By Scott O’Neil
Over the summer, the Rochester Community Players decided to try something we had never done before—put together a Shakespeare-specific summer youth program. Peter Scribner, president of the RCP’s Shakespeare Players, envisioned from the start a program that would have Rochester kids out doing Shakespeare, rather than passively reading the text. To implement this plan, he brought in a mixture of scholars and performers, with the result being a camp that reflects many of the Folger Library’s central philosophies.
Our inaugural year was focused on the creation of a high-school internship program, to run concurrently with our long-standing free Shakespeare in the Highland Park Bowl series, which featured a double header this summer—1 and 2 Henry IV. As part of our new program, our interns were able to engage with theatrical and academic approaches to Shakespeare as well as technical stage practices. Our interns were with us from set-construction to closing night, including a two-week intensive where we met during the day to occupy the stage.
Our focus from the beginning was making sure that the experience was meaningful and fun (Peter specifically did not want the interns to ever feel like they were sitting in a classroom). We designed every activity to encourage that feeling of “doing” rather than “receiving” Shakespeare. Whether we were engaging with the plays academically (table reading, scene comparisons, exploring a First Folio facsimile or analyzing monologues) or theatrically (diction activities, projection, stage combat, or costume design), our focus was always on enjoying the language. When we worked on staging a monologue, for example, the interns used word cloud versions of their self-selected monologues to help think about them in different ways. When they worked on diction, they attempted to recite their lines while holding corks in their mouths.
One of the highlights of the program was the day that our interns had the opportunity to have a Skype conversation with high school teacher, director, and Teaching Shakespeare Institute alum Kevin Costa. Our interns huddled in a coffee shop while asking Kevin questions ranging from his best advice for aspiring directors to how he put together his “movable production” performance of Titus Andronicus with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in 2010.
Our interns had extremely varied interests. One was particularly nervous about being on stage, but excelled on the tech side of the show. By opening night, this intern was running the sound board solo. Another intern was less interested in tech, but passionate about back-stage practices. She spent much of the run apprenticing with the make-up artist of the show, and was doing most of the make-up solo by the end of the run (including some very difficult work—she had to use make-up to convey Henry IV’s physical decline).
The program culminated with the interns (and two of the counselors) putting on a pre-show performance near the end of the run. The green show featured prepared monologues and our interns’ interpretation of one of the scenes that had been cut from 1 Henry IV. They received plenty of applause from the audience, but the biggest cheers came from the cast of 1 Henry IV—all of whom came out to watch their young colleagues claim the stage.
Ultimately, for a first year of an ongoing program, plenty of good things happened. We look to expand the program next summer, adding week-long middle school sessions to run after our summer internship ends. We are particularly excited to engage with Rochester’s Deaf community by creating a blended session where hearing and Deaf participants can work on Shakespeare side by side.
Scott O’Neil was a 2008 participant of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute. He is now a doctoral candidate in Renaissance Drama at the University of Rochester and the Assistant Education Director for the Rochester Community Players. He previously taught high school English at North Harford High School. Learn more about this project with Rochester Community Players.