’s Hamlet, but challenge him as well.  To that end, Davern was gracious enough to read opposite many of the actors auditioning for the various roles – which made it crystal clear how the cast would gel.  And three, with the casting of Hamlet as a man, I now felt it was imperative that future casting decisions must highlight greater inclusion.

I couldn’t be more delighted with the cast we’ve assembled.

 

RE: We cast Davern just before the election, and the rest of the cast afterwards. How did the political shift in American change your ideas about how to present the play?

SM: Before the election, I was grappling with the question, “Why are we choosing to tell the story of Hamlet in 2017?”  I mean, it’s an amazing play and contains some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches – but for a company that only produces one major production a year, why are we putting our energy behind Hamlet?  How will it resonate with our audience?  Is it enough to just see it as part of the overall 35th anniversary celebration of the Festival?

And then the election happened and everything shifted into place.  Our world suddenly felt out of joint – no matter what side of the election you fell on.  The anger, confusion and sometimes mourning that occurred immediately following (and still in many ways continues to this day) translated perfectly to the world of Hamlet.  The character of Hamlet has lost his foundation and is grappling with how to continue on in this new world – how to find his voice within the new status quo.  Does he rise up against his troubles?  Or go with the flow?  How much is he willing to risk what he knows is inherently just?  What action can he take?  It’s an incredibly satisfying moment when a fuzzy vision becomes vividly clear.

 

2014_0102_images_26b_shakspeare

RE: We called in a very diverse, wide range of actors for each role, and for most of them we saw male and female actors. For several roles, we saw actors who describe themselves as queer or gender fluid. What were the qualities that stood out in the actors we eventually cast?

SM: First off, every actor that came into audition helped inform my final casting decisions – yes, this is somewhat of a no-brainer thing to say, but with this process more so than others, I was coming in blank in regards to how we could tell this story in a relevant way.  The actors you reference all came in with such strong, emotionally-connected choices.  The energy in the audition room was electric – I wasn’t responding to gender identification or the social ramifications of a particular casting choice, I was reacting to unmistakable chemistry and willingness to dive in and play the scene.  I was sold on the acting first and foremost.

We don’t live in a binary world – neither did Shakespeare.  His brilliance was his ability to use his poetry in a subversive manner to help push the boundaries and comment on the times. Our ability to challenge the normative casting of such iconic roles is our greatest tool in supporting and giving voice to all members of our community.

 

RE: Half the roles in the play are cast with actors whose genders differ from the genders of the characters. Would you be willing to share your thoughts on how those roles will be played? For example, Polonius will be played by a woman (Resident Artist Sharon Huff), as a woman. What should the audience expect to see?

SM: It’s a little too early to talk specifically about this particular question.  What I can tell you is that any role being played by a woman will be approached as a woman within the world of the play. Same with the men.  While it may seem like huge sweeping changes to Hamlet – women playing Polonius, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern,  and a man playing Ophelia – these choices do nothing to the actual plot of the play.  The story remains intact.  These choices highlight aspects of the play and help it resonate with our modern sensibilities – they tie it to the here and now. The specifics will be discovered as we move forward.

 

RE: Will you be adjusting the language of the play in regards to gender (i.e., swapping out pronouns or honorifics like “sir” or “madam”, or deeper changes)?

SM:  Once again, too early to say.  I’m still locking down the cutting of the script and beginning my conversations with the dramaturge, and all around Shakespeare guru, Julian Lopez-Morillas.  My initial response is that we’ll keep the pronouns the same – in the past, when I’ve changed pronouns, it rang false to my ears – it either messed with the meter or just made me too aware of the performer and took me out of the play.  That said, the end decision on pronouns will be reached based on conversations with the actors playing the characters. I feel like it’s important for them to have a voice in that particular decision. Even more so with the play being set in the modern day, considering how forefront gender identification is in our contemporary culture.

The larger language question is much easier to answer. Very rarely do you get the full cut of Hamlet in production – I’m cutting down a four-hour play to somewhere closer to two hours.  The act of cutting the play in and of itself is “adjusting the language” – I’m cutting with not only run time in mind, but in order to fit the cast I’ve assembled.

 

RE:  Personally, I feel like Shakespeare wrote human characters of all genders who were all portrayed by men during his time. To me, there’s something inherently performed about gender in Shakespeare – which he acknowledges overtly with cross-dressing in plays like “Twelfth Night,” “As You Like It,” and “Merchant of Venice” and more subtly with gendered language like “frailty, thy name is woman,” which is in reference to a woman being played by a man. When you see a cross-gender performance, some of those subtleties become very clear and surprising. How will your casting choices highlight specific moments in the language of the play?

008825SM: I completely agree and this absolutely something we’ll be exploring.  The difference being, we’ll be wearing our gender on our sleeves, as it were.  Women and men will be playing roles that were clearly written for the other gender, but also clearly read either way – what an amazing opportunity for exploration that will lead to many wonderful discoveries!

Specific moments will be hard to talk about now, but certainly the “nunnery scene” takes on a whole new dimension in terms of the sexual shaming, etc., when there are two men playing it.  As well as a female Laertes giving her advice to Ophelia to steer clear of Hamlet – is this because of a former relationship between Hamlet and Laertes?  Or is it merely a big sister looking out for her sibling?

To me, one of the biggest parallels of the play is between Hamlet and Laertes (a parallel that already exists within the text). We watch Hamlet grapple with his problem for two-plus hours: should I revenge my father’s murder?  Can I trust the ghost?  Should I end it all rather than deal with this pain?  Then in storms Laertes, who has arguably suffered a greater loss and is looking to avenge his father’s death – all action, no hesitation.  Now add the lens of gender to this parallel… not sure where it’ll lead, but I’m very interest in going down that path.

One of the traps, in terms of gender within Hamlet, is that all the women in the play can easily been seen as pawns with little or no agency. This is unacceptable to me.  Obviously, some of this issue relies on the actor and director to solve in the playing of the scene, but some of it is baked in over the centuries of performance.

There was a moment during the audition process when two women auditioning for the role of Hamlet were discussing how refreshing it was to be at a combat callback – they often get to take part in moments of violence onstage, but largely as the victim of violence.  At this particular callback they were being asked to swing steel and initiate combat – a skill they were both well trained in but sadly, as mentioned above, a skill they rarely get to exercise.  It’s moments like this that informed me along the way.  After this discussion, I became very interested in the potential of a woman playing Laertes, and consequently a man playing Ophelia – something that didn’t really come to fruition until the math of casting came into play.

 

RE: We’ve been talking a lot about gender, but of course our cast is also ethnically diverse, and that diversity is more strongly present in the younger generation of characters. I know that was a deliberate choice – can you talk about that a bit?

SM: Yes!  I was very interested in mirroring our current political landscape.  With largely white older men and women in leadership roles, with a much more diverse younger generation rising up to take leadership roles. Some of them get disenfranchised and disillusioned along the way. While I’m discussing this disenfranchisement in terms of our current politics, I still see it as a direct reflection of the character of Hamlet and his school mates from Wittenberg and how they navigate the new regime in Hamlet’s Denmark.

 

RE: How will we make sure this production is accessible to first-time audience members? What choices are you making specifically because we welcome people who are seeing Shakespeare for the first time?

SM: We’ve been discussing the specifics to this particular production of Hamlet,  but at the end of the day, the play is the play.  What I mean by that is, we’re not changing the story of Hamlet, we’ll still be taking all our cues from the text.  I’m still very much interested in the relationship between the characters and the audience – to that end, the audience should expect to be an active partner in the process.  You will be talked to.  You will be implored.  You will be challenged.  And yes, sometimes it will be by an actor that is in a role they normally wouldn’t play.

In the end, the story of Hamlet will be told, with certain changes that help it resonate in a specific way to a modern audience.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Top 7 Lesser-Known Shakespeare Couples

Romeo and Juliet get a lot of love (pun intended) every February. As do Beatrice and Benedick. And Viola and Orsino. And Rosalind and Orlando. And the young lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even Antony and Cleopatra turn up on Shakespearean valentines everywhere.

But there are plenty of lesser-known couples in Shakespeare–many of whom actually wind up together, and ALIVE, at the end of the play! According to arbitrary rigorous criteria of cuteness, we’ve listed our top seven “happy ending” Shakespearean couples below whom we wish were more famous.

7. Valentine and Sylvia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

“What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?

What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?”

2g-dress-7-23-53

Michael Navarra and Emily Jordan as Valentine and Sylvia in the 2010 SF Shakes production.

If you ignore the last five minutes of the play, when Valentine considers giving Sylvia to his best friend because, you know, bros before [girls], these two are painfully adorable together.

6. Imogen and Posthumus, Cymbeline 

“I shall here abide the hourly shot

Of angry eyes, not comforted to live,

But that there is this jewel in the world

That I may see again.”

2011_07_22-106

Craig Marker and Emily Jordan as Posthumus and Imogen in the 2011 SF Shakes production.

Imogen, the daughter of a king, is willing to give up her hopes for the crown to marry her beloved Posthumus behind her father’s back. Sure, there’s that section of the play when Posthumus is tricked into believing that Imogen has been unfaithful, and tries to have her killed while railing on women as a whole, but…everything turns out well and they’re reunited in the end so that’s okay, right?

5. Anne Page and Fenton, The Merry Wives of Windsor

“‘Tis the very riches of thyself that now I aim at.”

merry-wives-3-web

2010 Shakespeare’s Globe production. Source: crouchinggiraffe.blogspot.com

A good counterpoint to Romeo and Juliet, these two crafty young people secretly get married against parental wishes and actually live to tell the tale!

4. Portia and Bassanio, The Merchant of Venice

“One half of me is yours, the other half yours,

Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,

And so all yours.”

merchant-of-venice-15

2004 film version. Source: redemptiosehnsucht.blogspot.com

Sure, Bassanio originally woos Portia for money, and he’s really not the brightest crayon in the box. But when Portia begs him not to undergo the test for her hand in marriage (and risk losing the test), it’s just adorable.

3. Pericles and Thaisa, Pericles

“To me he seems like diamond to glass.”

pericles-michael-storm-and-thaisa-emily-jordan_banjo

Michael Storm and (yes, again) Emily Jordan as Pericles and Thaisa in 2008 SF Shakes production.

These two have a relationship that survives decades, not to mention Thaisa supposedly dying and being pushed out to sea in a casket in the middle of a crazy storm, for goodness’ sake. Now THAT’S true love.

2. Perdita and Florizel, The Winter’s Tale

“I cannot be mine own, nor any thing to any, if I be not thine.”

dsc_1687

Rosie Mallett and Davern Wright as Perdita and Florizel in 2016 SF Shakes production.

Florizel’s dedication to Perdita, even after his furious father disowns him as a prince in punishment, is wonderful. It’s also a rare thing for a Shakespeare play to show a nobleman remaining truthful to a lower-class woman (whereas noble women remain true to penniless men all the time). The fact that Perdita’s secretly a princess ultimately makes The Winter’s Tale part of this trend, but Florizel doesn’t know she’s a princess when he gives up everything to run away with her.

1. Miranda and Ferdinand, The Tempest

“I would not wish any companion in the world but you.”

jmo-dd-jlo

Julia Motyka and Daveed Diggs as Miranda and Ferdinand (with Julian Lopez-Morillas as Prospero) in the 2006 SF Shakes production.

How often in Shakespeare plays are two young lovers set up by a parent, only to acutally fall in love? Hardly ever, that’s how often. And seriously…these two are just the cutest. They win by a landslide.

What do you think? Did we leave out any lesser known, happy-ending lovers that you’d like to see on this list?

The Stranger’s Case, and Mountainish Inhumanity

img_0701

Last night, we hosted the Kickoff Event of our “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” Series at the Presidio Officer’s Club. The event included a look back at the three successful speeches we’ve performed so far, a brief history of the past 35 years of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and a sneak peek at upcoming events. It also included our fourth speech in the series.

Speech #4 was a group reading of a speech from Sir Thomas More, written by Shakespeare as part of a never-completed collaboration with his contemporary playwrights.

The speech is a passionate piece of rhetoric encouraging empathy  for immigrants, and our choice of the Presidio as the particular “famous place” for this speech was intentional.

japanese-internment-hero-ab

(Photo credit: history.com)

 

The Presidio is one of our valued artistic partners, and this location has an involved and illustrious history in San Francisco. Sadly, that history also includes acting as headquarters for the Western Defense Command, the military outfit that ordered and oversaw the forced removal of 120,000 citizens of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese ancestry during World War II (the Presidio is creating an in-depth historical exhibition about this period, if you’d like to learn more).

Last night, on the site of that dark moment in our nation’s cultural history, dozens of people stood together and read aloud Shakespeare’s speech, in which Thomas More speaks to a mob of citizens demanding that immigrants be removed from London.

While we loved the match between the content of the speech and the location of its performance, we are especially pleased that yesterday’s event coincided with the nationwide Day Without Immigrants protest. As an artistic organization whose top values are access, diversity, and inclusion, we support the welcoming of immigrants in our community–and we marvel that Shakespeare could so beautifully express that support many hundreds of years ago. We are proud to have called this Sanctuary City home for 35 years, and we are so excited to take part in the The Ghostlight Project and other similar efforts to welcome immigrants.

May we all learn from the text below (the excerpt from Shakespeare’s speech that we read last night), and take it to heart.

 

sir-thomas-more-final

Behind the Scenes for “35 Speeches”

It’s finally time…our 35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places series starts tomorrow! But why did we choose this particular project, for this particular year? And what does it look like to manage such an ambitious series? SF Shakes’ Artistic Director, Rebecca Ennals, fills you in.

golden-gate-bridge-388917_1280

1)   What can audiences expect to see in these performances? 

I hope that first, they’ll recognize some familiar words – words like “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” or “To be or not to be” – and that will make them turn around and look for the actors. Then they’ll see and hear actors activating a space with language appropriate to the venue. For example, we wanted to kick off the series with Hamlet’s first soliloquy, and we wanted it to be somewhere iconic and spectacular, so we decided to do it with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. Among its many themes, Hamlet deals with the sensitive and tragic topic of suicide. When we started to think about that further, we realized that the particular soliloquy we’ve chosen for this location finds Hamlet at his most suicidal, and the Golden Gate Bridge is not just a symbol of opportunity but a place where many have chosen to end their lives. Hamlet is at a critical place in this speech, a bridge between his life as an innocent college student who understood his place in the world and a young man who has to make a choice about pursuing revenge. We’re interested in those symbolisms and how they play against the text differently than they would on a traditional theatre set.

As with any outdoor, free, live performance, we’ll be at the mercy of the weather and the passersby – the kids who may interact with the performers, the dogs being walked, the occasional person who wants to talk back. We love how these elements can change and challenge the performance of the text, and we feel that’s very Shakespearean – his actors didn’t perform in a quiet, perfect, sanitized space.

current poster

These performances are brief, transient little moments – but we find they have a second life in the digital world. For the first time on Saturday, we’ll be streaming our Hamlet speech with Facebook Live– that will bring a whole new dimension to the audience engagement.

 2)   Why did SF Shakes choose this project as a way to celebrate its 35th Anniversary? 

We really loved performing our 30 Days of Free Shakespeare in the Parklet five years ago. It reminded us why we love to perform live, outdoors, and in non-traditional venues, and how the audience is an incredibly important part of the performance – they’re really our scene partners. I also learned from that series how to identify a good SF Shakes actor: not someone who will just barrel ahead and ignore everything around them, but who will listen and react and shift to fit the moment.

So we wanted to do that again, but we wanted to do it on a scale that wasn’t as exhausting. It was my entire life for two months in 2012, and I wasn’t the Artistic Director yet, so now I have a whole team and we’re spreading it out over 7 months.

20120724_MuchAdo_2243.JPG

Becky Kemper Goodheart and B. Chico Purdiman play Beatrice and Benedick during a 2012 Free Shakespeare in the Parklet performance. 

3)      How will this series differ from past Free Shakespeare in the Parklet performances, and how will it be similar? 

We will try to keep a similar spirit, but this time we’re getting a lot more permission! Last time we pretty much apologized to locations afterwards rather than asking permission in advance, and that backfired occasionally. We’re also expanding beyond traditional “actor speaks the speech” interpretations and bringing in dance, movement, and visual art… we’re also going to try to do about 25% of the speeches in two languages, which is ambitious but the diversity of our acting company makes it possible.

We’re also going to find more opportunities for the audience to participate. On Thursday, Feb 16, after our kick-off event at the Presidio, we’ll invite the audience to do a community reading with us of a great speech in Sir Thomas More about immigration. It’s not as famous as it should be, but you may have seen Sir Ian McKellan’s performance on YouTube. It’s so timely, related to everything going on with the Executive Order banning immigrants and refugees, and it seems fitting to speak those words on the grounds of the Presidio, where Japanese-Americans were ordered to report for deportation to the camps in 1942.

 4) What’s it like trying to find 35 different locations?

san-francisco-2030794_1280 Oy. It’s easy and it’s hard. There are so many great places in SF but not all of them work for this kind of thing. We have a huge spreadsheet going and we’re going to ask our audience for some of their favorite places as well. We feel strongly that there should be a synergy between the place and the speech and that’s a matter of gut instinct.

5) Why haven’t you announced all of the speeches yet?

A lot of it is about getting permission for the right place on the right day, then finding the right performers – it’s a lot of logistics – so we’re taking it month by month. I like it, though, because this way we can stay flexible and respond to what’s happening in the world, the way we have with the Sir Thomas More speech. Nothing is too set in stone too far in advance, the way it is when you’re planning a full production. But with Free Shakespeare in the Parklet, I planned things just a few days ahead – that was a little crazy, so I’m hoping to find a happy medium!

 6) How does the project relate to the SF Shakes mission?

Our mission is all about access, so it’s really important that every performance be free to the public and as accessible as possible to everyone. We are doing some indoors at museums, but only on the free days. We’re also all about the relevance of the words and themes of Shakespeare – we find that no matter what the news of the day is, Shakespeare wrote something about it. It’s uncanny. We’re reminded that human beings have been grappling with this stuff for centuries, and sometimes we’re able to be our better angels and sometimes we’re in hell and all the devils are here. We want to comment and make you think and make you consider history, but we also want to make you laugh and remember that we’re all human underneath. That’s what Shakespeare does so well.

conservatory_final

Camp Fan of the Month: Cynthia Francis

la_smiling-group-blur

Cynthia Francis loves our Bay Area Shakespeare Camps. In fact, she loves them so much that she joined our Board of Directors to help them keep reaching more children every summer! A mother of three daughters (twins, now 22 years old, and a younger daughter, age 19), Cynthia sent all three to our camps as they were growing up. We asked her to reflect on the ways that SF Shakes summer camps have impacted her family.

What drew you to our camps in particular?

I had watched Free Shakespeare in the Park off and on for years, so SF Shakes was already on my radar. I didn’t discover the camps until my youngest daughter became really interested in theatre and musicals, when she was 6 or 7.

27b12a6

Cynthia Francis, SF Shakes Camp Fan and Board Member

She attended camp the first summer, and then raved about it so much that all three of my daughters went to at least one session every summer after that. When you’re raising three kids in San Francisco, and it’s summer but both parents are working, it’s a miracle to find something that’s interesting and stimulating for all of them but is also affordable!

As a parent, what do you think makes Bay Area Shakespeare Camps special?

One of the things I love about the Shakespeare camps is that there’s a place for everybody. Two of my daughters have always been really into acting, but there was also a place for my kid who didn’t really want to be visible on stage. She loved being involved with all aspects of camp (swordplay, making costumes, all of that), but she wasn’t interested in playing Juliet. She wanted about three lines (which she always delivered beautifully)! She was more introverted, very into math and science, but she loved the structure and precision of Shakespeare’s language. She was welcomed at this camp about performing Shakespeare, and she had a wonderful time each summer. The camp isn’t geared just to just one kind of kid, to young actors, the way some theatre camps are. SF Shakes gives kids exposure to theatre and theatre tech, and allows children to find themselves through new interests in topics they might know nothing about.

How did the camp experience impact your children?

My youngest, who started our family’s relationship with camp, is still a self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd. She went all the way through SF Shakes camps, from Shakespeare Players through Advanced Shakespeare Workshop in high school. Then she became a summer intern for SF Shakes, working front of house and understudying the Witches in the Free Shakespeare in the Park Macbeth, and was in SF Shakes’ first Green Show production. Then the next year she became an acting intern and performed all summer in the SF Shakes Taming of the Shrew. Things have really come full circle now, because she’s taught SF Shakes camps, first as intern and now as a paid teacher. She’s graduating from the Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts and is now auditioning for Shakespeare repertory companies all over the country.

macbeth_6_29-1942

Cynthia’s youngest daughter, Ella (far left), as an intern in the SF Shakes Green Show “Witchipedia.”

Her introverted older sister went on do speech and debate in high school, and we credit Shakespeare camps with so much about her understanding and love of language. She kept going to camp until she was in high school. She went on to study at California Polytechnic State University–she’s not an actress but she definitely appreciates theatre and the arts. Her more outgoing twin enjoyed performing Shakespeare (made it to second place in the ESU Shakespeare Competition, and became an SF Shakes Intern), but she also loves modern theatre and film. She got her degree in acting from the UCLA theatre and film school.

That’s what I mean about camps welcoming everybody. Performing Shakespeare was always my youngest daughter’s thing, and that’s great. But it’s equally great that my introverted daughter developed this love of language and then went on to study science…that’s amazing to me!

What surprised you most about camps?

There were plenty of kids, friends of the family, whom I “corralled” into going to this camp, and none of them were scared of Shakespeare the way that adults can be. As a parent, sometimes we can have our biases blind us. I think it’s easy as an adult to hear Shakespeare’s name, and remember sitting in your high school English class studying language that you maybe didn’t understand. Maybe in high school you were introduced to Shakespeare by a teacher who brought it to life, but many adults I talk to…their eyes glaze over and they say, “that was almost as hard as Moby Dick.” But kids aren’t scared of it yet – in fact, it becomes a source of confidence and power for them, learning to understand and love something that many adults find intimidating!

oak_5grls-swords-blur-1

Why would you recommend Bay Area Shakespeare Camps to other parents?

When my girls were growing up, I encouraged them to play soccer, even though I was pretty sure they weren’t dreaming of being professional athletes. It was a good experience, they learned a sport, and they made some friends. When I tell people about SF Shakes camps I often hear, “Well, my child’s not an actor.” But with Shakespeare, you never know what they’ll learn or get out of the experience. Give it a chance.

How did your daughters’ camp experience inspire you to join the SF Shakes Board of Directors?

For years I saw the value that SF Shakes brought to my own family through my daughters’ experiences, and I wanted to help the company expand and become better funded…I wanted to “expand the goodness”! There’s so much value in this program, and I would have sent my older daughters to camp earlier if I’d known about it earlier. So I got on this Board to help spread the word.

Thank you, Cynthia, for your dedication to SF Shakes and our Bay Area Shakespeare Camps! We’re honored to have played such a huge role in the life of your family.

berk_ensemble_young

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Busy Busy Shakespeare Bees

sun-flower-1643794_1280

Whew! 2017 is barely four weeks old and things are already full speed ahead at SF Shakes (and we’re willing to bet your January has been the same). A mere 20 days ago, we posted some resolutions that our company has made for our 35th Anniversary Season, and we asked you to hold us to those resolutions.

Here’s what we’re been doing so far to fulfill them—in other words, here’s a sample of everything that goes on in our office these days.

  1. Our free “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” pop-up performance series is coming together. current posterSo far our actors are scheduled to speak Shakespeare at the Conservatory of Flowers, Yerba Buena Gardens, the Presidio Officer’s Club, and at Chrissy Field with a killer view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We hope you’ll bring the whole family to these performances all year long!
  2. Over in Education Land, the talented home schooled actors in our Seven Ages Troupe and Burgeoning Bards Troupe are meeting every week to explore Shakespeare.
  3. The cast of our Free Shakespeare in the Park Hamlet is coming together to support Davern Wright in the title role…and it’s a fantastic cast. Can’t wait to announce the full list to you soon!
  4. Starting tomorrow, our spring Upstart Crows class will meet each Saturday to put together their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

    fluellenengarde

    Last semester’s Upstart Crows production of Henry V.

  5. Shakespeare on Tour began travelling all over the state again this week: since their opening at Mission Blue Center just this past Sunday, they’ve already given six performances of Twelfth Night in schools and public venues across the Bay Area!

    sot-12n-opening

    The cast of Shakespeare on Tour’s Twelfth Night.

  6. We’re co-producing two exciting youth productions across the South Bay: The Little Princess with Los Altos Youth Theatre, which has already started rehearsals, and Ramayana with the City of Cupertino, for which registration is now open (if you’re in or near Cupertino, come join the fun)!
  7. Our Midnight Shakespeare program in Oakland started this week.

    20151120_0898

    Midnight Shakespeare production of Measure for Measure, 2015.

  8. Right now we have staff members in Baltimore representing our work at the annual Shakespeare Theatre Association conference.
  9. We’re planning, planning, planning for our fabulous 35th Anniversary Gala in April.
  10. Registration for Bay Area Shakespeare Camps is already taking off (side note: if you’re waiting to register, don’t wait too much longer)!

So…how are we doing so far? Are we holding to our resolutions to celebrate our 35th anniversary season in style, give audiences of all ages and backgrounds access to Shakespeare and the arts, and appreciate our San Francisco home? Stay tuned: the party’s just getting started.

 

 

After all, look at the legacy we’re honoring this year:

35-years

We the People

img_00071

Last Friday at 9:00am, members of our community braved the early morning rain to gather with SF Shakes actors and staff at the Bayview Opera House. We then spent the next hour or so reading selections aloud from the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil rights speeches, famous modern poems…and, of course, Shakespeare.

We’re so proud that the event was such a success, and we can’t thank everyone enough for coming to read with us. The event meant a lot to our company, and you can hear that in the introduction written by SF Shakes’ Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals:

Welcome, dear friends and community members. I know that today is an emotional day for many reasons, and it was important to us at SF Shakes to provide a forum for us to raise our voices, here, in a beautiful theatre, and remind ourselves of what we love about our country and fellow human beings.

On January 10, 2017, in his farewell address, President Barack Obama said “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make.”

In that spirit, we thought it would be thought-provoking and inspiring to read selected passages from our Constitution, accompanied by scenes and speeches from Shakespeare and great American figures that seemed relevant to us. In no way do we wish to cover up and whitewash the fact that these words mean different things to different people. We welcome that fact, and we present these words without commentary. We will also conclude with an open mic, during which we welcome you to come to the stage and share something that feels relevant to you.

Many people have asked us for copies of the text selections read on Friday. The downloadable document below won’t include the many amazing selections that community members brought in for the open mic portion of the event, but it does include all of the text that we collected in advance to provide a starting point. Enjoy!

Download the text selections here: we-the-people-text-selections-sf-shakes-january-20-2017