TNCS Summer Theatre Campers Embrace The Bard!

From July 15th through 19th, The New Century School welcomed back annual guest instructor Alex Hewett, who led the first TNCS Shakespeare Camp! Ms. Hewett is a TNCS favorite and has taught many aspects of drama, including scenes from various Shakespeare plays, to TNCS students through the years. (You can see some of her past camps and workshops here, here, here, and here.) but this year is special for being dedicated to one of the Bard’s plays. Currently, Ms Hewett is a Teaching Artist at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC).

A Midsummer Dream Camp at TNCS!

We know what you’re thinking—Shakespeare?! For kids?! Ms. Hewett’s answer is a resounding yes. Nevertheless, with a mixed-age group, she had to be strategic. Interestingly, all of the campers are either going into 2nd grade or 5th grade, so she paired them up, younger with older. It worked like a charm!

I started with Puck’s monologue to see how we did with that, and then determined which abridged version of the play with how many lines we could get through in 1 week. I don’t like dumbing down things, but in order for us to get this done, I went with The 10-Minute or So A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘creatively edited by’ Brendan Kelso. It keeps the integrity of some of the text and definitely keeps the overall feel. It brings in some colloquial language, too, which helps the kids’ understanding.

Besides, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has fairies—very mischievous fairies at that—and lots of laughs. You don’t have to be a scholar to find the Rude Mechanicals funny! That’s not to mention Bottom in donkey form. Even more importantly, the play is about love, and camp centered on that theme. Ms. Hewett says:

Even though Shakespeare’s stories are hundreds of years old, the feelings that the characters have, whether heir kings or peasants, are the same feelings that we have today. We have love, we have disappointment . . . we have sadness and grief. His stories transcend any time period and any culture because we’re all human. The story plots are also relatively simple—someone loves someone else, but the love is not reciprocated; someone wants to have power but somebody else in charge. I particularly love A Midsummer Night’s Dream because it’s magical, and I think kids really relate to that.

She was joined by Amy Hechtzizes, who hadn’t worked with elementary age children in a while but found the experience “difficult and hilarious and awesome”! (Sounds about right.) The two met at a women’s theatre ensemble workshop at The Strand theatre. Costuming help came from artist Liz Swanson. The campers themselves came from schools all over the city in addition to TNCS, including Hampstead Hill Academy (HHA), Patterson Park Public Charter School (PPPCS), and St. Casimir’s. They contributed some lovely drawings on theme to decorate the stage. Props were fashioned out of Imagination Playground materials—those trees (see videos below) are works of art!

Hello, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company!

Midweek, as a reward for all of their hard work, the group of budding thespians got quite a treat—a field trip to the CSC’s theatre in downtown Baltimore! Led by Studio Director, Gerrad Alex Taylor, they toured the theatre, getting to see all areas, including backstage and the gasp-inducing armory . . . all those swords! Go ahead—ask your kids what orchestra, mezzanine, and second mezzanine are! They can also probably clue you in as to how the Green Room got its name. Back in Shakespeare’s day, backstage was outdoors, so unless they were on stage, actors were passing the time until they were needed outside “on the green.”  Some of the important directorial considerations he shared with them included how to stage the play so that the actors can engage all of the audience, even those they may not be directly facing.

Mr. Taylor is also an actor in the company. One of his favorite recent parts with CSC was the rebel Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1, because he got to “throw a table” in that volatile role. He also acts in Washington, D.C. and has taught drama at HHA. The tour ended with a Q&A with Mr. Taylor. Then, to top it all off, they borrowed costumes and got to rehearse on the CSC stage!

The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth!

But this special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sure did! (Okay, there was one casualty in the form of a pair of unfortunate sunglasses.) Back at TNCS, the last day of camp meant that families were invited to come for a performance.

Want more? You can see additional videos including the full rehearsal at CSC on our TNCS YouTube channel—while you’re there, please consider subscribing!

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TNCS Summer Theatre Camp 2016: A Week of Wonder

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Wonder, a book about what happens when people treat each other with kindness.

Theatre Camp at The New Century School is always a smash hit, thanks to the wonderful Alex Hewett, instructor, counselor, actor, and all-around arteest. For several years running, Ms. Hewett has shared her enormous talents with TNCS and students from all around Baltimore City during the summer. (To read more about Ms. Hewett’s contributions and background, read Summertime Theatrics: Drama Camp at TNCS and TNCS Drama Camp Brings Out Kids’ Inner Artists.)

This year’s concept sprang from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book about a 10-year-old boy named Auggie who suffers an unnamed facial deformity. Auggie’s painful story unfolds to reveal the wonder of human relationships when kindness is the lodestar guiding them. Because Auggie’s appearance invites stares and unpleasant reactions from strangers, his parents homeschool until 5th grade, when they decide it’s time for Auggie to face (literally) the world and his place in it.

“The story resonated with her students,” says Ms. Hewett, “because although none of them have a deformity like Auggie’s, they all know what it’s like to confront and overcome obstacles.” Even during camp, situations arose that required students to think about how their words and actions were affecting others and choose a better, kinder way. Ms. Hewett’s camp has three precepts: One, be kind. Two, be kind. Three, be kind.

Besides the theme of this year’s camp, other aspects are different from past theatre camps as well. This time, much of the dramatizing is spontaneous, improvised from listening to Ms. Hewett read passages of the book aloud. “I like that because it means the students are helping with how we are structuring everything,” she explained. This approach allows for a little more “chaos” than a scripted approach would, but it also demands that students truly internalize the message to reproduce it. With a script, explained Ms. Hewett, students are learning to memorize their lines without necessarily grappling with the ideas contained within those lines. “Creativity shouldn’t be organized.”

To further deepen their understanding, they also integrated visual art as well as song and dance (“Wonder” by Natalie Merchant). The results were pretty amazing. Students really “got it,” so it’s no stretch to imagine that they will apply the lessons they have learned in their future daily interactions.

In addition to acting, students also practiced the practical side of stagecraft. They were asked to “strike” and re-set the stage, as they performed scenes from Wonder in multiple settings—such as a school lunchroom and a forest. One of the most ingenious facets of Ms. Hewett’s theatre camp is how she uses what she has, something every good actor understands—they must be able to roll with it to keep a scene afloat. The show must go on. Another important point is that every role is critical to the show’s success. “Even if you’re in charge of turning on the lights or building sets or you’re the Lead Technical Artist, your contribution is essential to the performance” said Ms. Hewett.

Thus, Ms. Hewett, with only 5 days to create, learn, rehearse, and outfit a play, used the TNCS Imagination Playground for props. Note how a cafeteria table becomes a tree in the forest.

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The 2016 TNCS Theatre Troupe

Ms. Hewett says the students “blew [her] away.” To be a part of this collaboration, they had to be comfortable with some initial disarray. “Being creative can be frustrating,” she said, “and you have disasters and things break. But then things come together, and I think that’s how you learn.”

As always, theatre camp at TNCS is a wonder-ful thing.