The first session of YCTC 2010 has come to an end. The ASC'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 ASC 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.