I am awash in a dream. I have spent this weekend with a gaggle of high school kids hooting, hissing, yelling, pounding fists in the air, leaping up, cheering and shouting at the top of their lungs. Sounds like I am at a basketball game, right? No, this is all happening here at Shakespeare & Company during the Fall Festival. Ten high schools from the area have descended and each perform one of 37 Shakespearian plays that they have been creating with directors in a residency program that started 9 weeks ago.
The atmosphere is electric, buzzy, the only thing I can compare it to is a religious revival or a sports event. The kids all sit together in the center, main floor section of the theater and the adults find space as they can in the balcony and side seats. This is not a place to perform your talents for grandma or mom and dad. The youth own this festival. They perform for each other, they support each other with enthusiasm that shakes the rafters. They scream horror at the violence (there is so much of that in Shakespeare), and go ballistic every time there is a kiss. They hiss at the evil characters, sing when appropriate and collectively go “awwwwww” at sappy moments. And what is even more phenomenal is that they do it all with complete respect. They jump to their feet in standing ovations in the middle of the shows, but are right back down again in silence, anxious to let the story continue. I have NEVER seen this kind of thing. It is a beautiful environment of support that is completely unique and here I am in the middle of it.
This is my idea of heaven and I am walking around with my head in the clouds and my heart on my face. Someone said yesterday that I was beautiful and glowing and I know it’s because I am experiencing an event that is changing humanity one kid at a time. That I get to participate is fulfilling a yearning that has been lying in wait ready to leap out of the shadows.
I was asked to lead a workshop with 13 middle school kids and their 5 chaperones in the midst of all this. They bussed here to see the shows and have a two-hour class with me. I was like Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods “excited and scared.” This was to be my first class of teaching kids over 12, using Shake & Co’s ethic and aesthetic. Pretty big chunk to bite off last-minute at this glorious weekend. I am so happy to report that it went very well! I was able to connect with them, teach, learn, grow, inspire, laugh and experience the joy of success.
I have a big desire to help girls in the continued battle against their disenfranchisement. I notice in the festival shows that many of the young women playing the “pretty girl” roles are so quiet you can hardly hear them. Women playing men give themselves more permission to be loud and take up space. But girls in the female roles are coy and inward and less sharing of their voices. Girls take to heart that to be alluring and desirable they need to be shy, sweet, beautiful and gentle and they lose their bold, big, natural voices. I so want to work with young women to help them to find their expansiveness and take up their space in this world. I have had to dig out of the mire of shame myself to realize my true humanity and equality. And what better way for girls to be given permission to be bold and big than to be on stage playing men (there’s a lot of cross-gender casting at the festival), and then to transfer that to their own lives so they can be that commanding, desirable and large in their own world. The same goes for giving guys the freedom to show their femininity. There is encouragement and acceptance in the festival to take risks and overcome judgment. It is part of the ethic and I see it being successfully played out on stage. It has been incredible what originality these kids are bringing to their roles this weekend. This is theater as it should be! Never, ever a dull moment.
I have heard over and over again from adults in the lobby that they wish they had grown up with a program like this and I wholeheartedly agree. I met an outgoing man in his 30’s that said that when he started the program years ago he was a shy, stuttering youth but the strong connections and support at the festival changed his life.
I am called to do this work. Leading my first workshop yesterday was incredibly powerful and greatly successful in that I was able share teaching moments and have fun at the same time. I am more confident now that I have a lot to share with kids and I am more than capable of doing so than I even thought. I am where I am supposed to be; I am making a difference; I have found my heart and home in this work. It may not be a physical home forever, I don’t know that piece of the puzzle yet, but this is where I am supposed to be today and for the next few weeks. I am finally on the right path, sharing the road with some incredible human beings and I shout out with Celia from As You Like It…
O, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful
wonderful and yet again wonderful, and after that out
of all whooping!