Friday, July 30, 2010


Follow the action at hashtag #LA10SCBWI.

The book haul so far (two of which I own already but bought again to have signed---Fangirl!)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is this not good?: Shakespeare Camp

"Spectacularly rowdy and fun-filled." So says one review of the American Shakespeare Center's current production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA.

Shakespeare Straight Up

I couldn't agree more. I haven't been a Shrew hater since the marvelous BBC ShakespeaRe-Told version, and this rapid-fire, intelligent, and juicy take on the Kate/Petruchio love affair in an intimate theater where they're proud to say they "do it with the lights on" sealed the deal for me. At a key moment---"Kiss, me Kate!"--- in what some have deemed a "problem play," Petruchio, with great affection and glee, asks the audience, "Is this not good?" And the audience, entranced by a production that discards any safety net under Shakespeare's hotly debated play, responds with unforced, approving laughter. It was indeed that good.

So you won't be surprised that I've chosen "Is this not good?" as a way into describing the week of No Kidding Shakespeare Camp I experienced last week at the same Blackfriars Playhouse. This was no academic lecture-fest. This was the kind of camp where you come home with a red clown nose in your purse.

Me with Daniel Kennedy, talented actor and Moscow Clown School graduate.
The best thing about him was that he made us all comfortable enough to be silly. That's a rare skill.

I also learned to dance . . .

Learning the pavane, a slow, courtly dance
We also did a more lively "country dance" called The Hey

That's our graceful and patient instructor, Doreen Bechtol, in the pink flowy pants

. . . and to wield a sword.

I only got to pose with this sword.
We actually used whiffle bats in our fight choreography.
(See below)

Fight Director Colleen Kelly demonstrates how to execute a parry

The whiffle bats came complete with a handy Shakespearean insult
The blue line is to remind us numskulls to parry at the far end of the bat---and not near anyone's fingers 

This was how we began: with an insult.
 The response was: "Villain, thou liest!"

Colleen Kelly demonstrating how to stay a safe distance from your partner.
I was impressed by her preparedness, down to the nth degree.
 Perhaps it comes from teaching stage combat to teenagers.

And that's but a taste of the goodness. (See the end of the post for a scan of our full schedule.)

There were talks about casting---This is a play, people. The first thing you ask is not: how does Shakespeare explore the theme of jealously in Othello or how many iambs in that foot, but: how many players can we hire and who can double and how will we manage and/or afford all this? (With a clever, clever spreadsheet, it turns out.)

There were sessions on rhetoric, which I swear to you, had all of us dying to sign up right then and there for a full-length class in said subject. There's a reason that rhetoric, with all its myriad, artful ways of delivering and repeating information, is so essential to theater. An audience can't flip back a page and look something up. Best nail it into our brains with the tools of anadiplosis or assonance.

We were invited to three talk-backs with the actors, one cast party, one mesmerizing professional rehearsal, and two ticketed productions, Taming of the Shrew and Othello, by which---ask my husband if I didn't sigh wearily when I first heard these two plays were our offerings---I was completely seduced.

I told you of my devotion to the Blackfriar Playhouse's staging of Shrew at the beginning of this post. I was equally waylaid by their Othello. Good Lord, I never recognized Iago's wife, Emilia, as the emotional linchpin to this story of broken trust and revenge, but thanks to actress Allison Glenzer (a military brat, I have to shout out!) I was shaken, even with the jaded heart I often bring to a production of the doomed Othello. It's her determined refusal to be silent, and not to be manipulated, that brings Iago's house of cards crashing down. It was her wasteful, yet utterly necessary death that made tears sting my eyes, after I'd survived the death of Desdemona (who was played magnificently by thoroughly grounded Texan actress, Sarah Fallon.)

And that twisted, talented Iago. Who would've thought I might identify with his frustration and jealousy? It's all there in the play, but it was brilliantly unveiled by actor Ben Curns who had such unashamed affection for his role of Iago that the audience was beguiled longer and more deeply by his deceptions that any other production I've seen. Which of course, made us freeze in horrified silence when, protesting not, telling not, we see his lies reap avoidable deaths we refused to stop.

The ever-generous Sarah Enloe, Director of Education,
on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage
where many of our sessions took place

Me, trying out some of Shakespeare's embedded stage directions under the guidance of 
skilled actor and director, Bob Jones, who is also a student 
in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance MFA progam.
In this case, the implied action is between Cleopatra and Charmain

In short, I, along with about eighteen other campers, was treated to a week of mind-blowing insight into Shakespeare as alive on the stage. If I took away two main thoughts--and these are not my ideas, but what I learned from the combined efforts of the NKSC crew--- they are

1) Shakespeare spring-loaded his plays with everything necessary for a small troupe to put up a play on short notice with minimal rehearsal and scant resources, while leaving the maximum amount of space for the individual actor to create as big-hearted a part as possible. I was convinced of this by a workshop in which we enacted scenes using only "cue scripts"---scripts that contained only our lines and the short cues before them. In Shakespeare's time, these were given out on hand-sized scrolls---hence, the term "Role." No one actor studied the entire play and attempted to "understand" it. They memorized gloriously well-constructed lines, they listened for their cues, and the scene unfolded in the most genuine manner possible. Think of it! In life, each knows his own lines---just barely---and it's only God, or in a play's case, the audience, who views the overall "arc" of the action.

Which brings me to

2) It's the audience---yes, us, the lowly audience---who is the third leg---along with players and play---which makes theater stand out from other art forms as a collaborative, moment-by-moment creation.

Which is the reason (along with historical accuracy) that the American Shakespeare Center doesn't turn down the house lights. They NEED the audience to play its parts---yes, the very roles Shakespeare writes for them to literally embody--- in order for the transition from page to stage work. Think of all those carefully scripted asides---who do you suppose the actors are talking to? Not an empty theater! Think of an Othello in which Iago can't communicate with the audience, and thereby not make them complicit in his machinations. Think of a Shrew in which there are no married couples, or about-to-be married couples, or never-ever-want-to-be married couples watching who recall the well-argued bargains they've made with each other in the name of love, and recognize Petruchio's defiant "If she and I are happy, what's it to you?" Think of the famous St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V without a rag-tag bunch of groundlings to swell into a heroic "band of brothers." That's us!

Even more mind-blowing to those used to sitting in the dark, alone, watching a Netflixed movie---the audience needs each other. Theater is communal, and if we huddle, elbow, whisper, watch, wait, guess, giggle, weep, blush, and otherwise prove ourselves human together, we provide an answer to Shakespeare's question:

"Is this not good?"

Schedule for No Kidding Shakespeare Camp
Click to enlarge

P.S. There was also time for us to rehearse and stage a culminating performance (I was First Citizen in Richard III), visit a local winery and vineyard, and enjoy the charming town of Staunton, home of Mary Baldwin College. If you go, eat at Staunton Grocery, which showcases local produce in creative ways. I'm still re-living every bite of their tasting menu which consisted of young carrot salad with blood oranges, arugula, and coriander vinaigrette; white Atlantic salmon over fava beans, and a totally decadent dessert described as "Bittersweet Chocolate Soup + Earl Grey + Thyme + Yeast Doughnuts."

P.P. S. Many, many thanks to Ralph Cohen, Director of Mission, and Sarah Enloe, Director of Education, for their brilliant planning and execution of last week's No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults. You can find more of Ralph's unique approach to Shakespeare in his book, ShakesFear and How to Cure It. You can read Sarah's detailed post about the camp here. Actor bios and some great interviews are collected here.

P.P.P. S. Yes, you should sign up for next year!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

ALA in Pictures

Signing Operation Yes at the Scholastic booth
Cheryl & Co. made me feel like a rock star

Don't you love Cheryl's military style green dress?

Meeting Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski
As delightful in person as their books are on the page

Liz Garton Scanlon
I was so proud to cheer for All the World

Having tapas with the Poetry Princesses

M.T. Anderson and Katherine Paterson
The brilliance was dazzling
At the Paterson Tea with Liz Garton Scanlon and Laura Purdie Salas

With Cheryl Klein and Francisco Stork
at the Scholastic reception

I love this picture! Yes, we were all that happy.
Tanita Davis and D, her husband; me, and Kelly Fineman

So glad to see Adrienne Furness
So sad not to have gotten to shop with her

At the Newbery/Caldecott banquet
Laura Purdie Salas, Kelly Fineman and Elaine Magliaro

Laura, Kelly, and me

I got home from the Newbery/Caldecott banquet after midnight on Sunday. I got up at 5:00 am the next morning to go to Shakespeare Camp. More on that anon!