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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

being proven wrong

DREAM is the 109th project I’ve directed. But it is the first time I’ve tackled Shakespeare’s language. I’ve wanted to. I’ve created modern day versions of Shakespearean stories several times… but, until now, I never aimed our company to tackle the Bard himself.

Why? Because despite how many ways I should know better, I thought, like every other adult I know, that teen actors couldn’t make good theater out of Shakespeare. That the language would defeat them; they would just look stiff and ill at ease, and as for them enjoying doing Shakespeare.. well, the odds were heavily against that. Shakespeare, the thinking goes, is like olives or wine.. an acquired taste, and one rarely acquired until adulthood. Sometimes not even then. Teens and Shakespeare? A losing combo. This has been my thinking and I’m one of the most outspoken champions for teens and their capacities that you’re likely to come across. Which I think demonstrates how deep prejudices run.

Tonight this young company will once again prove my original prejudices wrong. Hooray.

Last season, I thought that, as I had several older company members who’d been working with me for five or six years, it might be a good stretch to tackle some Shakespeare before they head off to college or other futures. So I took a big deep breath and put DREAM on the table. But, much to my chagrin, I realized as the auditions and schedule juggling played out, that instead of working with those old Downtown Art pros, I was going to be launching my big stretch project with a company, the majority of whom were only 12 or 13 and had never worked with me before - young actors who, as yet, had only limited and sometimes no experience making theater. Ai yi yi. I got good and nervous then, good and nervous that as game as this intrepid band was, we just didn’t have the chops, the strength or the experience to succeed against Shakespeare’s challenges. And I’m telling you, in the English speaking theater world, I’m not convinced there are tougher challenges than him.

But here’s what young people prove to me over and over again. They bring gifts. They have the intelligence, the will, and the capacity to do extraordinary things. What they need is the support. What they need is good coaching, graspable tools, a step by step breakdown of what we’re doing, what we’re aiming for and why. They are bravely, trustingly doing many things for the first time – of course they need good support!

And this is where I get a boost up from those 108 productions that came before DREAM. I’ve learned a lot, they’ve taught me a lot, about how to make things clear, how to break things down, how to turn a task that looks daunting to something do-able. DREAM was an experiment for all of us – at the core of which was how to connect Shakespeare to our actors, how to make Shakespeare’s language feel natural and real in their mouths, his story clear; and then how to share that story with an audience.. as we’re practically performing in a foreign language.

I’m so pleased with the DREAM company. I look forward to each audience experiencing what they have created. And I’m so grateful for the powerful reminder they provide us about how easily adults continue to make judgements about the capacity, intelligence, and creativity of young people… how ingrained these judgements are…prejudices we rarely question… and yet how absolutely ready young people are, given the chance and the tools, to prove us thoroughly wrong.

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