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03 August 2012

Careers with Riley Steiner

Riley Steiner and Hallie Cooper

            On Tuesday, the campers attended a lecture entitled “Careers,” given by ASC Theatre Camp director Riley Steiner and her daughter Hallie Cooper.  Because Session II of ASC Theatre Camp often includes older teenagers who are beginning to think about college, this lecture’s purpose was to help our young aspiring actors select a college program that is a right fit. At the start of the lecture, Steiner, currently a student of Mary Baldwin College’s MLitt program , stressed the need for higher education. She maintained that actors need to diversify not only by attaining an undergrad degree, but also by taking a variety of classes throughout adulthood.  She held that the more education a person has, the more they have to offer to the world, making an actor more employable.
            Steiner divided her lecture into two parts, beginning with college selection. Steiner explained the difference between the different types of degrees that institutions will offer, going over BA, BFA, and conservatory education. Steiner briefly, but pointedly, mentioned that there are certificate programs out there that will not offer a full degree. She held that the campers should always seek programs that offer an undergrad degree. With the exception of that statement, Steiner and Cooper did not favor one program or another, but instead assessed the strengths and weaknesses of each one without bias. Throughout the lecture, Steiner and Cooper both named universities with good programs in each kind of degree, both in the US and abroad. At this time, Sara Glancy and Emily MaCleod, both recent college graduates from theatre programs at NYU and Vassar respectively, briefly explained how their programs worked, what set them apart, and their own personal experiences within the program.
            The second part of Steiner’s lecture dealt with auditioning for admission into universities. Auditions are always a stressful topic, and Steiner and Cooper gave advice on broad matters, such as audition piece selection, as well as specifics such as audition clothes. The lecturers explained that the prepared songs and monologues have to represent who the auditioner is as a person. If the auditioner fails to reveal that heart, then he or she will not properly stand out against the backdrop of hundreds of other nearly-identical applicants. Thus, it is important to select a piece that is age appropriate, that is polished for performance, and that represents and markets the student’s talent.
            Steiner and Cooper then brought up the matter of resumes and headshots. They brought in examples of their own resumes, so that the campers could look at the format and see what information they included. Then the lecture evolved into a panel that judged what was a good or a bad headshot, using the past headshots of our lecturers. During this time, all present learned that the headshots need to be in color, that the headshot can’t be more beautiful than the performer really is, the background needs to help make the subject stand out, and that you have to be comfortable around and trust your photographer.  The most important part of the headshot is the eyes, so Hallie taught the campers a trick. Claiming that the eyes should stand out of the headshot no matter what, she suggested that an auditioner  should turn the headshot upside down. If the eyes still stand out, even when upside down, then it is a good headshot.
            Steiner and Cooper, both experienced performers, were full of great advice, tips, and tricks for our campers. I can honestly say that what they had said really stuck with the campers, since the afternoon after rehearsal I caught some of our female campers taking pictures of one another and commenting on whether or not it would be a good headshot. Steiner and Cooper addressed important issues and thoughtfully answered the questions of the campers. Because each actor has a different experience, our own counselors frequently chimed in with their own background (and occasional tales of woe). While the difficulties of the theatre business were in no way sugarcoated, Steiner and Cooper encouraged the campers to market their strengths and to keep educating themselves. Who knows? Perhaps the next James Keegan or Alli Glenzer is among us!

02 August 2012

Do What You Will: ASC Theatre Camp Talent Show

Karl Dickey and Liam Rowland 
             Once every session, the campers get a chance to showcase their diverse talents to their peers during an ASC Theatre Camp event called “What You Will .” As the name might suggest, the campers can perform whatever they feel personally accomplished at or want to do. What You Will is a break from our standard rehearsal schedule that allows the campers to perform a wide variety of pieces, some quirky, most hilarious, all engaging, to their fellow campers.
            While not every What You Will has MCs, Karl Dickey and Liam Rowland volunteered for the task as part of their talent. Clad in uniform dinner jackets and bowties, sporting sunglasses and fancy hats, this hysterical pair introduced each of the twenty-seven pieces put on during What You Will. Both Karl and Liam are talented musicians, so they frequently introduced their peers in song. For example, before Noël Grisanti and Maggie Doyle performed the famous unpinning scene from Shakespeare’s Othello, Liam and Karl threw out a couple jokes and performed the “Othello Rap” from the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Our MCs flew by the seat of their pants, providing hilarious, often improvised, introductions for their peers.
Hugh Raup "hypnotizes" Counselors into Contortion
            As previously mentioned in this blog, our campers this session are a particularly musical bunch, but it has never been so apparent as at What You Will. Be it performing original songs, covering well known favorites, or mashing up popular songs to create something new, our campers wowed us with their  creative, instrumental, and vocal prowess. In addition to musical abilities, many campers revealed their varied dance abilities. While we saw some magnificent traditional pieces, such as Caroline Cromwell’s ballet, some were refreshingly less conventional. Cyler Winnie did a modern robot dance fluidly, while Elise Ammondson did her own soft shoe/ hard shoe mashup Irish jig take on “Cotton-eye Joe.” Some of our campers decided to doff conventional talents in favor of physical feats. Hugh Raup decided to amaze his fellow campers by doing a series of contortions that culminated in the “hypnotization” of four counselors for a group number.
Carmen Paddock Performs a Monologue
            Some of the scenes that were being performed were original pieces written by our very own campers. Elizabeth Williams, Annalise Kiser, and Rachel Poulter-Martinez each wrote different pieces. Annalise chose to read her own work aloud while Elizabeth and Rachel  had given scenes to their peers and asked them to perform staged readings of them. Both Rachel and Elizabeth acted as directors for their scenes, and took the time before the show to gather props to bring them to life. In performance, the pieces were thoughtful, dramatic, and dark, and they well harnessed the talents of their peers. It was lovely to see this facet of our campers’ talents on display. It was interesting to see the fruits of the directorial positions that some of the campers took.
            The strong group energy that resonates during each camp activity has been remarkable. During many of the different musical pieces, the audience members would often chime in by clapping, snapping, or even stomping to the beat. Always respectful of the onstage performer, they got involved only they were encouraged to, always adding to and not detracting from the piece. This sense of group camaraderie was particularly tangible during Hugh Raup’s performance of “Mariner’s Revenge” by The Decembrists. He sang it with no instrumental accompaniment, so, taking the lead of counselor Dan Stevens, the campers beat out a percussive line to add to the song.
What You Will has consistently been a lovely night where all of the members of camp get together to watch and support each other’s abilities. What You Will is voluntary, so everyone who performed wanted to showcase and share their accomplishments with the camp. It is a beautiful evening of support, humor, creativity, and appreciation, and it demonstrates what a large pool of talent our directors at their disposal to incorporate into our upcoming productions. Though What You Will was a private, camp-only event, our performances of Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI and Much Ado About Nothing as well as Beaumont and Fletcher's A King and No King premier on Sunday, August 5th for a free and open to the public one day event. Please join us to see more of what our talented campers can do!
 --Madeleine M. Oulevey

30 July 2012

Clown class with Dan Kennedy

“Hello, my name is Danny, and I am a clown.” That’s how our clowning class began. Every camper walked across the space in total neutrality and sat in the chair, looked at everyone, said that one line, and walked off stage. Dan Kennedy, a long time ASC actor and experienced clown, started the class by saying that “the hardest thing you’ll ever be asked to do onstage is nothing.” The campers began by attempting to show nothing, and even though everyone was trying hard to remain neutral, their personalities showed through anyways -- personalities that we would exaggerate and expand as the class went on.

To shake things up, next we did a bunch of fast theater games -- keeping a ball in the air, bippity-bippity-bop, woosh-woah-zap, and then a game of silent redlight-greenlight. As they played, the campers and Dan together looked at the comedy in the games. When the redlight greenlight game started to lose energy, he shook it up and turned it into “oscar variety” red-light green light and set up a scenario of a flock of girls running to meet a particularly handsome man, but not wanting him to know of their attempts to get close to him. The running and stopping of red-light greenlight became a game of posing, of sudden changes of attitude. One girl would be running for all she was worth one second and the next second she would have frozen - effortlessly arranging her hair when the guy was turned to see her. Dan threw in lots of obstacles for the kids. One time when they guys were the ones racing, they needed to “look sexy” when the lady turned their way, but since they had been running the moment before they were not necessarily in a good position to make that work, they had to find a way to “deal with the problem” they’d created for themselves. These campers had to make strong choices. Specific choices. Big choices. Clowns are made of big choices. And so we zipped to the next exercise.

FUNNY WALKS. This clown routine is one all about imitation and exaggeration. The campers paired up and then followed their partners around, imitating any quirks or personality exaggerating the idiosyncrasies to the point of absurdity. Then all the funny walks paraded around, and though they were crazy, the walkers strode with absolute seriousness. We learned about poker faces and how serious presentations can be much funnier than goofy acts. Then we traveled on to playing with props.

The campers divided into groups, and Dan gave each group a bunch of props with the instruction to use the prop to tell as many different stories as possible, without using any words. So suddenly a pasta strainer became a hat and a magnifying glass and butterfly net and land mine and dozen other things. Flip flops became a defibrillator, then the flip flops became the ears of a baby elephant (with a pool noodle trunk and a laundry basket body); the laundry basket became a boat and the boat became an umbrella, and an umbrella became the head of a rattlesnake made of all the campers in the group with a tambourine for its rattle at the tail. Creativity poured right out of these kids, and it led us right into our last exercise.

Dan divided them into groups of three, and those groups each had to make up a scene, without any words, with this scenario: A couple is at a restaurant. A waiter is annoying. A proposal occurs. What makes it a clown scene? How high the stakes are can make it a clown scene.  Are the couple a little bit in love? Or madly, wildly, passionately in love? Is the waiter a little annoying or annoying beyond comprehension and belief? Is it McDonalds or a five star cuisine with 7 courses? They made the scenes in 4 minutes flat, and every one had us in stitches.

Comedy. It’s serious business.

27 July 2012

Elizabethan Dance with Jeremy West

What do a a group of 18 teenagers do on a Wednesday morning at this camp? They gather in a great open space, walled by huge windows which pour in the sunlight, and they learn four hundred year old dance moves. Jeremy West, a favorite teacher in this camp, and this session’s director of Henry VI, Part One, usually teaches stage combat, but session he teaches these campers dancing as well. The two disciplines have a great deal in common. Both consist of choreographed movement on stage following a series of set moves, and both require careful teamwork, but there the similarities end. 

Jeremy told the campers that he’d be teaching them a jig, and he asked if anyone knew anything about jigs. In Shakespeare we know of jigs as court dances, but also as the dance that actors would perform at the end of plays. Today they have rather different cultural place. Most of the campers mentioned them as “pub dances” or “sort of Irish-y.” Elise, one camper who Irish dances competitively, shared the names and types of all the jigs in contemporary Irish Dance, and (when we begged her) she demonstrated these dances as well.

Which brought us to learning our own Elizabethan dance from Jeremy. Listening to a Renaissance consort’s formal but upbeat music, we watched and learned from Jeremy’s easy grace and confidence. In this dance, and in many Elizabethan dances, the moves are not difficult; most of them are simply ordered steps, claps or holding one’s hands in a particular shape. But it’s not about the difficulty of a particular move -- It’s about style.  As Jeremy says, “It’s about having the chutzpah to say, ‘I look awesome when I do this move.’” So the campers practiced their moves. Some campers have extensive backgrounds in dance, and at first it was easy to pick out the trained dancers. They were the ones who held their backs straight and upright. They looked directly at their partners. They were specific in the details of each move, pointing their toes or aware of the shape of their hands. But as the workshop went on and everyone practiced more and switched partners again and again, the less experienced dancers learned from the more experienced ones. At one point Justin (a camper regularly teaching other campers to swing dance) danced with Liam, a camper with a casual careless physicality. As they danced, Justin took on some of Liam’s swagger and Liam became much more precise and clear in his movements, and they were both loving every bit of it. Everywhere you looked you could see campers helping each other, and by the end, the whole group moved in striking unison, and I couldn’t remember who had looked like experienced dancers and who didn’t. It was such a pleasure to watch. 

24 July 2012

Dab, Slash, Flick: Laban Movement with Patrick Earl

“Movement, to me, is integral as an actor is concerned,” stated Patrick Earl at the beginning of his Laban workshop. Appropriately, movement education makes up a significant part of the ASC Theatre Camp’s agenda. But prior to Patrick’s workshop, Laban was foreign to many of the campers. All week, returning campers were able to answer the frequent question, “Wait, what is Laban exactly?” with a promise that Laban is transformative in how it helps an actor move and speak. Laban Movement Analysis is separated into three categories: time, weight of the movement, and the way you move through space. Time pertains to how quickly the movement occurs, the weight refers to the strength behind the action, and Laban defines manner in eight effort actions: press, punch, dab, flick, slash, wring, float, and glide.

Patrick began by having the campers walk and explore the space in a natural, personal manner. Then he introduced the first effort action, asking the campers to “float” without direction. As the campers floated listlessly around the room, he called out numbers that indicated pace, 1 being the most subdued float and 10 being the most heightened float. Eventually he asked the campers to add purpose and direction to their floats, changing the action completely. Through these alterations, the campers discovered the diversity of a simple float. Patrick proceeded to take the campers through the rest of the eight effort actions, constantly changing the intensity and speed on the 1-10 scale while adding and removing direction. During each new action, he’d ask the campers which Shakespeare character they would associate with the action. For example, the “flick” motion brings to mind Ariel or Puck, while the “wring” motion conjures Richard III.

Throughout the exercise, Patrick prompted the campers to think about how their bodies were making these motions and to be aware of what their bodies’ centers were doing at all times. Randomly he would call for a switch from whatever movement they were doing to their normal gaits, saying “Shake it off! Back to you.” By the end of the cycle, the campers were familiar with the general Laban structure and were ready to apply it to text.

Patrick explained that while Laban obviously aids the actor with his or her physical choices when forming a character, it can also be applied to vocal choices as well. To illustrate this, Patrick asked the campers chose between two short monologues, one being Romeo’s proclamation that banishment is worse than death, and the other Juliet’s plea to her mother to break her engagement to Paris. The campers walked around the room and read their monologues eight times, each time reading in the style of one of the eight different effort actions. This way they could see which parts of the monologue fit well with certain actions. The campers then chose four to five of the actions and incorporated these actions vocally into their text. For example, Romeo may start out with a slash, then move into a punch, a dab, a wring, and end with a glide.

Once the campers developed their monologues, they performed them individually for the group. Every camper had made completely different choices for where they applied actions. When a camper’s actions were too vague, Patrick asked him or her to do the physical action while reading, to remind the camper of the actions’ distinctiveness. With the physical action in mind, the camper would perform the monologue again with more success, winning applause from the group. The end product was eighteen incredibly specific monologues that offered wide range of interpretations of these two texts. Patrick provided the campers with a wonderful toolbox of actions to help inspire them when forming onstage personas.
--Emma Lo

The Lion in Winter and The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Going to see the plays at the Blackfriars Playhouse is one of the biggest perks of ASC Theatre Camp. Friday night, we found all the campers no longer in movement clothes and T-shirts, but decked out in seersucker and peacock prints. Bowties, vests, heels, and lace abounded, and as we waited by the Playhouse for the go-ahead from the Box Office staff, cameras flashed and Madeline, one of our camp alums who happened to attend Friday’s performance, received dozens of hugs from returning campers, everyone was giddy with excitement to see the show.

And what a show. We saw The Lion in Winter on Friday night, a show full of passion and history (both political and familial). As always, it is a pleasure to see these young artists so enraptured by the work of the ASC actors, actors they’ve been studying with all week in their workshops. A first year camper, Maggie, burst out, “I didn’t know I was studying with gods!” Since these campers already know and love so many of the actors, when those actors’ characters have anything sad to say, they receive from our enthusiastic section front and center of the theater a chorus of sympathetic “oooh!”s. At intermission, I overheard campers trying to figure out if, at any point, the characters were telling the truth. The characters in this drama layer deceits on deceits, and just when you think you’ve figured out who wants what from whom, you find you’re wrong. But however complex the windings of the plot, Lion’s dialogue is smart and quotable; since watching this show, the campers have been throwing around phrases such as, “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It's 1183 and we're barbarians!” or “I never cease to marvel at the quickness of your mind” or “Hush dear, mother's fighting” or “You stink. You’re a stinker and you stink” -- all in good natured fun.

Saturday night we all returned to the theater to see The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This was a whole different experience because now we got to see the whole troupe performing, and we got to watch the actors working with Shakespeare’s text. Watching the campers is a real treat, as I see them drinking it all in, eyes wide, minds open, learning by seeing professionals at work. Though work seems like too strong a phrase. The campers clap and sing along to the pre-show and interlude songs, and they contemplate the subtleties of iambic pentameter while eating gummy bears. And after the show, conversations exploded about Shakespeare’s problematic ending, about the themes (friendship? what makes up one’s self? serving and service? loyalty?) or about the performance choices. These conversations continued back to the dorm, to the gelato shop, even into brunch and to the day on the lake the next day.

23 July 2012

It's "Something Fantastic" to Collaborate with Bob Jones

Camp Director Symmonie Preston teasingly titled Bob Jones’ second lecture “Something Fantastic,” and of course he did not disappoint. This time, Bob focused on the concept of collaboration and the importance of collaboration in the playwriting process. The three plays that the campers will perform on August 5th were written using some form of collaboration, and this lecture served as a valuable enhancement to the campers’ understanding of the productions they’re working on. All three were written during England’s “huge thrust” for new plays. This era of popular demand called for single companies to putt on ten to twenty plays a month. This output rate surpassed the ability of a single playwright, whose writing hours were truncated by the sunrise and sunset. Therefore, collaborating with other playwrights and various sources helped to increase output immensely. Collaboration as a concept is fairly simple but occurs in many forms and places. Bob asked the campers to brainstorm in helping him to compile several lists.

Different modes of collaboration between playwrights:
1) Simultaneous partnered collaboration – when two or more playwrights write a play by constantly exchanging ideas so that each scene is the product of multiple authors.

2) Plot and dialogue – when one playwright would come up with the concept for the play and write the basic plott or platt and the other playwright would then write the dialogue for specific scenes.

3) Scene by scene collaboration – when once the plot is agreed upon, two or more playwrights alternate the scenes they write.

Scholars speculate that Beaumont and Fletcher wrote A King and No King in a mixture of the second and third mode. Fletcher wrote the plot and a few scenes, while Beaumont wrote the majority of the dialogue. But these three modes only cover collaboration between playwrights, when there are many more abstract sources of collaborations that a playwright would make use of.

1) Actors – playwrights would base characters off of the actors that would be performing the play
2) Classical Sources – allusions to Greek mythology
3) Historical chronicles
4) Poems/ballads
5) Travelogues – descriptions of foreign lands
6) Stock characters from old plays
7) Recent and current plays – Shakespeare drew from plays running concurrently with his own, and even drew from his other plays, reusing scenarios and certain lines.

After compiling this list of resources for collaboration, Bob presented the campers with the ultimate challenge: to write a nine scene play collaborating with each other and drawing from A King and No King, Henry VI Part I, and Much Ado about Nothing as source texts. The campers started by outlining the main action for each scene. Then they broke into groups of four to write each scene, where they defined the motivations behind the main action. Once the campers wrote their scenes, each group exchanged and edited a different group’s scene. By modifying this new scene to support their authored scene, the campers used this step to make the play more cohesive.

In the end, the play was a hilarious mash-up featuring the protagonists Beadick and Benetrice (a jumble of Much Ado’s Beatrice and Benedick). A King and No King’s clown Bessus joined Much Ado’s Dogberry to wage a war against France led by Don Talbot (fusion of Much Ado’s Don John and Henry’s John Talbot). Much Ado’s Hero acted as a Mulan-type by disguising herself as a man and running off to fight in the war. Not all of the scenes connected well, and there were plenty of character inconsistencies, but the campers learned that those are two side effects of scene-by-scene collaboration. Although the groups weren’t technically supposed to communicate with one another, somehow a random dancing Spaniard appeared in every scene, creating suspicion that some conversation had occurred. This exercise not only taught the campers the struggles and benefits of collaboration and gave them a chance to hone their playwriting skills, but the cold reading of the play also brought campers near to tears from laughing so hard . Everyone could agree that with the guidance of Bob they had indeed created “Something Fantastic”.
--Emma Lo

20 July 2012

They came singing...

Every year the music in ASC Theatre Camp is a treat, but I must say that this session is especially full of strong musicians eager to play and sing together. The campers all came to make theater together, but many of the campers this year came to make music as well. From the first day these campers arrived, already the lounges were full of songs mashed up together, songs they were sharing and learning and teaching to each other. 
In their auditions, they sang together in groups, many of them singing with people they’d only just met, learning a song fresh and new to them all. Emma has already written beautifully about the first workshop with Greg Phelps, but I thought I’d add in a bit from my own experience playing music along with the campers in the workshop. When Greg gave everyone a five minute break, rather than hanging around chatting, a group of the campers started pulling out their instruments and making up a song all on their own, in anticipation of creating a song all together. As the workshop progressed and the instrumentalists and the vocalists worked on different parts of the process, they’d take turns, stopping to listen to each other, and would inevitably freak out about how the music comes together. “That harmony is flippin sweet!” they’d say, or, “Yeah, trumpet!” or just burst out with, “It’s so good!” These adolescents know how to give and take in a creative setting, and by working together, they create an artistic whole much larger than the sum of its parts. 
But lest you think this exuberance and talent for music is only in workshops and free time, please know it comes into the rehearsals as well. Stopping in for a rehearsal of Much Ado about Nothing, the whole cast and artistic team for that show gathered together to brainstorm ideas for the various moments of music in that play. Someone suggested that they play “I need a Hero” for the dance, and immediately one Sarah, one of the campers said, “oh, I can play that on my uke, but I don’t have it with me.” Laura, our Dogberry chirped in with “you can borrow mine, I’ve got it with me,” and in no time Sarah performed her rendition of the song, and though I don’t know what choices they will eventually make, that ukulele rendition of the song went straight to the heart of the cast, and everyone applauded her skills. 
The campers do not make all the music of this camp. Several of the counselors have studied music in college, and the lullabies to the campers this session are particularly sweet. Zach, one of the counselors, is a prodigious guitarist (you can see his videos here), and two nights ago instead of regular lullabies he played an original work for the campers before they went to bed.
In addition to all of this, the Heifetz International Music Institute is sharing our campus with us this summer. Tonight some of us will attend a faculty recital of some of the most respected string teachers in the world. I know it will be a unique experience, as campers don’t usually go listen to Dvorak or Brahms when they’re at summer camp, but I am excited for the opportunity, and I know the kids who go will love it. Whatever it is that makes music important to us as people, I know that the love and camaraderie it builds is a big part. There may be more skilled or trained musicians in Staunton this summer, but I think you might be hard pressed to find anyone who loves making music more than the people in this camp.

19 July 2012

Box-kicking with Bob Jones

Bob Jones, known around ASC Theatre Camp as a favorite lecturer for his wealth of wisdom, discussed the differences between voice and prose at his lecture on Wednesday.

Verse is a form of writing with a metrical rhythm and strict rules (which many writers, including Shakespeare, do not always follow precisely). Because of its beat-like flow, verse is generally much easier for the actor to memorize and also for the audience to remember. In Shakespeare’s day at a live, crowded theater like the Blackfriars Playhouse, some audience members would have trouble hearing all of what the actors were saying. The structure of verse emphasizes the most important words as stressed syllables, so even if only the stressed syllables are heard, the audience member would have a good grasp of what the actor was trying to communicate. For example, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” line without the unstressed syllables would read “be not be is quest”. Bob pointed out that those words alone are the meat of Hamlet’s entire speech, and essentially of the entire play.

To help the campers understand verse more fully, Bob got them on their feet for a physical exercise. First, he assigned every camper a line from a scene between Claudio and Don Pedro from Much Ado about Nothing. Bob instructed them to use scansion to determine which syllables were stressed and unstressed. “Now gallop your line!” Bob announced. Each camper tapped out the line according to the stressed and unstressed syllables. The campers with more irregular lines tripped a little on the way, but Bob helped everyone produce an accurate gallop by the end. Here are several examples Bob provided of regularities and irregularities in Shakespeare’s verse:

˅        /     ˅    /    ˅    /     ˅   /     ˅      /
Give not this rotten orange to your friend

This is an example of a regular verse line. It has ten syllables that alternate stressed and unstressed and it begins on an unstressed syllable.

˅   /   ˅    /   ˅   /    ˅     /   ˅     /     ˅
To be or not to be that is the question

You’ll notice that this line has an extra, unstressed syllable at its end, which is referred to as a “feminine ending”.

 /        /   ˅      /      ˅     ˅        /       /      /    ˅      / 
Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!

Here Shakespeare breaks all the rules of verse, using several “spondees,” or feet where both of the syllables are stressed. This irregularity in verse would catch the audience’s attention. In this case, the excess of stressed syllables make the line sound more powerful and reinforce the line’s meaning – but, you can see how this line would be difficult to gallop.

In contrast to verse, prose sounds much like how people converse today and has no complex stressed and unstressed structure. A King and No King, one of the three plays in Session 2, is written mostly in prose . While looking at an excerpt of text from this play, the campers noted that there are more punctuation marks, caesuras, and meter shifts than there typically are in Shakespeare’s text. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher wrote A King and No King during a period when the vogue in writing was moving from verse towards prose, and this play contributed to that transition. Here is an excerpt that when read aloud, sounds like every day speech. Bob noted that Shakespeare never ended a sentence after two syllables into a line, as Beaumont and Fletcher have done here with “So long.”

Bessus, go you along too with her. –I will prove
All this that I have said, if I may live
So long. But I am desperately sick,

After his overview of verse and prose, Bob covered the importance of the last word in a line. While the stressed syllables are more important that the unstressed, the last word in a line is the most important out of all of them. Bob brought out three mysterious white boxes and instructed the campers to choose a small section of their own lines to work on. Then he told them to recite their chosen text by walking during the line and turning abruptly on the last word before beginning the next line. When the campers had perfected their sharp turns, Bob added in the boxes. Now the campers gave the boxes a swift kick on the last word, an even more forceful movement than the turn. This exercise made the campers extremely conscious of putting emphasis on the final word. Bob explained that physicalizing this emphasis helps you to get vocal ideas, and can help you to give phrases weight. At the end of the lecture, Bob opened the white boxes to reveal that a Complete Works of Shakespeare had been hiding in each! The campers laughingly bemoaned the fact that they’d been abusing their idol for the last hour.

The campers left Bob’s lecture with more comprehensive understanding of how Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Fletcher use verse and prose and of their purposeful switches between both throughout the plays. One of the most difficult challenges in performing Shakespeare and his contemporaries is deciphering the playwright’s intent that is hidden within the structure and then actually executing the iambic pentameter. Thanks to Bob, the campers are now prepared to attack their plays, galloping and kicking their way through tongue-tripping text.
--Emma  Lo

18 July 2012

Music as Human Nature: Workshop with Greg Phelps

Greg Phelps began his Music Workshop with a nearly unanswerable question, “Why is there music?” But after pondering for a minute or two, the ASC Theatre Campers were full of answers for him. Campers began to list purposes for music, suggesting that music is way to express emotions and a way for humans to master the sounds they hear.

The conversation took on a free form, and Greg introduced other questions , such as “What is silence?” which had the campers debating the existence of silence altogether. Session 2 differs from Session 1 in many ways, and the difference in assertiveness and leadership was evident today. These older campers turned the “masterclass” into more of a seminar, where the class began to drive the conversation with their inquiries and inventive ideas. One camper mused that we as humans are both master and servant to noises, in that we have a natural inclination to control and organize these sounds, but also must use them for creation. Another pointed out that not only is music a way to express personal emotions, but it is a way to inspire emotion in others. An example a camper came up with is that in a movie, the soundtrack serves as a cue to the audience for what mood a scene is in.

Greg reinforced all the ideas that the campers brought up, offering support with anecdotes and related information. The general conclusion was that music is tied to the human race’s ability and will to create. Greg explained that “we’re still animals, but we can create. Birds know how to mimic other sounds, but to take ‘part a’ and ‘part q’ and put them together, that’s solely human. Nothing else does that. It sets us apart.”

The campers discovered that another singularly human aspect of music is its communal nature. Music brings people together so they can share a moment of collective emotion, sometimes simply just to have a good time. One camper pointed out that everyone has participated in a loud, rousing chorus of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” at one point or another. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the words or if you’re completely tone deaf: There is something about singing in a large group of people that ties to the human need to belong and be accepted by fellow humans.

As the campers continued to explore these inventive theories for over an hour, Greg finally had to put a halt on Music Philosophy 101 so that the campers could unpack their instruments, warm up their voices, and start composing. Out of sea of black cases came a mandolin, many guitars, a bass, an Irish hand drum, two violins, and a trumpet. The campers received a variety of lyrics from different Shakespeare plays to choose from, and this group selected “O Mistress Mine” from Twelfth Night to set to music. The room divided between singers and instrumentalists. Greg acted as a communicator between the two groups so that their independent work would match up when put together. First, the musicians came up with a basic chord progression which the singers then built a melody around. After establishing the basic structure, the piece blossomed with the addition of harmonies, embellishments, and instrumental solos. The group was lucky to have counselor and music major, Zach Fichter, along with dramaturg and violinist Clara Giebel to assist with the composition. In the end, the campers’ rendition of “O Mistress Mine” sounded professional, thanks to the talent of this group and Greg’s wonderful guidance. ASC Theatre Camp will most likely use the song for their pre-show.

Throughout the entire workshop, the campers had to actively say “yes” to the ideas of their peers in order to make this collaborative process happen. You’ll notice that this is a recurring theme that pops up in just about everything we do at this camp! The song would not have been nearly as complex or interesting without the positive reinforcement that the campers displayed. To emphasize the importance of positivity, Greg asked everyone to put their hands in middle and yell an enthusiastic “YES” to finish off the workshop. As the campers filed out of the room to head off to lunch, each was humming proudly the melody of their newly composed song.
--Emma Lo