Young thespians become Bard buffs

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 6/6/17

When Consuelo Aduviso Brennan came on board to help a homeschool group present a Shakespeare play five years ago, her main goal was to ensure that the young students learned to love rather than dread …

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Young thespians become Bard buffs

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When Consuelo Aduviso Brennan came on board to help a homeschool group present a Shakespeare play five years ago, her main goal was to ensure that the young students learned to love rather than dread the English playwright.

Her goal has been met, and perhaps, surpassed. The Olympic Peninsula HomeConnection (OPHC) students – who are putting on their fifth Shakespeare play, “Richard III,” over the next two weeks – say they don’t want to perform any plays other than those penned by the Bard.

“They really want Shakespeare,” said Brennan, a codirector of the annual productions, and a local theater coach and actor who most recently appeared in Key City Public Theatre’s “Spirit of the Yule.”

She has suggested other playwrights, but the students told her, “There wasn’t a point if they didn’t get to do Shakespeare.”

“We have a bunch of budding Shakespeare scholars, and when I think about it, I kind of tear up,” said Brennan. “Knowing that they love the thing that I love is so rewarding to me.”

WEAPONS AND WORDS

The students, who this year are ranging in ages from 9 to 14, had been performing comedies (“Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Comedy of Errors”) before being introduced to their first tragedy, “Macbeth,” in 2015.

“And they decided that they absolutely loved all the fighting in it,” said Brennan.

The fighting continues with “Richard III,” and the kids have been coming to rehearsals with enthusiasm and combat choreography ideas – which are amended, of course, for safety.

Emphasis is placed on learning Shakespeare’s language; the scripts the students use are not adapted, but edited – for brevity. “We follow the script as much as possible,” Brennan said.

She has the students start by reading the scripts and circling unfamiliar words. “[I] explain to them in a more simplistic form what that word means vocabulary-wise,” she said. They practice pronouncing those words, work on clear speech and diction, and analyze the script, talking about rhythm and iambic pentameter.

“These kids are all pretty strong in their language skills, in reading and writing,” she said, “and they love the complex language.”

A benefit of helping the students understand the language is that it makes it more immediate and understandable to audience members. “If they can make the language accessible to everybody else, that’s huge,” Brennan said.

“It’s a completely fresh take on [Shakespeare],” said Brennan’s codirector, Franco Bertucci, who also is lead on the music and set design. “They don’t have some opinion about what it’s supposed to be; they’re just trying to figure out what it means.”

WHO AM I?

Before the students start rehearsing, Brennan and Bertucci take them through an array of acting exercises.

“We just get used to working with each other,” said Bertucci, noting that the emphasis is on “having a lot of fun.”

They choose animals that best match their character’s characteristics, and play status games, asking, “Who’s the highest-ranking person?” for the play as a whole and also in each individual scenes. (“They gauge themselves,” said Brennan.)

And they question: “What do other characters say about my character? What do I say about my character? What do I say about other characters?”

“A lot of it is play,” said Brennan. The students also have been curious about the historical events around which the plot is based.

“They’re really, really diligent; they’re super talented and they have so much imagination.”

Bertucci has two daughters in the play, and he said both have become keen for Shakespeare. His eldest, 11-year-old Filomena, “really got into it,” he said. She’s taken his copy of the “Complete Works of Shakespeare” up to her bedroom to read. His younger daughter, Nola, age 9, has been watching the plays for the past couple of years, and has been inspired to read Shakespeare adaptations. “She’s having a great time,” Bertucci said of her first year in a show.

ON TOUR

The group is performing the play in Chimacum and Quilcene, and also in Joyce at Crescent School, which runs the main OPHC program.

“We tour the full production,” said Brennan.

The cast includes students Jack Hatfield, Kai Campbell, Owen Hatfield, Hunter James, Melody Douglas, Pascale Sanok, Victoria Brass, August Maberry, Ariel Nieman, TJ Brass, Auden Darrock, Filomena Bertucci, Peter Sanok, Nola Bertucci, Gretel Maberry, Clara Dale and Hayden Montgomery.

Bertucci, who is a member of the bands Locust Street Taxi and The Village Idiots, also teaches music classics for OPHC, composes music and arranges pieces for the show, which this year are performed by musicians Zac Ferens, Maria Powell and Rowan Powell.

The play is produced by Carla Powell, with help from parent volunteers and supporters. “It’s such a tight-knit group,” said Brennan.

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