Fall Festival of Shakespeare: Week 1 with Corinne Gaucher!

Corinne Gaucher, Acting Apprentice, walks us through Week 1 of our annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare: Training Week with Lezlie Lee from Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires, MA.

When I was first told that part of our acting apprenticeship would consist of assistant directing/co-directing a local school in the Portland Playhouse Fall Festival of Shakespeare, I won’t even lie, I was stoked! I came into this program having previous experience directing kids ages six to sixteen at a youth theatre program back home in Connecticut, as well as creating condensed and devised work using Shakespeare classics, but the prospect of the two worlds I found so much solace in colliding together was both spellbinding and daunting. Actually, I think it went a little something like this in my noggin;

“We’re bringing seven schools together, teaching them Shakespeare in one to two months, then expecting them to be excited to perform for each other WITHOUT it being competitive? Are we crazy?!”

When Lezlie Lee from Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts joined us for five days of intensive training, we were eighteen rag-tag strangers coming from all different walks of life with all different levels of experience in education and theatre. Maybe it was magic, maybe it was our open hearts, maybe it was the soothing energy and confidence exuded by Lezlie Lee and Nikki Weaver (Portland Playhouse Education Director and good juju goddess), but the week left me enrapt. We managed to not only learn how to foster an environment open to communication and positivity for our seven schools, but also knit together our own—for lack of a better word—army of support. We weren't strangers anymore, but comrades united by a bond that can only be achieved when you are willing to accept your flaws and embrace failure head on. For how could we head into these high schools and middle schools—which might as well be considered the battlefields of adolescence—expecting these students to give their hearts to our mission and stand on a stage in front of 200+ strangers (a terrifying feat for ANY actor, by the way), if we were not willing to embrace our own fears and apprehension alongside them? Intimidating. Trust me. I know.

So, our week of training ended and reality set in. It’s happening. Our eighteen generals were given their schools and sent off to train their Shakespearean soldiers for what I can only expect will be a spectacular, uniting, and inspiring fanfare of community. (Side bar: I honestly don’t know why the army analogy seems to have stuck throughout my musings, but it works.) Our list of schools for the 2014 festival include Franklin High School, Cleveland High School, Ridgefield High School, Fort Vancouver High School, Metropolitan Learning Center, Sauvie Island Academy, and Martin Luther King Jr School. I was to be working with veteran Fall Festival director, and apprentice alumni, Josh Weinstein at Martin Luther King Jr School. A three way pairing that can be described as nothing but syzygy, thus far.

Josh and I set out with positive attitudes and ample energy which proved to our advantage as we pitched the festival to as many classrooms as time permitted during the week of our audition/information sessions. The students responded in every possible way; “who are you?” “so why do I care?” “AWESOME!” “My bunny rabbit died.” (Kindergartners, am I right?) The fire was lit and it was only a matter of time until we were able to see who was ignited by our proposals.

Fast forward, and we have just concluded week two of rehearsals at King School. Our company is 22 kids strong ranging from PreK to fifth grade with one single middle schooler, a phenomenal sixth grade girl, who will function as our stage manager. If you think I was initially confident about doing Shakespeare with elementary school aged kids, you would be wrong. I was terrified. Not so much anymore though. My apprehension is fading as I get to know our remarkable participants and am blessed enough to be becoming part of their lives. To say I am enthusiastic is an understatement. Not to mention my co-director, Josh, is overflowing with optimism that he has been gracious enough to share with me on days when my nerves start rising.  We are well on our way at King School. Will our performance be perfect? Not likely. But what we are doing is not about end-gaining; it’s about the prospect of spreading confidence and empowerment to kids who otherwise may never have been exposed to this 401 year old bald guy we call Shakespeare, or the power that the theatre has to enrich and give purpose to our lives.

So, to answer my own thoughts, “Are we crazy?!” Yes. Yes, we are absolutely crazy. But there are more important things than sanity. For example, a Kindergartener starring as the lead villain in a Shakespearean play…

These jokesters will perform at The Playhouse (602 NE Prescott St) on Monday, November 3. Keep an eye out for photos after the event! Read more about our Fall Festival program by clicking here.