We’ve always refused to be limited by the expectations of what Shakespeare plays are “appropriate” for young performers, and this season, we really pushed the envelope. “Merchant of Venice” remained true to its tradition, and stirred up a little controversy – we received emails questioning why we would expose young people to the themes of this complex play – but our Players faced those themes with thoughtfulness and insight.
In what has come to be known as our “Rare Gem” series, we took on “Cymbeline” – our older students loved exploring the villains and heroes of this epic romance, and many audience members commented on how exciting it was to discover an unfamiliar play.
“Comedy of Errors” continued the themes of losing and finding family and was beautifully led by our exceptionally strong group of 4th graders, some with as many as five Shakespearean productions under their belts!
Our 2010 Summer Players explored the worlds of witches, wizards, fairies and sprites in Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and Macbeth. Our first week culminated in a recital at the Lost Studio, while our second week presented their discoveries at the Brookledge Theater, our original location. Brookledge has a rich history in the world of magic (known as “the most famous address in magic”) and it was a thrill for our Players to prepare for their performance in a Green Room that has hosted the likes of Harry Blackstone, Dante the Magician, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Joseph Cotten and Marlene Dietrich.
Due to the growing number of “Drama Club addicts,” we expanded, once again, to offer a third class. Our two 1st to 4th grade classes tackled the comedy and word play of “Much Ado About Nothing” and the rarely performed “Timon of Athens.” Our new class, made up of 4th through 8th graders performed “The Winter’s Tale” (our first evening performances, and first intermission!!)
The challenges of “The Winter’s Tale” took advantage of our older Players’ experience and maturity – they tackled the challenging emotions and epic scope with grace, and audience members were truly moved. Our “Much Ado” cast, led by a few of our Drama Club veterans, were applauded for the clarity with which they told the story. And our “Timon” cast enhanced what is often said to be an “unfinished” play with their insights into money and friendship, and enchanted the audience with their bacchanalian revels.
The Players in our second summer program worked intensively for two weeks on material that reflected our theme “Shakespeare Goes to Greece.” We explored characters in the plays that were inspired by or taken from Greek and Roman history and mythology, including The Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, Troilus and Cressida, Comedy of Errors and Timon of Athens. We discussed the importance of myth and storytelling in our lives, and developed our own recounting of the myth of Pandora. We learned about various types of theaters, and created our own theaters and sets. The Players’ work culminated in a recital performance for family and friends, held on the grounds of historic Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and followed by a trip to Papa Christos Restaurant, where we celebrated over gyros and baba ghanouj. Several of our Players had the opportunity to attend productions of “As You Live It” by Aquila Theater/Shakespeare Festival LA, and “The Tempest” by the Independent Shakespeare Co, where we were treated to a backstage tour by “Sebastian” and “Caliban.”
For our first foray into the rich world of Shakespeare’s History plays, the group enthusiastically leapt into discussions about rebelling when you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly, having a parent who doesn’t understand you, hanging out with friends that your parents don’t like, and what happens (or doesn’t happen) to people who lie to get what they want … and suddenly life in 15th Century England doesn’t seem so far away.
As always, the process was fraught with chaos, as the Players wrestled with the challenging words and concepts. The plays demanded of the Players a new maturity toward their creative work, and through their work, they continued to develop as thinking, questioning artists, passionate about the characters, the stories and the themes.
Our productions of Shakespeare’s two most famous gender-bending comedies, “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” were our biggest challenges yet – it’s true what they say about Comedy being harder! But our Players rose to the occasion beautifully!
In our “Twelfth Night,” Illyria was the scene of a raucous Carnival. The twins, Viola and Sebastian, found themselves in a city with no rules, where Fools in sequins and servants in feathers played nasty jokes on their associates, with no fear of the consequences, and tap-dancing Amazon police officers tried vainly to keep order.
In “As You Like It,” Rosalind and Orlando escaped the rigidity and nastiness of the cruel city, where they were the victims of arbitrary and unfair rules, for the Forest of Arden, where “Do Unto Others” was the law of the land, and where a cast of eccentric characters were all just trying to find someone to love.
Our pilot summer program offered our Players three weeks of discovering Shakespeare through a variety of tools and techniques that we’ve found enlighten and inspire our young Players. They worked on scenes and monologues, all relating to Polonius’s famous maxim, “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Our Players’ work culminated in a recital performance for family and friends, where we blended the scene and monologue work with a variety of Spolin/Boal improvisational sets. We also enjoyed discovering the world of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England, and attending productions of “Taming of the Shrew” by Shakespeare Festival LA, and “Twelfth Night” and “Henry IV” by the Independent Shakespeare Co.
We continued with two classes, but this time, we mixed the veterans with the newer Players – the experience of our long-timers (for many Players, this was their fourth performance) blended beautifully with the enthusiasm of our new Players. We knew that “Macbeth” was the next play we wanted to tackle, and as we worked with the script, we discovered that it broke down quite nicely into two parts that perfectly suited the personalities and talents of our two ensembles. “Part One – Conscience” followed Lord and Lady Macbeth as they struggled with their decisions to, in contemporary speak, “make bad choices.” “Part Two – Consequence” studied the fallout from those choices.
The two sections were presented as a double-header – there was a brief break between the two, and audience members who chose to attend both parts enjoyed visiting area restaurants, who offered discounts to theatergoers.
After the odyssey that was The Tempest, we decided that our families could not regularly commit to such a lengthy endeavor, so we streamlined the process. We also opened up a second class for students new to the LADC, and began our residency at The Lost Studio, Cinda Jackson’s beautiful 99-seat theater on La Brea.
Our veterans, dubbed The Queen’s Players, tackled “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A script was developed (using only Shakespeare’s words, of course) that focused on the storyline of the young lovers, and of Titania, Oberon and Theseus. Our production was set in the 60s, complete with lots of tie-dye, peace signs and protests. After just 12 weeks of rehearsal, we did three performances in our new space.
Our new Players, The King’s Players, began work on “Pericles,” focusing on the journey Pericles takes to find his family. Originally, our plan was to allow them to get their feet wet with a small recital for family, but they jumped in with such enthusiasm that we juggled things around a bit, and they were able to do a full performance for the public.
After the success of the first production, we were inspired to mount a full production of “The Tempest.” We plunged into the process, having no idea what to expect as our young Players took on this challenge. Originally, the plan was to begin rehearsal in the Fall for a Winter production. But we were determined to make the experience more about the process than the product, and Winter passed, then Spring, then Summer, and when Fall rolled around, we were finally ready to show our work to the public. As one mother whose child turned seven during the process commented, “My child has been working on The Tempest for more than one-seventh of his life!”
As the performance approached, we realized that the historic Brookledge Theater was too fragile for the demands we were placing upon it, so we moved our production to The Wilshire United Methodist Church, where we again did two performances for standing-room only crowds.