For the past five weeks Shakespeare has not just been something you study in school, but a way of life for Ariel Lelito, Derek Schultz, Chloe Fisher, Kathleen Denecke, Maxi Miller, Kathleen Kearns and Maria Held.
These seven high school students have been participating in Shakespearience, Shakespeare in Delaware Park's high school apprenticeship program, taking classes about all aspects of theater, as well as getting hands-on experience working on a professional production of "All's Well That Ends Well."
By being part of the Shakespearience program, Derek, 16, a student at Clarence High School has learned that "Shakespeare is something that must be performed, not just read."
Every year the Shakespearience program puts out a call to area schools looking for hardworking students who appreciate Shakespeare. Applicants are brought in for an interview and an audition where they read or perform a Shakespeare piece. "The kids are just as important as the actors in the show," says Susan Drozd, Shakespeare in Delaware Park office manager. The professional theater production depends on Shakespearience students to help backstage as well as play extras in every performance.
The students take classes from 1:30 to 4:30 every day, studying speech, movement, acting, and voice as well as Shakespearean language and text. Once a week theater professionals from the area teach a "Master Class" in specialized theater trades including costume, lighting, combat and tech. The students also prepare for a performance, which takes place one evening before the show. Students in the first session of Shakespearience performed an abridged version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Following their daytime classes, the students report to Delaware Park where they are responsible for "preshow prep" setting up the speakers, microphones, lights, sweeping the stage, setting props, doing costume checks and assisting the other actors before the show begins. The students then get into their own costumes and hand out programs. During the show they open and close doors for entrances and exits and do set changes between scenes. When the show ends, the students must tear down and lock up before they're done for the night.
Most of the students are active in theater at school. They agreed that they gained valuable experience from Shakespearience. "It's not just like a summer camp... it's real," said Kathleen Denecke, 15, who goes to Hamburg High School. Maria Held, 18, who just graduated from St. Mary's High School, plans to study theater at Niagara University in the fall and says that "the experience has been great."
The students also agreed that their favorite parts of the program were doing the intern show, the master classes (they especially loved learning about costumes with costume designer Ken Shaw) and working with their teacher Kate LoConti, who was "like a co-worker" and helped them to incorporate their own ideas into their version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"Kate was an amazing teacher" said Kathleen Kearns, 16, who also attends Hamburg High School. All the students expressed gratitude toward LoConti for teaching them theater exercises that professional actors use to prepare for performances and how to incorporate Shakespearean text into movement.
Performing on the stage in Delaware Park is very different than performing in any other venue in Buffalo. The stage is outside and has many different levels to move around on and a lot of space to work with. There is usually little or no scenery. "You really have to use your imagination," says Maxi Miller, 17, a student at Nichols. "You have to be environmentally aware," says Kathleen Kearns "and watch for bad weather." Shakespeare in Delaware Park always has the potential to be canceled because of the weather.
As it is with every live show, there are always mistakes and obstacles to get around, such as half-inch hail that threatens to damage expensive equipment. "Crazy stuff happens," says Kathleen Kearns. "But if you let it affect you it affects the whole show."
Sophie Friedman will be a junior at City Honors.
"Othello," the second production of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, runs from Thursday to Aug. 19. Shakespeare in Delaware Park performances are held every evening (except Mondays) at 7:30 p.m. Shows take place on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park, off Lincoln Parkway near the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The show is free, but donations are encouraged. For more information go to: www.shakespeareindelawarepark.org or call 856-4533.