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.