OCS Theatre Camp and the Four Little Words:

Camper:   Um, excuse me? I think I may have a spondee?
Asst. Director:   Spondee? Spondee? Really? That sounds serious; you should put something on that.
C:   Ha, ha! I see what you did there.
AD:   What, my using your question to create epizeuxis?
C:   Epizeuxis? Epizeuxis?
AD:   See, I totally just got you to turn ‘epizeuxis’ into an epizeuxis. 
C:   Epizeuxis, epischmooxis!
AD:   Well, now that is not epizeuxis, epizeuxis is an immediate repeat, epishmooxis indeed! Now, how do we feel about epanorthosis?
C:   Bless you.
AD:   Nice one. But what I was going to say –
C:   Don’t start, I know what epizeuxis and epanorthosis mean, I’m just choosing to ignore you.
AD:   Touché.
C:   Now seriously, if I do have a spondee what do I do with the rest of it?
AD:   Well, I hear that if you slap a pyrrhic on a spondee it will clear the whole thing up in a matter of days. But, careful, now, that could just be an old wives tale.
From the 2012 OCS Theatre Camp Production of A King and No King.
Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

C:   Funny…O, you mean…hey, that might actually work.

AD:   Why don’t you try it several ways and see which you think is best and go with that.
C:   But I want to get it right.
AD:   I can’t write you a prescription – ‘Take two trochees and call me in the morning.’ It’s your performance, so, you look at the clues, you try them out, and you then decide. Make it yours – that’s what makes it right
C:   I’m not used to that.
AD:   Welcome to camp! Give yourself a chance. I think you’ll find you have all the tools you need and that if you do your homework, commit to your choices, and believe in yourself, you’ll be great.
C:   Okay. I mean, thanks. I mean…so, you’re not going to tell me?
AD:   You are going to tell you. You are smart, funny, talented…by the time the show opens you will know that you are smart and funny and talented and will also be bold and confident and brilliant. And that, my friend, is…
C:   My cue to go try it?
AD:   Well, I was going to say ‘polysyndeton’. But, yeah, go try it, try ’em all! You can totally do this.
C:   Okay, I’ll give it a try!
That exchange is not, in fact, regarding treatment of an infectious disease, but about how to pronounce a line of verse. And, it is a typical back and forth between student and staff here at the OCS Theatre Camp for teens. Yes, we do spend a lot of quality time learning rhetoric, scansion, and other terrifying things. Yes, we design our curriculum with the goal of helping students explore language in a way that will help them to do better in their English classes, their AP tests, their college applications, and their performance skills. And it, in fact, does do all of that. But that is not the primary objective of our work here at the OCS Theatre Camp. 
I like to kick off each session by introducing students and families to what I believe are the four hardest words for students to say in any of Shakespeare’s texts and reassure them that by the end of camp they will be able to say all four. They are, in OCSending order: o, alas, alack, and I. Why, are these the most difficult to say you ask? Well, try them. You, yes, you, try them – it’s way more fun than you might imagine and not at all embarrassing. Really.
You can do it, just start with ‘O.’ Try to say the full word, don’t swallow it, really pronounce the whole thing. Let’s do it together: ‘O.’ Now try: ‘O for a muse of fire’. Now try it out loud. Don’t shorten that ‘O.’ Really say it like you mean it. See, that was a bit embarrassing at first, but, once you stopped worrying about the embarrassing feeling it was a cake walk. Nicely done. 
If you survived that, and I’m sure you did, try ‘alas.’ It’s okay if that one feels a bit silly when you start, just try it again. Remember now, out loud, do them all out loud.  ‘Alas.’ Now try: ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’  It’s much easier if you really say ‘alas’ before you go on to the rest of the sentence. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but it works, so resist your inclination to pretend it isn’t there.  Also, that one happens to be from a comedy, so really make a big deal of it, for comedic effect. It’s okay to feel silly here since you are, in fact, trying to be silly.  ‘Alas, how fiery and sharp he looks.’ Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! That was great. And I’m totally laughing with you, not at you, because, after all, you made it funny. Well played. You may have noticed that if you just go for it you feel a lot less silly because you are trying to be silly and then you sound downright serious and everyone will respect you for it. Neat trick, huh? Good job!
From the 2012 OCS Theatre Camp
Production of Henry VI, Part 1.Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett.

Now, moving on to the really ridiculous one. Try ‘alack.’ Don’t forget the ‘ck’ sound at the end there. It’s more important than you might think, as it gives you the chance to separate that word from what comes after it. So, try it again, ‘alack.’  It’s one of those words you say when something has really given you pause, so take the time to allow the realization to set in as you say: ‘Alack the day’. If any line is going to make you look around and see if anyone is listening, it’s that one. It tends to make everyone a bit self-conscious. But, let’s just work through it together, and soon you will be glad you committed to it fully. ‘Alack the day.’ Now try the whole line: ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day.’ You can’t quit the exercise now! Just trust me, we’ll go there together. The only way to deliver that line and not feel like a real jerk is to completely give yourself over to it. Just embrace that word ‘alack’ like it is your life line – because it is. It is what keeps you tethered to the audience. If you skipped quickly over that ‘alack,’ the audience would not see your character realize how the world has changed for her forever. You see, here, you are the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. You’ve discovered that Juliet is ‘dead’ and have told her mother and now, on this line, have told her father. After ‘alack the day,’ the Nurse does not successfully connect with another onstage character until Juliet’s parents, Paris, and the Friar have exited. Then she has one line to the musicians, and you never see her again. The Nurse goes down her own rabbit hole of despair, and if the actor wants the audience to journey down that hole with her, it happens through the way she communicates ‘alack the day.’ So, spew all of the vitriol you can at Juliet’s dad by telling him three times of her demise, remind him of the part he played in her death, then really take in what it means for you, the Nurse, that she is gone. ‘Alack the day’ is the gate that holds back the flood of lamentation that follows, so hold on to every word as you say them. ‘She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead, alack the day’. See, now you don’t feel silly at all. Now you feel like a character that has the power to fully connect with the audience and have them journey with you. Well done.

Now, those three little words originally appeared daunting, but turned out to be very powerful when you wrapped yourself fully around them. What made them daunting was that you don’t typically use them on a daily basis. So why would the word ‘I’ be clustered with those three? Most people use that one every day. Well, let’s just try it in a line: ‘Now I am alone. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.’ Here is a moment where you have to open yourself up to the audience in a vulnerable and honest way, and Shakespeare makes sure that you do because the line is constructed without a single contraction. You can’t cheat and say ‘I’m.’ You have to say ‘I am’ and ‘am I.’ Now, when was the last time you yourself said the word ‘I’ in a vulnerable and honest way without a contraction? Exactly. Imagine for a moment that you are in an educational system that has to teach to the test. There is a right answer – your teacher, your school, your school district all get paid based on your ability to get that answer right. Imagine that you are living in a world where the expectations are incredibly high. Media bombards you every minute of the day to remind you what you are supposed to do, to be, to become. Imagine that you are somewhere between 13 and 18 years of age. Now, to that whole quiet room of actual people who are staring at you, waiting for an answer, and yes, the lights are on so you can see them all waiting, please say, ‘Hello, I am’ and then say your name. When was the last time you did that? No cheating – when did you really do it, with no contractions, no shortening or speeding up of words, no apologetically dipping of your head. You can’t hide the word ‘I’ by speeding into the contracted ‘m.’ You have to say the whole word ‘I,’ then say ‘am’. Try it now, out loud, ‘Hello, I am’ and then your name. Yep. That’s that difficult one. Try: ‘Now, I am alone.’ Welcome to life as a typical teenager. 
Here at the OCS Theatre Camp our number one priority is helping our students embrace the remarkable person that each one of them already is. We do it through collaborative work. We ask them everyday to teach their peers, to learn from one another, and to become comfortable with the idea that world holds endless possibilities for each of them. By exploring the rhetorical devices that are in every line of text, the students gain confidence in their ability to structure their own arguments in order to engage with anyone they meet in any situation. They analyze literature better and, as a result, write better essays that are well-worded, concise, and critical. They learn to ask why. They learn to explore many choices and that the one they choose is right because they chose it. They learn that each song, each dance, each scene is always better when they fully participate in it. They learn that their fellows rely on them and that they are necessary. In performance they are vulnerable and honest and brave. They learn that the world is a better place with them in it. But, most importantly, here at OCS Theatre Camp, they learn to say the word ‘I,’ to play the very best role in the world, that of being themselves and reveling in the performance every single day. And they are brilliant at it. 

To learn more about attending Theatre Camp or having our Educational Residency team come to your school, please follow this link: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/v.php?pg=76 

Imprimis: Link and Tidbits, 29 April 2011

A birthday and a wedding have dominated the Shakespearean news cycles (and my Twitter feed) over the past week — Did you celebrate either? Both?

Finally, I want to wish all the best to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Their Royal Highnesses Prince William and Princess Kate. “Heaven give you many, many merry days!”

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 4 February 2011

This week brought us scholarship through Twitter, a new podcast from the OCS, enlightening research on Shakespeare’s world, and the ongoing debate about the humanities in education.

  • I had a blast during #AskShakespeare Day. This idea, cooked up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, brought scholars from all over the world together to answer questions about Shakespeare posed on Twitter. It was so wonderful to see how many people out there cared enough to ask questions about Shakespeare, and I got to trade ideas with some great scholars. We did see the authorship question pop up a few times, and plenty of people wanted to ask scholars and practitioners what our favorite plays and characters are, but we also encountered a range of other questions, some with concrete answers, but many that invited speculation: What race was Othello, really? Why do people talk about Hamlet having an Oedipus complex? Did Shakespeare pursue his own publication? What’s the most gruesome scene in an early modern play? (Votes went to the heart-on-a-knife in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and the head-bashing in Tamburlaine — both of which you’ll be able to see at the Blackfriars next year!). What’s the most underrated of Shakespeare’s plays? How would the plays have been different if women had been allowed on the stage? The whole experiment was so entertaining and a real intellectual rush. I think we should do it once a month. Of course, I’m happy to answer questions any day of the year — just ping @OCS_Cass.
  • The first Actor-Scholar Council podcast is up and waiting for you to listen to it. Greg Phelps, Tyler Moss, Sarah Fallon, John Harrell, Chris Johnston, and Jeremiah Davis joined a panel of scholars to discuss The Comedy of Errors. We’ll be recording the Council session on Look About You next week.
  • If you’re within easy traveling distance of Staunton, be sure to see Shannon Schultz’s directing project, an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet, on February 7th and 8th. The Staunton Newsleader interviewed Shannon about the project. (Please note that the Newsleader article has the performance time wrong: the show will start at 8pm both nights).
  • “Hellraising Antics of Shakespearean Actors Revealed”: The London Telegraph has posted an interesting article on what recent research has revealed about the theatrical world in which Shakespeare lived. Kidnappings, riots, thefts, vandalism, all brought to light courtesy of the new Early Modern London Theatres database.
  • If you still haven’t read James Shapiro’s Contested Will, here’s another review praising it as “an entertaining reappraisal of Shakespeare’s enduring fOCSination and a conspiracy story worthy of play by the great man himself.”
  • Dale Salwak of Citrus College, CA, shares his approach to getting his students to love Shakespeare. Cass says: I agree with a lot of what he has to say — that students say they hate Shakespeare because they really hate the way it’s been taught, that you don’t need to waste time teaching the plot, that it’s okay for art to make demands of the audience — but I still think he’s missing some key elements. His approach remains very page-based, with the augmentation of audio recordings. There’s so much to be gained by teaching the plays as plays and making the students take on the responsibilities and decision-making of actors.
  • And, because no edition of Imprimis would be complete without some links discussing the value of the humanities in education: How Liberals Killed the Liberal Arts, and The Humanities in America: An Endangered Species?

Imprimis will be on hiatus next Friday, as I will be at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Conference in Phoenix, along with Sarah and intern Liz, so you’ll get a double-issue on February 18th. Sarah and I will be Tweeting from the conference as well, and I’ll be posting about it when we get back.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 14 January 2011

For reasons unknown, the Authorship Controversy seems to have been rearing its hideous head on the Internet this week, along with more connections to Shakespeare sprouting out of the Huck Finn controversy, and the continuing debate over the worth of teaching literature.

  • To start with, from last weekend’s Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference, our managing director, Amy Wratchford, blogged about Shakespeare’s relevance and about the value of discussing Shakespeare on Twitter.
  • This blogger equates being a Stratfordian to being a stroke victim. Cass says: If you’re not quite sure what to do with that (or can’t decide to whom that’s most insensitively offensive), you’re not alone.
  • The I Love Shakespeare blog defends the Stratfordian cause rather sassily, noting that the only way other theories make sense is if you “fudge the historical record with airy fiction.”
  • And then this article refutes the anti-Stratfordians, but then overshoots and goes into the “Shakespeare as a secret Catholic” theory.
  • An op-ed in the Washington Post theorizes that educators can’t be reformers.
  • The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles is putting Hamlet on trial, with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy presiding. Sarah says: We did that!
  • A writer for NPR uses the Huck Finn censorship controversy to expound his thoughts on why Shakespeare needs translation. Sarah says: Oh, no. Interesting that he uses the word “bowdlerized” in his discussion, since that man is roundly criticized for doing exactly what this author proposes. The quote he uses from Measure for Measure: “Of government the properties to unfold / Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse / Since I am put to know that your own science / Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice / My strength can give you,” is, as in most of Shakespeare’s “hard language,” offering a tremendous number of clues to the actor and reader about what kind of character this is. When we look at Shakespeare as performance-based literature, the “hard stuff” becomes a tool for discovering insights about characters and playable moments. It becomes its own translation when staged.
  • Gilbert, Arizona is cutting literature from its high school curriculum. Sarah says: This came across my Google Alerts just moments after Cass posted our “book wish list.” A very scary tenet is working in Arizona, apparently. It seems they think kids need to read more non-fiction (and less Shakespeare) in order to become better prepared for the business world. Wonder if they realize how much business theatres generate, or how hungry people are for innovative, creative, and critical thinkers. They are doing their students a deep disservice. Cass says: And not just stage theatres — movies, books, and musicals generate how many billions of dollars in revenue each year? Not to mention how important it is to examine the stories a culture tells about itself and what they say about who who we are, who we’ve been, and who we want to become.
  • Finally, check out this review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will. Sarah says: And then come see us discuss the book at the Charlottesville Public Library on April 15th.

Here at OCS Education, we’re finishing the week on a rather busy note — a pair of workshops this afternoon, and then a board meeting tomorrow. Hope you all have had a good week and have a great weekend!

"But give me leave to try success": Goals and Achievements from 2010 to 2011

Yesterday, I served as the recorder for the OCS’s strategic planning meeting, which meant I had the privilege of listening in on several of our department heads and board members as they decided how we want to most focus our company’s efforts. Between that and the expected slew of New Year’s Resolutions I’ve been seeing around the Internet, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals and planning. I’ve been with the OCS for just over six months now, so this seems as good a time as any to look back and see what I’ve done so far as a part of the OCS Education team.

2010 Achievements

  • New study guides. When I came on in June, I took this project over from Christina, who had already started us down the new road. These guides were my first project at the OCS, and I’m ridiculously proud of them — they’re so much more directed towards our mission than the earlier generations of guides were, and they’re designed to help teachers get the students on their feet so they can explore the plays as they were meant to be experienced.
  • The Playhouse Insider. This is a huge thing, because we’ve never done something quite like this before. I’m so pleased with how it turned out — the articles are great (thank you, contributors!), the layout is beautiful, and there’s so much room for growth.
  • Growth of the blog — That’s right, this blog. We now get almost 900 hits a month, and that average is rising all the time. So thanks for reading, everyone! I’m so glad to have you all here.
  • Increased confidence in leading workshops, seminars, etc. I’ve gone from basically shadowing Sarah to feeling capable of developing and leading workshops on my own, and it’s been a blast. Whether it’s talking to high school students or retirees in the Road Scholars program, I make new discoveries each time I have the opportunity to share Shakespeare with a new group.
  • Tracking web mentions of the company. This project is ongoing, but I’ve been using Google Alerts to let me know whenever someone out there in the ‘tubes is talking about the American Shakespeare Center and the Blackfriars Playhouse. It’s been fOCSinating to see where we get mentioned (it’s a great way to keep track of our touring troupe, for one thing!), and it’s also made sure that I get to see what people are saying about us in blogs and reviews from outside the Shenandoah region.
  • I’ve learned how to use Google Docs. This program has made such a huge difference to how education has been able to build documents, refine language, and otherwise communication.
  • Twitter presence. Brand-new for the OCS this year, the whole education department got on Twitter back in the summer. I currently have 53 followers from all over the US and the UK, and the whole experience has been wonderful so far.
  • Facebook growth — Together with the marketing and development teams, we’ve seen steady and significant growth in our “likes” and followers on our Facebook page over the past six months. I use Facebook a lot to redirect to our website or to this blog, and it’s definitely increased traffic.

Not bad for six months, I think. I’m feeling particularly pleased because so many of the projects under my purview contribute to one of the company’s main strategic goals, of enhancing our company’s visibility in the world at large. OCS Education had a great year overall in 2010 — our summer programs were nearly at capacity, we had thousands of students in for school matinees, our seminars and Little Academes all went so well — the whole department has a lot to celebrate.

So, with those things achieved, or at least put into action, where do I want to be by this time next year? Here are my professional goals for my work in OCS Education in 2011 — things I’d like to improve on, expand, or achieve.

2011 Goals

  • 6 new study guides in enhanced format. With help from the rest of the education team, I’ll be building guides this year for Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Richard III, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar, and ideally, I’d like them all in the spiffy format our Othello guide was in this year.
  • Online resources for students. Our study guides, as they are, are geared towards teachers; we’d like to re-purpose some of those activities and to build some new projects that we can put out on the web to help students who are looking for resources on Shakespeare.
  • Expand The Playhouse Insider. I’m so excited about this project, and I want to make it even better in 2011. More articles, more world-class scholars as contributors, and, hopefully, a wider readership.
  • Read the Complete Middleton. Okay, this goal isn’t strictly professional, but I’ve had the Middleton Complete Works since last Christmas, and I’ve only cracked it open a few times. This year, I want to read as many of his plays as I can — especially since the OCS has started producing so many of them.
  • More Twitter followers — I’d love to break 100, at the least.
  • Continued growth of blog popularity — Since we went from practically zero to 900 views per month in just the last five months of last year, I’m going to aim for 2000 views a month by the end of 2011.
  • Use all of these social media connections to further relationships with other Shakespeare organizations, both in the US and internationally.
  • Host a successful Blackfriars Conference. This is obviously far from my sole responsibility, but OCS Education will be busy with this through much of the year. I want the conference to run as smoothly as possible, for all of our visiting scholars and other participants to enjoy themselves, and for everyone to learn a little something and come away with some new ideas.

I think it’s going to be a great year. We in OCS Education have so many exciting plans and things we want to make happen, and we definitely have the drive to get to our goals. I love working with Sarah, Christina, Doreen, and our interns, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the interns that will be starting in January, as well as newest team member Tom, who’s recently come on to help with our summer programming.

How about you folks? Any Shakespeare-related resolutions? I know there are several reading challenges floating out on the Internet, or maybe you’ve set a personal goal. Share, if you have — I’d love to hear about it!