Here are a few additional photos from Looking for Shakespeare 2016’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Nan Smithner.
By: Dr. Nan Smithner
This summer the Program in Educational Theatre presented Looking for Shakespeare’s 2016 production of Romeo and Juliet. I was fortunate to be the director of an ensemble of 19 excellent young people, 13 dynamic NYU graduate students and a robust and stellar creative and production team of light, set, costume and designers, stage managers, fight choreographer, hip hop dance instructor, dramaturg and assistant director/producer.
We explored universal themes of love, conflict, family, identity and fate, which resonate as strongly in 2016 as they did in 1596. Our play was set in the 1990’s, a time of existential crisis that foreshadowed the 21st century and formed a bridge between new and old ways of thinking and living. It was a decade of jarring, sometimes incongruous events, including the ripening of the technological revolution and a new global awareness, and also foreshadowing explosions of national trauma and cultural conflict. As an ensemble, we lived through and discussed the turbulence of our present day times, as, in a few short weeks, the students delved into the complexities of Shakespeare’s language.
We framed our play in a hip hop world that explored discord, tension and opposition, and also embraced joy, hope, passion and knowledge. It was truly an ensemble effort as astute graduate students worked in depth — coaching language, acting and physical expression, as did the incredible dramaturg and perceptive assistant director. Students made visual art that was on display in the lobby, and wrote original poetry and performed songs about love in the pre-show and intermission. It was indeed an honor for me to work with such an inspiring and vibrant group this summer, to produce a profound show full of humor, tragedy, and above all, expressing the overarching importance of love.
By Carly McGehee
“Who’s there?”, this famous line, which marks the opening of Hamlet, was indeed the question on my mind as I began my journey along with 13 fellow graduate students and 20 high school students from all over the country in Looking for Shakespeare. As a professional actor, I have spent many years studying and performing Shakespeare, but had yet to be involved with a production with high school students. I was excited to learn about, and from, this diverse group of students and anxious to learn who they were. What I did not expect, however, was vast knowledge I would gain from observing and working among my fellow graduate students.
Much like the high school ensemble, the Graduate students came from all walks of life. Some were experienced theatre teachers, others, like myself, were just beginning the road to becoming educators. Many had extensive backgrounds in performing, while others had vast knowledge in Shakespeare as dramatic literature.
The hours were long. Some days were harder than others. I found myself constantly second guessing myself. In those moments of uncertainty, I turned to my colleagues and was met with support and advice. What I thought were classmates soon turned into mentors and friends. It was in these moments of confusion that I took a step back, listened, observed, and discovered a part of myself that would still be lost if not for those trying times.
None of these learning moments would have happened without our director and professor, Jonathan Jones. He recognized the diverse and rich talents amongst our group and utilized them to the fullest potential. His gentle guidance helped each of us discover a new part of who we are as educators, and produced a piece of art that we, high school and graduate school alike, had never before experienced.
By Corinna Rezzelle
Looking for Shakespeare (LFS) has been one of the most self-reflective experiences of my graduate studies thus far. Now, it is work. It is a lot of work. It’s early-mornings-with-no-coffee-and–so-much-to-do kind of work, but it is such a great experience that I would recommend every grad student in the Educational Theatre program to tackle.
This summer we did Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. How fun, right? Shipwrecks, mistaken identities, over the top-ness in general. It was glorious fun! On top of the already wacky script, we added another layer: we set everything in the early 20th century fit with a Vaudevillian flair and several classic songs. Yes. We embarked on “Twelfth Night: The Vaudevillian Musical” in only 4-weeks. How we did it? I don’t know. Looking back, I am in awe of all that we accomplished in such a short period of time. Our group (grad students and high-schoolers a like) were such a dedicated and hardworking group, we probably could have accomplished anything.
It just hit me that some of you all might not have an idea of how LFS works. So I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the process. Within the class, you get firsthand experience guiding high school students through the wonders of acting in a Shakespearian play. Like I mentioned earlier, all of this happens in a month. Within that month, you are assigned to a particular group of students, of whom you work with primarily the entire time that you are in LFS. While you work with the teens, you are able to do your own bit of directing all while learning from your fellow grad students and the key instructor. We also even had the opportunity to teach our own workshops for the students. Stage Combat, Improvisation, Musical Theatre, and Auditions were just some of the topics that we covered in our grad student led workshops.
In the session that I took, Jonathan Jones was our key professor. He was truly a great life raft, mentor, and such a wonderful professor throughout the process. He gave us grad students the support that we needed to feel confident enough to let our voices be heard when we had blocking ideas or suggestions for the students; however, he also gave us the right balance of guidance to help lead us to find new ideas and discover other methods of teaching.
Though there were many “ah ha!” moments for me during LFS, what meant the most was getting to work with other theatre educators. The summers are such a fun time at NYU because it is filled with students in the summer-only program (of which I am enrolled in). The summer-only students are a great mix of New York residents and other theatre teachers that come from all over the country. I hail from Georgia; there were several Floridians, a Michigander, and even someone from Canada! It’s so rewarding to meet other theatre teachers that “think like me”! Getting to learn different techniques, new games, and build a brand new support system of teachers that I can call friends made this summer such a great experience.
Of course, now that the summer is over and the school year has once yet begun, still I find myself going back to the huge stack of notes that I took during the LFS process and trying new techniques that I learned in my own classroom. I would not give up the LFS experience for anything in the world and would love to embark on it again!
By Robert Reid Goodson
As an educator, we are taught that we must reflect upon our work. Some scholars suggest that this process should be immediate, while others suggest we marinate on the work, then reflect. It wasn’t until recently with my prep work for Steel Magnolias that I began to reflect upon the 2013 Looking for Shakespeare Production of As You Like It. Yes, it’s been quite a few months since those June rehearsals and a lot has changed for all of us since then. But, for me, this reflection is necessary as I move forward in my own work as Managing Director for the Tift Theatre for the Performing Arts in Tifton, Georgia.
June 26, 2013, I along with seven other graduate students began the journey of Looking for Shakespeare accompanied by 23 students. Like sailors on a ship, our captain was the talented and revered Dr. Nan Smithner. As the days unfolded, actors cast, scheduled set, and rehearsals commenced, the words on the pages, yet again, began to dance into life. Our production was set between 1968 – 1972, in a very distinct moment in time when love and harmony were an unstoppable force.
Each day, exercises helped to build the confidence level of the cast. Not each day was perfect, and during some rehearsals tension was high, but through the grad students leadership, that journey persevered. We were blessed with original music, created by our own Natalie Mack, to embellish the portrayed story. Music rehearsals, scene work, fight choreography, dance choreography, costume fittings, staging, and run-throughs consumed our days for four weeks. But in the end, we did it. Our group created and breathed life into a run of As You Like It.
Throughout the process, friendships and rapport were established with the students. Hopes, goals and dreams were shared and memories were made in the Black Box. A very unique and diverse group of individuals came together for an unforgettable weekend run. Though it has been several months since this event happened, I rejoice in the fact that I was part of the magic of NYU. Were there things that I would have changed? Sure. But, isn’t that the point of reflection; to look back, examine, marinate and take note of the experience to enhance our educator tool box? I can say that I am a better artist because of the people I worked with. The students, reconfirmed, that I will first and foremost be an educator in any job I perform. For, they are the true reason; I am in the theatre arts profession. To my colleagues, thank you for sharing your talents with the students and with me. I certainly have some new tools to add to my bag of tricks. To Nan, where would our program be without you? You made the experience unforgettable and are always leading by example a high standard for theatre educators.
Many months have passed. But as I look back, I smile and treasure those short four weeks. We found Shakespeare and I have no doubt that this year’s summer production will find him too. Like Rosalind said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players: they have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts”. Which part will you play today as you reflect and continue upon your theatrical journey?
Each summer since 1999, a group of 15-25 young people from the New York City community participate in Looking for Shakespeare. High school students work with a director and graduate students from NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Educational Theatre to shape an original production of Shakespeare. The program was expanded to include students from across the country in 2009.
This summer, the 2014 production will be Twelfth Night staged as a musical vaudeville. Interested young people can apply at the LFS website and interested graduate students should register for MPAET:GE 2982 Directing Youth Theatre with Prof. Jonathan Jones
By Taylor Bernard
This summer, high school students from all five boroughs and around the country came together to see if they could find Shakespeare. A team of professionals and graduate students under the direction of Professor David Montgomery led this diverse group of young people on their journey.
The team helped the Youth Ensemble find ways to truly connect with Shakespeare’s words and characters. Not only did the ensemble manage to perform in a full production of Much Ado About Nothing, but they also had opportunities to explore the entire production process. The students worked to build and paint the set, created their own masks, and learned a great deal about dramaturgy as they worked to create a post-WWII atmosphere for the production.
One of the highlights of the course included a special screening of the film “Shakespeare High,” an award-winning documentary about a group of student-performers involved in the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California’s high school drama program that focuses its work on Shakespeare’s plays. The Looking for Shakespeare team also had a talk back with the film’s producer and actress Mare Winningham, who is one of the many famous alumni/ae of the DTASC program featured in the film.
I think if you asked anyone involved with the project whether or not we found him, I am positive the answer would be a resounding YES!
For more than a decade, high school students have come to NYU Steinhardt to work with a director and graduate students from NYU to shape an original production of Shakespeare. This program is unique in that the ensemble members will work with director and a dramaturg to discover how a Shakespearean play resonates for them, within their own personal experiences. Using these connections as a source and inspiration, rehearse and perform, with the other ensemble members, their own vision of the play. The production is supported by designers and stage managers and is documented by a video artist.