Immortal Longings — YCTC 2010 Session 2

I spent this afternoon at the performances of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra put on by Session 2 of the OCS’s Young Company Theatre Camp. While I’m always excited to see the YCTC shows, I was extra-enthused, since these are two of my favorite plays.

Today’s performance — in a Blackfriars Playhouse again crammed to overflowing with parents, friends, former campers, grad students, OCS actors, and members of the Staunton community — began with a choreographed pre-show performance involving all of the campers. Eastern-influenced music played as the campers presented a stylized version of Cleopatra’s death scene. A line of campers in theatre blacks and red scarves formed a chain and acted out the striking of the asp, in a development of an activity that originated weeks earlier, at their auditions. The effect was visually striking and quite impressive. After that, we saw Alexi S. as Shakespeare, trying to pen the Battle of Actium, and eventually deciding — despite actors engaging in combat and building ships out of their bodies — to leave the famous battle out of the play. The pre-show demonstrated some of the skills campers acquired in their Master Classes during the last three weeks, including Elizabethan dance, belly-dancing, combat, and details of Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions. The pre-show culminated in a song based on a poem that Jane J. wrote for the “What You Will” talent show, detailing the plots of each show.

Doreen then stepped up to give her general introduction, acknowledgments, and inspirational speech. She summed up this session with the word “abundance,” referring to the prolific creativity of the campers. Having seen so many talents demonstrated in the pre-show, I think she definitely picked the right word. Two campers then presented a more traditional pre-show for the OCS. This pre-show also gave me a new favorite knock-knock joke — but there’s a physical component, so you’ll have to ask me if you see me around town.😉

The first show of the afternoon was Julius Caesar, directed by MFA Candidate Laurie Riffe. The show began with a version of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” modified to reflect Roman patriotism. I was impressed by the energy and vigor which the campers infused into the show. While all the campers put in great performances, I particularly liked the Cassius, Rose B., who played the role with wonderfully choleric charisma. Caesar’s death was highly stylized and set to drumbeats, and it packed quite an emotional punch when Caesar, stabbed by the conspirators, stumbled into Brutus’s arms, only to receive the final blow. Another interesting staging choice was the decision to have Caesar’s Ghost watching the suicides of Brutus and Cassius from the balcony — I suspect drawing inspiration from Brutus’s line “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords in our own proper entrails”. Overall, Caesar was an exciting show — anyone who’s ever accused that play of being boring ought to take a cue from the YCTC cast.

Antony and Cleopatra, Part 1, directed by father-son team James and Thomas Keegan, opened with a rendition of “Midnight at the Oasis” that drew laughs from the crowd. In this cast, Hannah M. portrayed the fiery Queen of Egypt with mercurial excellence, and Margaret C. made a powerful pint-sized Antony. I was really impressed by — and glad for — the decision to cast a female actor as Antony. This production made fabulous use of the space and its possibilities. One great joke hinged on the use of diagonals: Cleopatra, all the way in the downstage-right corner, tells Antony, entering at the upstage-left corner, “stand farther from me”. Antony then made a wonderful “where’m I gonna go?” gesture, to audience appreciation. All of the actors used the audience well, particularly the comic Enobarbus, played by Rachel B., who aligned herself with those sitting on the gallant stools at every opportunity. This cast didn’t shy from the sexuality in the play, which seemed to shock some audience members, but clearly delighted others (myself included). The production ended, halfway through the play, at the moment of broken fellowship between Octavius and Antony, with an epilogue written by the students. With the cast on-stage, the key players from Part 2 came out to receive significant prop or costume elements from their counterparts. This technique was a wonderful way to link the productions and help the audience out for the beginning of …

Antony and Cleopatra, Part 2, directed by Jeremy West. Jeremy described his cast as “uninhibited”, and suggested that it was something adult performers could learn from the kids. The play opened in similar formation to the end of Part 1, using lines from the epilogue set to drumbeats. These drumbeats continued throughout the production, almost beating out the remainder of Antony and Cleopatra’s lives. Daniel H. and Rebecca R. threw themselves into the tragic fall of history’s famous couple, but the production was not without humor. Shakespeare puts moments of levity around both deaths, and the campers embraced those. One particularly neat staging trick — that Jeremy West admitted had come to him from James Keegan — was the way they lifted Antony up to Cleopatra’s monument. Instead of actually bringing Antony up on the stage, Cleopatra and her handmaidens dropped a rope where they stood, but not off the front, but rather towards the back, at the same moment that another rope appeared where Antony was in the discovery space. The women pulled up on their rope as the discovery space curtains swung shut, giving Antony the time to go up the stairs and crawl under the curtain at the back of the balcony, making it appear as though he had been pulled straight up. As someone who has previously cringed watching an Antony scale the frons scenae, wondering if I was about to see disaster, I really appreciated this clever approach to a difficult bit of staging.

All three shows were wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. I’m just sorry the summer’s over, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting next year’s camps. Best of luck to all of our campers in the upcoming school year!

Counselor Katie Logan on a special moment of YCTC Session 1

Katie Logan, this year’s Camp Coordinator, shares her thoughts on Session 1 of YCTC. Thanks, Katie!

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“In the midst of a sweltering summer, 37 young people created one of the most unique sessions of camp I’ve ever witnessed. We welcomed old faces and new ones. Some campers had committed large chunks of the canon to memory, while others began camp having read a single play or two. Musicians, choreographers, and a juggler filled our ranks.

This wide variety of talent and experience excited everyone; we were all curious to learn what others had to offer and to share some of ourselves. The campers’ generosity to one another popped up every day, both onstage and off. Every camper noticed and pitched in if someone else was having a rough day. In rehearsals, they worked hard to listen to one another. When using a stage without a lighting system, one director explained, actors had to be each other’s spotlights. They had to give their focus to the person speaking so that the audience would do the same. These young performers took that advice to heart.

Session I was in Staunton during the Fourth of July, and we hiked up to Mary Baldwin’s campus to catch some fireworks. Many campers were still in the outrageous costumes they’d worn to our masquerade dance earlier in the evening. Several brought instruments. As it grew darker on our patch of hill, the guitarists began rehearsing a song they had learned for their Pre-Show performance. Soon, the whole camp was singing along. When I think about Session I 2010, that will be the moment I remember—an evening when what these remarkable individuals wanted most was to create something beautiful together.”

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Katie is the Director of Education for the Empty Chair Theatre Company in D.C., a small company founded by former YCTC campers — which just goes to show how far the bonds made at OCS summer camps can take you!

YCTC Session 1 All Wrapped Up!

The first session of YCTC 2010 has come to an end. The OCS’s Young Company Theater Camps are part of our College Prep program, geared towards offering high school students Shakespeare study, theatre training, and performance experience on the Blackfriars stage.

The campers from Session 1 performed on July 11th to an enthusiastic house, full to brimming with family, friends, and members of the community. I was glad I got there early enough to get a good seat! While prefacing the shows, Director of Youth Programs Doreen Becthol summed up this year’s Session 1 with one word: “endurance.” Apart from the rigors of putting up a show in just three weeks, while also attending classes and lectures, these campers did it all during one of the hottest summers Staunton has seen in quite some time. Bechtol, the OCS actor-directors, and the camp counselors could not praise their young actors enough for their energy and their determination, and the final performances showcased all of their hard work and dedication.

The first show, Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kelley McKinnon, was a wild romp of a romantic comedy. McKinnon said her goal was to make the campers make their own choices about the show, and also to help them “understand what a gift the Blackfriars stage is.” The actors took her lessons to heart, engaging the audience at every opportunity. The action of the play reached its height during a hilarious Muscovite masque, as the young men attempted to woo their ladies in disguise. The masque featured some of the special talents of the campers, including dance, tumbling, trumpeting, drumming, knife-juggling, and a bagpiper playing “Scotland the Brave” — which I feel to be a reasonable representation of how Navarre, Biron, Dumain, and Longaville would have interpreted Muscovite culture.

Though director Dennis Henry warned the house that the second show, Richard III, would be quite a change from the comedic Love’s Labour’s Lost, the actors managed to bring some black humor through the darkness nonetheless. I always enjoy it when a show proves something of what we teach about the value of “doing it with the lights on.” Richard’s relationship with the audience is so crucial to the success of the play, and universal lighting creates an extraordinarily different atmosphere. In this case, it encouraged some ironic laughter – either nervously, as the audience became his unwilling conspirators, or a touch vindictively, as we were allowed to enjoy his downfall. Contact with the audience also increased the pathos for the play’s many tragic victims. Boiling Richard III down into a one-hour format made for an intense tragedy, with a body count that spiraled rapidly towards the show’s thrilling final combat between Richard and Henry Tudor. The campers also took the opportunity to show off their musical talents with three songs at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the show.

The last show of the day was As You Like It, directed by Josh Carpenter. This performance highlighted physical comedy and lots of action; the campers were not at all afraid to throw their whole bodies into the production. I was really impressed by the good use the As You Like It cast made of the Blackfriars stage, with actors demonstrating what they had learned about the blurring of the distinction between audience-space and actor-space: Orlando scaled a column to pick apples, and the shepherd Corin spent one conversation fishing off the edge of the stage. These actors were really thinking creatively, giving this production of As You Like It a unique flavor. I particularly enjoyed the addition of sheep to 3.2, who wandered onstage to eat Orlando’s poetry (probably the best possible thing to do with it). Enthusiasm and energy never flagged in this pastoral comedy, which ended in a lively dance.

As all the campers took their final bows and gathered for pictures on the Blackfriars stage, I saw actors laughing, hugging, and crying. At the beginning of the afternoon, Ralph Cohen had told us, “When you’re working and having fun at the same time, there’s a place where you can’t tell the difference.” I think those two conditions had truly become inseparable for these campers. The actors of Session 1 had both worked hard and played hard, and none seemed ready, at the end of the day, for the experience to end.

I’m already looking forward to YCTC Session 2, for campers ages sixteen to eighteen, which begins on Sunday, July 18th, with final performances on August 8th.

Pictures from Session 1 can be found at our College Prep Flickr group.