OCS Education in 2013

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, we’re gearing up to offer even bigger and better programming in 2013 (and beyond). Here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you over the next twelve months:

  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp: London Edition: This adventure is something we’ve been wanting to do for several years now. Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, drawing on his experience founding JMU’s Studies Abroad program and leading overseas trips for many years. This program will focus on Shakespeare’s London and the theatrical joys of the modern city. Highlights will include the Globe Theatre, the Museum of London, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Regent’s Park, walking tours of important neighborhoods, a day trip to Oxford, and visits to some of London’s finest pubs. Registration is now open, and we would love for you to join us next summer.
  • From Class to Cast: 2013 Summer Teacher Seminar: With NKSC heading overseas, we’re expanding our Summer Teacher Seminar to a three-day adventure in the mechanics of putting together a play in your classroom. From cutting, doubling, and casting to costume considerations to the language work that forms the basis of all of the OCS’s productions, we will walk teachers through some techniques to get Shakespeare’s plays up on their feet and into their students’ bodies.
  • The 7th Blackfriars Conference: Our biennial celebration of Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and the early modern theatrical world will take place 23-27 October 2013. The gathering will honor George Walton Williams IV and will include keynote addresses from Russ McDonald, Ann Thompson, and Peter Holland, among others. Registration and Abstract Submission are now open.
  • Conferences: Members of OCS Education will make appearances at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in January, at the Shakespeare Association of America conference in April.
  • Even more new and improved OCS Study Guides: In 2013, our Lulu offerings will expand to include Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor, with mini-guides on All’s Well That Ends Well and Henry IV, Part 1. I’ll also be updating As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet with some fresh new activities.
  • More Education Artists — meaning more programming for you: Sarah and I spent a week in December training and auditioning new Education Artists, and once they are settled in, they’ll be helping us out with workshops, Little Academes, Educational Residencies, Leadership Programming, and much more. Together, we will welcome colleges from all over the country to the Blackfriars Playhouse, including old friends from James Madison University, the Federal Executive Institute, Grove City College, the University of South Dakota, Indiana Wesleyan, and International Paper. Remember, we also take this show on the road with Leadership Programming in Germany and more residencies on the books in 2013.
  • A plethora of pre-show entertainment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works. Podcasts of these lectures and our Actor-Scholar Councils will also be available to further enhance your play-viewing pleasure.
  • Slightly Skewed Shakespeare: The 2013-2014 Staged Reading series will feature works that are familiar yet off-kilter, almost-but-not-quite the Shakespearean plays you love and recognize. Join us for the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet, the forgery Vortigern and Rowena, Nahum Tate’s infamous adjustment of King Lear, and the anonymous history The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth.
  • OCS Theatre Camp: This year’s campers will explore Pericles, As You Like It, Richard II, The Taming of the Shrew, John Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Registration is now open.
  • Student Matinees: In 2013, we’ll be offering nine titles: Julius Caesar and Henry VIII in the Actors’ Renaissance Season, Twelfth Night and Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Spring Season, Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Troilus and Cressida in the Fall Season, and A Christmas Carol in the Holiday Season, with a special preview of Spring 2014’s Othello.
A very happy New Year to you all — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2013!

OCS Education in 2012-2013

The announcement is officially out, the Facebook Jeopardy game is complete, and that means I can share OCS Education’s plans for the upcoming year. If you’ve missed the information elsewhere, here’s the American Shakespeare Center artistic line-up for 2012-2013:

Summer
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fall
Cymbeline
King John
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Holiday
A Christmas Carol
Santaland Diaries
, by David Sedaris
The 12 Dates of Christmas, by Ginna Hoben

Actors’ Renaissance
Julius Caesar
The Country Wife
, by William Wycherly
Henry VIII
The Custom of the Country
, by Francis Beaumont & Philip Massinger
Two Noble Kinsmen

Spring/Tempt Me Further Tour
Twelfth Night
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Duchess of Malfi
, John Webster

What does this mean for Shakespeare Education at the OCS? For a start, throughout the year, we’ll be offering Student Matinees of The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. To complement these opportunities to bring your students to the Playhouse, I’ll be preparing brand-new full-length Study Guides for The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Twelfth Night, as well as revising (and, quite possibly, adding to) last year’s Julius Caesar guide. I will also produce mini-guides for Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Henry VIII.

We will, again, have four Teacher Seminars in the 2012-2013 season. On August 10th, we’ll be looking at that perennial curriculum favorite, Romeo and Juliet (for which I will also be producing a full-length Study Guide), where both the construction of the language and the complex interplay of comedy and tragedy provide many opportunities for exploration. Our Fall Seminar, September 14th-16th, will focus on The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m excited to tackle the challenge of these two off-kilter comedies, from the racial tensions in Merchant to the troubled ending of Two Gents. Both plays are full of emotionally charged moments, opportunities for audience contact, and clever, fast-paced language, all of which make wonderful fodder for teachers. As we did in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors, we will be linking these non-curriculum plays with their more-frequently-assigned cousins, in order to provide teachers with the greatest opportunity to incorporate staging with study. We also champion these plays as ideal for teachers who are tired of always retreading the same material. The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will provide intrepid educators with a new, invigorating approach to Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft.

Our Winter Seminar, February 2nd-3rd 2013, will focus on Julius Caesar, a play I can never get enough of and can’t wait to return to. That play features so prominently two of my favorite things to talk about: rhetoric and audience contact. Those two elements define Caesar for me, more than anything else, and they provide wonderful avenues for making the play exciting for students. Our Spring Seminar, April 12th-14th 2013, will focus on Twelfth Night: frothy fun with some dark undercurrents. I look forward to reawakening some of the same topics I’ve looked at in As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado about Nothing — twins, gender-bending, gulling, etc — as well as exploring the role of music on the early modern stage.

Throughout the year, we’ll continue to hold our lecture series, on select Wednesday and Thursday nights, prior to the evening shows. We’ve moved the timing of these events to 5:30pm, which will allow attendees enough time to go get a quick bite or a drink at one of downtown Staunton’s fabulous eateries before the show begins. I’m pleased to announce that this year, we will have both a Dr. Ralph Presents lecture and an Inside Plays workshop for every play in the Fall, Actors’ Renaissance, and Spring Seasons. We’re especially pleased that this will allow us to offer audiences some more insight into the shows which are enjoying their Blackfriars Playhouse premieres in 2012 and 2013. See the schedule on our website for more information.

Our Staged Reading series also continues in 2012-2013, with four dynamic titles: the anonymous Edward Ironside (October 28th), an early English chronicle play full of patriotic glory, violent energy, and inventive language; George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth (November 4th), where jealous husbands, absurd courtiers, lapsed Puritans, and lustful monarchs collide; Aphra Behn’s Restoration hit The Rover (March 24th, 2013), a quick-witted and wickedly wanton comedy where a group of amorous English exiles revel their way through Naples; and The Insatiate Countess (April 28th, 2013), by John Marston and collaborators, a play of merry widows, virtuous wives, and subverted theatrical conventions. We’re in the process of making some exciting changes to how the Staged Readings operate, and we’ll have more information on that for you as the year progresses.

And, of course, summer 2012 will be full to the brim with camps for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages. OCSTC Session 1, June 17th-July 8th, tackles Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and John Lyly’s Gallathea, while Session 2, July 15th-August 5th, takes on Much Ado about Nothing, 1 Henry VI, and Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher’s A King and No King. Our Midsummer Day Camp for ages 9-12, July 9th-13th, moves from the light-hearted comedies of the past few years to the high-octane thriller, Macbeth. Finally, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults, June 25th-29th, will explore Movement — both the movement of the actor on stage and the movement of plays from one playhouse to another and out on the road.

It’s almost hard to believe that here we are in January 2012, already planning for April 2013, but that’s the way of it. The whole education team is looking forward to a full and fabulous year — we hope you’ll be joining us for these explorations into early modern staging.

2011 in Review

We’re wrapping up another year in OCS Education, and 2011 has been full of excitement and surprises.

  • Our biggest event of the year was the 6th Blackfriars Conference, held in late October. With over 150 presenters in both plenary and colloquy sessions; keynotes from George T. Wright, Scott Kaiser, Tiffany Stern, and honoree Stephen Booth; OCS productions and special late-night performances; banquets; parties; and after-parties, this year’s conference was a rousing success.
  • Our summer camps were more successful than ever. At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, six troupes across two sessions performed in an hour-long version of early modern plays (in a “Greek to me Summer”, the plays were all set in Greece); participated in master classes including stage combat, dance, music, acrobatics, and maskwork; attended academic classes in theatre history, scansion/rhetoric, classics, and source study; and visited the Blackfriars Playhouse to watch the professional Resident and Touring Troupe actors rehearse and perform in our summer season of plays. This was the first summer we offered college credit for the camp. Our Midsummer Day Camp welcomed students ages 9-12 for an adventurous week of creative play, imagination, and fantasy, culminating in a final performance of Twelfth Night. Enthusiasts of all ages came to Staunton for the second year of the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for Adults. We’re already looking forward to the 2012 camps; applications and registrations are now open: OCSTC; MSDC; NKSC.
  • We introduced a new program in 2011: OCS Family. An OCS Family membership has many benefits, including discounted tickets, free Playhouse tours, and free admission to OCS Family events, where we bring the community into the Playhouse. In September, we welcomed musicians and artists; our next OCS Family event, “Taste of Staunton” is on January 21st and will feature local restaurateurs.
  • The OCS also hosted recitation competitions for Poetry Out Loud and the English Speaking Union. At the ESU Nationals in New York in May, Ralph Alan Cohen served as a judge, and the OCS awarded a full OCSTC scholarship to second-place winner Claire Hilton.
  • Our Study Guides, already improved in 2010, underwent another round of revisions. The new guides for Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and Richard III feature an expanded Basics section, introducing teachers to methods of classroom performance and engagement with the text, including scansion, paraphrasing, acting interpretation, rhetoric, and audience interaction. I’m currently working on bringing the Basics from last year’s guides up to those standards, and then I’ll start work on the 2012-2013 guides.
  • Those Study Guides form the basis for our Teacher Seminars. This year, we added a fourth seminar, a special one-day event in August. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, dozens of new attendees and old friends joined us to explore methods of performance-based learning. For the second year in a row, we’ve welcomed pre-service teachers from JMU to a mini-seminar in December, we look forward to seeing them return next year.
  • We welcomed 15 Little Academes to the Playhouse over the course of the year: 2 in February, 6 in March, 2 in April, 3 in May, 1 in August, and 1 in September. That’s up from 11 in 2010, and we hope that even more teachers will choose to bring their students to us for week-long intensives in 2012.
  • If the students can’t come to us, we’ll come to them! In October, we held our first On-Site Educational Residency in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I traveled with former OCS actors Kelley McKinnon and Chad Bradford for a week with the amazing young women of the Hathaway Brown School. We presented in both English and theatre classes, and Kelley and Chad provided rehearsal coaching for the school’s production of Macbeth.
  • Our educational opportunities aren’t just limited to students; this year, we expanded our professional training programs farther than ever. We continue our long relationship with the Federal Executive Institute, providing leadership seminars, and we’ve begun to develop programs focusing on law and finance as well.
  • Apart from bringing scholars to visit us during the Blackfriars Conference, we also attended a number of other conferences in 2011. We presented to teachers and students at the Texas Educational Theatre Association in January, and that month, representatives from the Education, Marketing, and Managing departments of the OCS attended the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Boulder, Colorado. In February, Sarah and I presented on Shakespeare as a Primary Source at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies’s conference in Phoenix. And in April, Ralph traveled with OCS actors James Keegan, Rene Thornton Jr., and John Harrell to the Shakespeare Association of American conference in Seattle, where Ralph presented on Falstaff and our actors presented at a workshop on Playing Shakespeare. 2012 is shaping up to be just as full of travel for the whole team, with visits planned to Sacramento, Orlando, and Boston.
  • We’re also expanding our relationships with friends across the world. Sarah and I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in May to discuss how both companies are expanding our online resources for students and teachers. Ryan Nelson from Shakespeare’s Globe visited us to present for the MBC MLitt/MFA program and to talk about digital opportunities for education, and the conference in October further expanded that relationship with a presentation given by new Globe Managing Director Neil Constable, and Director of Research Farah Karim-Cooper on their upcoming Indoor Theatre.
  • We moved the bulk of our archives to Washington and Lee University, where our materials can enjoy greater storage space and management than our facilities could offer (So for anyone who’s visited our archives in the past, that means no more cramming yourselves into that tiny, overstuffed closet). We retain the last five years’ worth of material in the offices, but we shipped everything about shows from 1987 to 2005 down to Lexington; more sections (from Education, Marketing, Development, the Board of Trustees, and on the building of the Blackfriars) will go down in Summer 2012.
  • The MBC MLitt/MFA Shakespeare in Performance program also had a full year: an all-male production of Romeo and Juliet, dueling versions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a spring thesis festival, and many other events and productions.
  • We also work with the MBC Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and Honors program each fall semester. This year’s focus word was “wisdom”, and the students explored variations of that word’s meaning through scenes from As You Like It.
  • We partnered with the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to bring workshops to their students, as well as arranging two sign-language interpreted nights of Macbeth in April — one matinee, for their students, and one evening performance open to the public, thanks to the generosity of the interpreters, Kate O’Varanese and Laurie Shaffer, from UVA who gave us the gift of their services at no cost.
  • We said goodbye to Christina Sayer Grey and welcomed Ben Ratkowski to the team. Christina didn’t leave the OCS, but shuffled over into Marketing; if you follow the OCS on Facebook or Twitter, she’s responsible for most of that content now, as well as numerous contributions to our other promotional materials. Ben took over her job as Group Sales and Academic Relations Manager, in addition to his responsibilities as OCS Family Coordinator.
  • Education Interns always provide a bitter-sweet Hello and Goodbye. Good-bye to Natalie and Liz and David. Hello to Jane, Kyle, Brenna, Kimberly, Jennifer, Angelinne, and John. We’re so grateful for the time each of you can spend with us, and we wish you all the luck in 2012 and beyond.

You can see photos from these events on the OCS Facebook page. If you joined us in 2011, take a flip through and reawaken some memories. If you didn’t make it to Staunton, then hopefully the pictures will inspire you to join us in 2012!

So what’s ahead for OCS Education in 2012? More access to more people. We hope to reach more students and educators than ever — that means more classes coming to matinees, more young adults at OCSTC, more pre-teens at Midsummer Day Camp, more grown folks at No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, more attendees at our Teacher Seminars, more educators downloading Study Guides, more groups coming in for leadership seminars and other professional training opportunities, more podcasts featuring our actors and education artists — more of you getting to do more with us.

I hope everyone has had a lovely and safe holiday season, and that we’ll be seeing you in the coming months. The Actors’ Renaissance Season ramps up in just a few days, providing a wonderful opportunity to witness firsthand the marriage of research and scholarship with theatrical practice — so come see us soon!

One if by PDF, Two if by Print

The study guides are coming, the study guides are coming!

Not just yet, but hopefully we’ll be rolling out the first two new study guides, Julius Caesar and Hamlet, sometime in the next week or so. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, and Richard III will follow between now and mid-October. Last year’s guides were already an upgrade from our previous offerings, but this year, we’ve expanded the material even further. Our Basics section now includes in-depth instructions on getting students intimately familiar with their text and how it works, with lessons on scansion, paraphrasing, rhetoric, working with the audience, and transforming your classroom into an early modern stage. My favorite concept that goes along with these lessons is Line Assignments. We’re encouraging teachers to give each students a segment of text, between 25 and 100 lines, depending on the student’s skill level, to take ownership of during their Shakespeare unit. Teachers have their own Line Assignments — the first 100 lines of the play, to use as examples and for group exploration. Those are the segments I used in my previous posts on scansion and Wordles earlier this summer.

Beyond the Basics, we’re thinking more critically and creatively than ever about how to get students engaging with the text up on its feet. Staging Challenges in Julius Caesar examine mob dynamics and how Shakespeare crafts the feeling of unpredictable violence into the script. We also examine the visually striking moments surrounding Caesar’s assassination and the conspirators dipping their hands in his blood — and what important character choices that blood can reveal. In Hamlet, we look at playing darkness, at the impact of realizing that Hamlet’s most famous speech is not actually a soliloquy, but overheard by several people, and at the challenge of dealing with all those dead bodies left on stage at the end of the play. We also examine Perspectives, to help students link the world of the play, Shakespeare’s world, and our modern world. In Julius Caesar, this means looking at adaptation throughout the ages, whether it’s Shakespeare borrowing from Plutarch or Christopher Nolan rebooting Batman, as well as examining ideals of honor and virtue. In Hamlet, we examine revenge tragedies, then and now, and their vicariously vengeful appeal, as well as the idea of media influencing behavior, whether it’s a conscience-catching play or a violent video game.

Our Study Guides will be available for purchase online soon — and they’ll always be included as a perk of our Teacher Seminars and of bringing your class to a student matinee. In the meantime, you can see a sneak-peek 10-page preview of the Julius Caesar Study Guide on our website.

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed…" — The Holiday Season at the OCS

Staunton’s a winter wonderland today, coated in a thick blanket of snow, which makes it feel like just the right time to share my thoughts on the OCS’s holiday season with you. Each December, the OCS embraces wintry celebrations, and we guarantee there’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a joyful family outing or are hoping for some more grown-up entertainment. Either way, the holiday spirit is alive and well in Staunton, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three of our December productions.

First up is the family-friendly A Christmas Carol, which the OCS has produced every year since 2002. The production is frothy and delightful. The OCS touring troupe does a wonderful job bringing the exuberant spirit of the show to life. Maybe I’m just an incurable sap, but I can’t help wanting to dance at the Fezziwigs’ party, and I always tear up about Tiny Tim at the end of the show. But if you can’t indulge a sentimental nature during the holiday season, when can you? I got to watch this show during one of our school matinees, and it was a great day for it — we had a younger group, 3rd-5th graders, and I had almost as much fun watching them as I did watching the show. The girls sitting on stage shrieked and clutched at each other when the ghost of Jacob Marley emerged from the trap, rattling chains and howling in agony — and the little boy sitting next to them leaned so far forward he nearly fell out of his seat, exclaiming “That was awesome!” when Marley descended again. The kids were delighted by the frequent interactions of the cast with the audience, whether to use them as hat-racks or scarf-holders, or as the recipients of the candy canes that the Narrator (Chad Bradford) whips out of his hat as though by magic. Something about the enthrallment of little kids makes this show even more special; it’s a different experience, and just that little bit more magical.

For me, A Christmas Carol took on a new tenor this holiday season, in light of the economic difficulties so many people have faced over the past year and more. When Scrooge (presented with scowling excellence by John Harrell) asks “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?” or when he calls the unemployed “idle people,” it’s hard not to hear echoes of the recent debates over tax breaks and unemployment benefits. Of course, all of that is likely to sail right over the heads of the children in the audience, but adults may find Dickens’s classic more relevant than ever.

Second, an annual favorite, the adults-only Santaland Diaries. This year Rick Blunt hitches up the candy-cane stockings as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris’s one-man-show about the experience of being an elf at Macy’s Santaland. I got to watch John Harrell in this role the past two years, and with Rick in the elfin knickers, it’s definitely a different show. Rick inhabits the role with self-mocking glee, shamelessly changing into his elf costume on stage and, the night I saw it, pausing mid-monologue once to hike up those striped stockings. Particularly excellent is Rick’s way of playing off of the audience, incorporating them and their reactions into the story. What I’ve always loved about this show, however, and what Rick brings across particularly well, is the kernel of tenderness underneath all the cynicism and biting wit. The contrast particularly relevant for the modern holiday season, over-commercialized in a period of recession, when so many people feel the pinch even more tightly than during the rest of the year, when it’s become “cool” in plenty of circles to eschew the saccharine celebrations and settle in for a good snarking instead. Amid all of that, it’s nice to be reminded, through Rick’s excellent performance, of the real holiday spirit, the desire to make someone smile, to make someone feel special.

Finally, the OCS is pleased and proud to offer the world premiere of The 12 Dates of Christmas, written by and starring our own Ginna Hoben. Based off of her own experiences, Ginna presents the story of Mary, a woman who sees her fiance making out with a coworker on national TV during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The audience follows her through a year’s worth of bad dates and family feuds. The show is refreshingly honest. The sparkle may be off the snowflake, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at the absurd way that life falls apart, falls together, and constantly reassembles — because Mary’s experiences are, while idiosyncratic tales particular to one woman’s life, also universal. Almost everyone’s suffered a heartbreak, often a humiliating one. Almost everyone knows what it’s like to face a holiday, whether Christmas or New Year’s or Valentine’s Day, alone. That association we all share, combined with Ginna’s open and inviting demeanor, makes it easy for the audience to relate to Mary, to want to cheer her on and to see her succeed. Ginna also uses the audience to wonderful effect, calling out for advice, looking for sympathy or agreement, or cocking an ironic eyebrow whenever we think we know where the story is going. I think what I like best about the show, however, is that it doesn’t tie up in a neat little bow. Mary’s story is going to go on, offstage, post-monologue — and that’s real. Life’s major events and excursions rarely end on neat little capstones.

All three of these shows continue through the end of the month, so you’ve still got plenty of opportunities to catch them if you’re within traveling distance. And lest you think that the OCS becomes a Shakespeare-free-zone during the holiday season, the touring troupe will also be giving performances of their three traveling shows, Macbeth, As You Like It, and Measure for Measure, during the first week in January.