Preview article by Gail M. Burns, November 2006.
“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”
- King Lear, Act I, scene iv
For the seventh consecutive year students at Chatham High School are participating in Shakespeare & Company’s 18th Annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare. This year they are producing a 90-minute version of King Lear which will be performed at the School at 7:30 pm on November 9 and 11. They are one of eleven schools in Massachusetts and New York participating, the only other Columbia County school is Taconic Hills High School, which will present Love’s Labour’s Lost.
This year Josh McCabe and Alli Glenzer are directing. For Glenzer this is a happy return to the Fall Festival and to Chatham, where she directed the 2004 production of Macbeth. For McCabe, who first performed with Shakespeare & Company in this past summer’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor this is a new experience, but one that he anticipated eagerly.
“I like how Shakespeare & Company works,” McCabe said. “They bring a lot of joy to the work and a community spirit that not a lot of theatres have. One thing that impressed me was that the Fall Festival is really the Company’s pride and joy. This summer everyone told me that the Festival was a lot of hard work but that it was incredibly rewarding, and they were right. The kids teach us so much”
Glenzer first came to the Company to perform in their touring production of Romeo and Juliet and was encouraged to get involved with the Festival by Education Director Kevin Coleman. “The way he talked about the Festival was so inspiring. And I have to say that seeing the Festival performances at the Founders’ Theatre in 2004 was one of my best experiences as an audience member. The energy the kids bring to their own shows and the support they show to the other schools’ performers is incredible. I imagine that is what it was like for the original groundlings seeing Shakespeare’s plays for the first time.”
The students involved in this year’s production at Chatham echo much of what Glenzer and McCabe had to say about the overall experience of the Festival. The four actors, two seniors and two juniors, interviewed for this article had been involved in at least two previous Festival productions and spoke with excitement about the friendships formed across communities and the support they receive and give during the process. All agree that the major reason they participate year after year are the great people with whom they get to work.
“The Fall Festival brings people together who never would have become friends otherwise,” said Catie D’Amico, 17, a senior from Canaan who is playing King Lear.
“This is really a safe space to be and to discover yourself,” senior Aubrey Koch, 18, of Ghent and Spencertown who is playing Kent explained. “There have even been people who met doing the Fall Festival who went on to get married!”
The two juniors, Owen Barnett-Mulligan and Christ Leahy, both 16 of Chatham, who are playing the half-brothers Edgar and Edmond, agreed that participating in next year’s Festival was already a no-brainer. Glenzer explained that it was not unusual for alumni to return year after year to attend the Fall Festival productions and that each year the cast mourned the loss of those who had graduated or moved to other schools.
The actors agreed that King Lear was not a play they had been exposed to before this fall. “After the cast list went up everyone was scrambling for their Complete Works to find out who they were,” Koch laughed.
For D’Amico playing tragedy is a new experience. “Everyone always says that its harder to play comedy, so I was surprised to find tragedy so difficult too,” she said. Despite her own gender, D’Amico will be playing Lear as a man.
“There is lots of comedy in this play too,” Koch explained, “And I think that makes the tragedy more potent.” The characters Koch and Barnett-Mulligan are playing go into to disguise during the course of the play, so they have to find ways to make those changes both real and comprehensible to the audience.
Leahy and Barnett-Mulligan both have considerably larger roles this year than they have had in previous Fall Festival productions. “I like having a larger role because I get to work with more of the other cast members,” Barnett-Mulligan said. In last year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the actors found that the different segments of the cast – lovers, fairies, mechanicals, and nobles – worked very separately from each other. King Lear has more of a through-plot that allows the cast to function together as a unit.
“This play felt like a great fit for the talented kids in Chatham,” Glenzer explained. “It has a ton of people in it, each with their own character arc. We have chosen to stage it as a modern fairy tale. Its still set in England, but it could take place at anytime.”
“This is a play about families and miscommunication,” Glenzer continued. “The lost trust that comes from a break in communication leads to a loss of love and hope. And when people aren’t communicating in Shakespeare they do extraordinary things.”
“It is almost like a situation comedy,” McCabe added. “People come up with wacky solutions to common problems. Everyone deals with the family stuff in this play, but they don’t deal with it in this way.”
“Lear tried to prepare for the madness he fears by giving things away,” Glenzer said. “We view the storm scenes as a storm of the mind, where Lear replays his errors over and over.”
Students and parents are actively involved in creating the look of the show. Designer James Bocock has built what Glenzer calls a Brechtian set based on student input. And Jim Day has designed costumes that the actors refer to as “very symbolic” and “a lot of fun.”
“Chatham parents are really the model for involvement,” Glenzer said. “They are so invested in the Festival and their support is unparalleled.”
“And the have mad cooking skills!” McCabe added with a laugh. Parents bring snacks and meals to sustain the cast and crew during long rehearsals and periods of technical work.
The Fall Festival of Shakespeare in Chatham is supported by the Chatham Central School District, with gifts from the Our Town Fund at the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, the Hudson River Bank & Trust Foundation, and the Arts and Humanities Fund of the Chatham Educational Foundation, and the generous and enthusiastic support from the Chatham family and business community through the school’s Friends of Shakespeare group.
All the actors are excited about the school performances, but especially about the culminating four-day marathon of student performances November 16-19 at the Founder’s Theatre on Kemble Avenue in Lenox, MA. CHS takes the stage there at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 16. Local performances of King Lear will take place at 7:30 p.m. (NOT at 8 pm as they have in previous years) on November 9 and 11 at Chatham High School on Woodbridge Avenue in Chatham, NY. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for students.
Tickets performances at the Founders’ Theatre are $10 for adults and $5 for students per performance, or a Festival Pass may be purchased for $50 for adults and $25 for students. The Pass includes all eleven plays. For tickets and Festival information please call the Festival Hotline at (413) 637-1199 ext. 316 or visit the website at: www.shakespeare.org
This year’s other participating schools include Taconic Hills High School (Love’s Labour’s Love), Monument Mountain Regional High School (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Lenox Memorial High School (Twelfth Night), Taconic High School (Cymbeline), Lee High School (As You Like It), Springfield Central High School (Much Ado About Nothing), Mt. Greylock Regional High School (Macbeth), Mount Everett Regional High School (Henry V), the Brooks School (Much Ado About Nothing), and North Andover High School (Macbeth).
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2006