Atlanta Shakespeare Company visits local schools

Thu, 08/24/2006 - 12:45pm
By: Michael Boylan

Brush up on your Shakespeare

For many high school students, their relationship with William Shakespeare is a love him or hate him type of affair. The Atlanta Shakespeare Company is wooing more students to the love side, or at the very least, the like and understand better side with a workshop that will visit all five county high schools over the next five weeks.

Two full time employees of the company and four apprentices will spend a week at each school. They will work with the students from the various grades, introducing them to the plot and characters of one of Shakespeare’s plays and will have them perform short selections from the play to their fellow classmates at the end of class. Each student gets introduced to the Elizabethan language and reading it aloud. After all the participating classes get their turn with the company, the group will put up their set and stage productions of both shows that the students worked with for the school. There will also be evening performances open to the public, giving local residents a taste of Atlanta theater for a discounted rate in their own backyard.

The education project from the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, which is based out of the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern located just south of the Fox Theatre, started roughly six years ago. Headed up by Laura Cole, the department has offered daytime productions for schools taking field trips, but the project hit the road last year after the gas crunch forced some schools to cancel field trips.

“Sandy Creek called us last year and told us they wouldn’t be able to take their kids up to see “Julius Caesar,” Cole recalled. “They asked us if we could come to them. We did and it was so successful and well received that Sandy Creek introduced the idea to the district and now here we are, visiting all five schools over the next few weeks.”

The group brings a U-Haul with their costumes and their Elizabethan era Playhouse set. They are pros at putting it together and often allow the school’s drama clubs visit and see how it is done. Cole stated that the company can stage one of five Shakespeare shows at a time and they let the school’s view the list and choose based on what they are working with. The shows that will be presented during their stay in Fayette County will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “MacBeth,” which they teach the students to refer to as “McB” or “The Scottish Play,” so as not to bring a curse down upon the theater.
The benefits of the program range from better comprehension of Shakespearean language and supporting what they are learning in the classroom about the play to speaking in public and seeing the play as a performance and not just a piece of literature. The shows that are open to the public will also serve as fundraisers for the school’s english and/or drama departments with 20 percent of ticket sales and all of the proceeds from concessions going to those organizations.

The workshop itself is very high energy and the students are encouraged to get involved and get loud very quickly. They start with some participatory games, including group insults, taken directly from one of the Shakespearean plays they are studying, being hurled at the groups that have split up to perform the scenes. For instance one group hurled this gem at one group, “ Whose horrible image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs.”

“One of the natural challenges in working with kids is that they can be naturally shy,” said Cole. “We ask them to get up and be loud and sometimes it feels like misbehavior.” Eventually most of the students get used to the volume and pacing of the exercises and are participating at full-tilt.

After the warm-ups, the groups split up and work with one of the actors from the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, deciding who they want to read what part and how they want to convey the message of each passage. One of the actors from the company will summarize what is going on in the play leading up to each passage so that within 15 minutes the class has a gist of the whole story and how each passage relates to it. There will also be some cross-curricular work with some of the schools, involving a math class studying marketing and accounting. Cole will address the class on how to market the shows to the community and operate the workshops as a business.

The Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern has recently remodeled the faced of their building to look like exterior of an Elizabethan playhouse, much like Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. They will host an open house on Sept. 9 and will take the public on tour of the building, show off the costumes, props and sets and also demonstrate some of their stage combat techniques. The shows at the high school theaters will be a good introduction for people to the work of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. The show dates are as follows:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Aug. 25 (Starr’s Mill), Aug. 31 (Fayette County), Sept. 7 (Whitewater), Sept. 14 (McIntosh) and Sept. 21 (Sandy Creek).

MacBeth: Aug. 26 (Starr’s Mill), Sept. 2 (Fayette County), Sept. 9 (Whitewater), Sept. 17 (McIntosh) and Sept. 23 (Sandy Creek).

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