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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Re: A HS production of Twelfth Night
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0638  Wednesday, 2 April 2003

From:           Matt Henerson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Apr 2003 14:22:25 EST
Subject: 14.0628 A HS production of Twelfth Night
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0628 A HS production of Twelfth Night

>What was particularly satisfying
>was that three-quarters of the young cast totally enjoyed doing
>Shakespeare.  While Twelfth Night is not Hamlet or Lear, the
>complexity in the story and dialogue could easily be killed by
>kids who didn't care.  These kids did care.  Shakespeare lives.

High school kids do indeed care, and to my way of thinking, doing the
plays is the best way of teaching the plays and keeping them interested
in the plays.  While living and acting in the Bay Area, I directed all
female productions of "Julius Caesar," "Twelfth Night," and "Merchant of
Venice" for Notre Dame High School in San Jose.  We began with "Caesar"
when ND hired me to direct their fall play.  I cast everybody who
auditioned--you can do that with "Caesar"--and we wound up with a cast
of about fifty.  All sorts of amazing things happened, both to the play
and to the students.  Examples: the Antony disputed the notion that she
was making any political capital out of Caesar's death in "Friends,
Romans, countrymen...", so she found a melancholy in the speech which
was deeply moving and, incidentally, politically effective.  Our Caesar,
a heavy, shy girl gained personal confidence playing the role, and our
Metellus Cimber, of all people--a deeply religious, quiet young
Vietnamese woman--found I-don't-know-what.  During one rehearsal, I told
her to push Casca, who was panicking just after the assasination, up
against a wall to calm her down.  Cimber--maybe 5'3" at the
outside--grabbed Casca--5"7"--by the lapels of her coat, slammed her
against the wall, and roared "Talk not of standing!" right in her face.
To my knowledge, nobody had ever heard this woman raise her voice since
infancy.  The room grew as silent as a room with fifty girls in it can
ever be.  Cimber turned to me and said, quite mildly, "Was that ok?"

The response from the students was so positive that I returned the
following year to direct "Twelfth Night" for the Shakespeare club.  I
wasn't hired by the school this time, although they were happy enough to
have another play performed.  I came back because the core of the
"Caesar" company, mostly juniors, wanted to do one more Shakespeare
before they graduated.  Casting broke down as follows:

Antony                       Orsino
Decius Brutus                Viola
Trebonius                    Olivia
Caesar                       Sir Andrew
Casca                        Sir Toby
Brutus                       Sebastian
Cinna                        Feste
Young Lucius                 Fabian
Flavius                      Maria
Cassius                      Malvolio

The following year, we staged "Merchant" in the chapel, again with the
Shakespeare club, and with mostly new people.  One of the students, who
had graduated the year before, came back to play the Duke.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these students has decided to act
professionally.  My Brutus is tagging great white sharks off the coast
of South Africa, and my Antony teaches ballroom dance.  But several of
them make regular pilgrimages to Ashland, and two or three of them
attended OSF's summer internship for high school seniors.  They attend
Shakespeare, they're interested in Shakespeare, and it's because they
performed the plays and saw their classmates perform the plays.  And by
the way, none of this cost much of anything.  "Caesar" had a budget
because it was Notre Dame's fall production, but we did the other two on
twenty-seven dollars, spit and sealing wax.  After "Caesar, " I didn't
make a dime, but we'd have done "Henry V" the following year with twins
playing Henry and the Dauphin if I hadn't gotten a gig out of town.
Anybody who wants to know more is welcome to contact me off-list.  This
is the kind of thing can be done and should be done.

Matt Henerson

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