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Echo Valley Offers Shakespeare Camps for Area Youth

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by Nat Frothingham

 

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

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– from William Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet

EAST MONTPELIER/PLAINFIELD — Imagine summer. Now imagine Shakespeare and youth. Now add experienced theater teachers and two day camps: Shakespeare in the Hills for kids ages 9-13 and Shakespeare Alive! for teens ages 13-18.

The Shakespeare day camp for younger children started in 2007 founded by Tom Blachly, Peter Young and Naomi Flanders. Three years ago, Shakespeare Alive! was added.

“We’ve moved around to different venues for the camps,” Flanders said, “but have settled on the Four Corner School House for the younger camp and the Plainfield Opera House for the older kids camp. There’s one constant for the camp experience, and it is putting on a performance of a Shakespeare play. We keep the camp size small enough so that it’s manageable. It’s great fun for everyone involved. I think the reason it works out is — it’s summer and two weeks is just the right amount of time for kids to find their roles, learn their lines. We double-up and triple-up on roles. We do some cutting of the plays.”

“And what about the impact on the kids?” I asked.

“Each kid will have a different answer. They have a lot of fun. We do a lot of theater games. They make long-lasting friendships. They come back year by year. They learn how to use their voice, how to use their bodies, how to act, how to understand the text they are working with,” Flanders said. “Nobody is suggesting that Shakespeare’s language is normal, everyday speech. We invite the kids to ask questions.”

Flanders is amazed by some of the comments and observations that come from the kids. “It gets them thinking about human nature, and they come up with novel interpretations of plays that critics have been discussing for centuries.”

A typical day at the camp begins with a circle for checking in and a few theater games to warm-up the group. This is followed by yoga and breath and voice work. The day is then broken into periods for theater games, improv, stage combat and staging scenes. In the first two days of the two-week camp, the kids read the play and are given their roles. As part of the camp for younger kids, there is quiet time after lunch when the campers can rest, study their lines or write.

In 2013, Shakespeare in the Hills added an advanced theater camp for older kids under the direction of Neil Worden, a seasoned New York City actor who headed up the acting program at Vassar College for six years. A few days ago, The Bridge talked by phone to Worden from New York City.

In his first year, Worden chose to concentrate on “Macbeth” as the play the camp participants would work on and finally perform.

“The show was great,” Worden said. “It’s intense. It’s got great characters. You can pare it down to an hour and a half pretty quickly.” It helped that Worden is a fight director so the kids could learn stage combat from an expert. Last summer, Worden chose to work with the advanced summer camp on Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.”

“It’s a really good comedy to do,” he said. “You can concentrate on the characters. There’s a huge role for Rosalind, the female lead.” Worden was lucky enough to find a good actress in the person of McKenzie Lattimore who had attended the camp the year before.

Worden expressed his personal excitement in watching Lattimore grow as an actress from the year before. Lattimore wanted the role, worked hard on it and embraced the task of learning and speaking the 600 lines. Praising her performance as Rosalind, Worden said, “She did it beautifully.”

Two Shakespeare campers expressed their appreciation for what the camp experience meant for them in these words.

Evan Lewis said, “I’ve been doing it for many years. It’s a great camp, a great community full of good people and it’s a blast!”

And Maeve McCurdy offered this reflection, “This camp showed me the beauty of Shakespeare and has given me a love of theater as well. I would definitely recommend this camp to anyone remotely interested in theater and/or Shakespeare.”

Photo courtesy of Naomi Flanders
Photo courtesy of Naomi Flanders

Shakespeare in the Hills,  for ages 9–13, will be held from July 6 through 18, 9 a.m to 5 p.m, at the

Four Corners Schoolhouse in East Montpelier with an end-of-camp production of  “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Shakespeare Alive! for ages 13-18, will be held July 20 to Aug. 1,  9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Plainfield Town Hall and Opera House with end-of-camp production of  “Romeo and Juliet.” Auditions for Shakespeare Alive! are to be held on June 7 from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Plainfield Town Hall and Opera House. For further information please go online to:echovalleycommunityarts.com or call 454-7770.

Founder: Tom Blachly

Tom Blachly got bitten by the Shakespeare bug 48 years ago when he was cast as Oberon in a school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and it has been downhill ever since! An actor, director and playwright, Tom co-founded Shakespeare In the Hills over 10 years ago and has helped run summer theater camps nearly every summer since. Tom has directed plays for area schools as well as for Unadilla Theatre and Plainfield Little Theater. The is the author of over 40 plays, including a 19-play series based on events from American history. Five of his plays have been produced in central Vermont within the last few years.

Producer and Voice Teacher:  Naomi Flanders

Naomi Flanders founded Echo Valley Community Arts in 2002 and Echo Valley has produced and directed over 36 productions in central Vermont over the past 13 years.  Flanders helped found Shakespeare In The Hills and Shakespeare Alive! summer camps for kids and teens. She is an innovative voice teacher, director, administrator and producer. She studied with Marcy Lindheimer in NYC during the 1980s when the vocal world was changing its approach to how vocal technique was taught due to work of Kristin Linklater. She was tutored in Feldenkrais Body Work with Marcie Lindheimer and practices yoga. Flanders combines these two body disciplines with vocal technique to lay down a solid base for body flexibility and proper breath support for performance artists.

Shakespeare Alive! Director: Neil Flint Worden

A member of Actor’s Equity, with a Master of Fine Arts degree in performance from the School of Drama in Seattle, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting, Neil has directed over 50 productions in the last 15 years, and played nearly 250 roles in his career. Neil has acted in 27 of the 37 plays in the Shakespearean canon, and directed or coached nearly 20 of them. Neil’s expertise is contemporary classical acting, movement and organic staging of Shakespeare.

Voice and Speech: Michael Keene

With a Master of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Iowa and living in Vermont for the past 20 years, Michael has trained extensively in the Linklater voice technique, acted in hundreds of roles, and coached and taught Linklater throughout the United States.

Character and Movement: Rosa Palmeri

Completing her second year in the Master of Fine Arts acting program at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Rosa is a Vermont native who grew up with and now staffs the Get Thee to a Funnery Shakespeare Camps with Peter Gould.  Having an extensive acting resume, her expert coaching in clown and character have been essential elements of the most recent seasons of Shakespeare Alive!

Stage Manager: Jasmine Carpenter

Behind every excellent production is a brilliant stage manager, and having graduated from the Johnson State College Bachelor of Arts in theater tech program this year, and having stage managed more than 25 productions, Jasmine has been at Shakespeare Alive! Camp for the last three seasons!  She was recently honored with a Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival candidacy in Washington D.C., and is getting married in August (post Shakespeare Alive!) to the love of her life.

Set Designer: Christy Jones Ketchel

With a Masters in Architecture from Norwich University and a BFA in Studio Art from Tulane University, Christy joins the Shakespeare Alive! Team with more than ample credentials for our minimalist Shakespearean productions at Plainfield Town Hall. Recently interested in set design, she brings a vast wealth of original ideas and skills to the team this year.

Band Director/Composer: Chris Robertson

Chris has agreed to put a 1940’s jazz band together and compose a jazz standard version of the famous “Palmer’s Sonnet” in Act 1, Scene V where our star-crossed Romeo and Juliet meet, and instantly fall in love.