By: Lizzie Hopley/AFTLS & Mrs. Heather Lacher/Instructional Paraprofessional
Actors From the London Stage workshop of The Taming of the Shrew
“Your whole life is a canvas! And you are the paintbrush!”
“Where’s that quote from?” I ask.
“Me!” Comes the exuberant reply.
It’s by far the best response I’ve had to the exercise I’m currently doing with students from Ocean Academy. The exercise is character-based and part of the rehearsal room experience that the Actors From the London Stage, the company I’m working with (touring workshops state to state in the US with our production of The Taming of the Shrew) like to share:
You imagine yourself covered in paint in front of a giant piece of blank paper, then you draw with the body on the page, leaving one part of you connected. Then you freeze and start walking, led by that particular part of your body, noticing how it has changed you physically and how that makes you feel. I’ve never been in a room with such diverse responses:
“I feel old.”
“I feel pregnant.”
“I’ve got paint everywhere!”
We start our 90 minutes off with a simple word-action game. Everyone states their name and a favorite word, teaching a corresponding action to the group. It is an effective way of meeting all the different minds in the group and how we might work together. Then it’s a physical and vocal warm-up. We are about to work together as a group of actors after all.
AFTLS stage have travelled to three states and three universities on our tour so far. This is the most prepared a group has been for the play and there has been some serious ground work done before I’ve arrived. Everyone has a solid grasp of the plot, characters and themes. Many students are on top of the iambic pentameter and read Shakespeare beautifully. This is all the more impressive as The Taming of the Shrew is not an easy ride. It is a multi-layered and controversial beast, especially in this day and age. Is this a misogynist play or a play about misogyny?
Right from the off there are two topics off discussion in the room: the fact that Katrina is a feminist and the problem that Petruchio is a bully but likeable. In 2 weeks, AFTLS are to visit the Shakespeare Conference in LA where these issues will be debated and dissected in detail. I am playing Kate in our production and I still haven’t got to the bottom of it all. There is no time wasted at Ocean Academy on either issue:
“Petruchio wins coz he’s a man,” comes one suggestion. Quickly followed by: “I’m only joking,” after a stern look from one of our fiercest Katherinas.
“She only says what she does for an easy life,” is one response to the infamous final speech. But this is quickly met by:
“Yes and no. She says it but does she mean it?” This from one student who has already concluded that Petruchio wins his first match with Kate purely by continuing to engage her in conversation. A beautiful deduction and so often missed.
The support in the room from the staff is fantastic. Students take a break when they need to and return for more. There is a steady flow of individuals willing to be brave and try both the physical games and text-based study. At one point, we have a selection of students transforming from bullies to victims over a 5-beat count, providing one of the most physical and visceral moments of our morning.
I leave after a too-fast 90 minutes, having been met with one of the most engaged and thought-provoking response to our workshops so far. The students are coming to see me on Friday in the play – it will be a pleasure and a privilege. And, as Katherina, I’d better be on top of my game!
The High school students at Ocean Academy have been studying the play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare in English class. The Taming of The Shrew is a play about a romantic comedy breaking the spirit of strong women. The play focuses on the romantic relationships between men and women as they develop from initial interest into marriage. On Friday the students had the privilege to see the play at the Count Basie Theater, performed by actors from the London Stage. The theater company is now based in London and at the University of Notre Dame. The artists from the theater company not only perform but they also devote a large part of their time to lectures, workshops, seminars, and informal meetings with students. The students at Ocean Academy did have an opportunity to meet one of the Actors at our school prior to the play. The students enjoyed the experience and were able to see the play and the characters in a different perspective.