The Austin Chronicle

Fair Youth Make Fairer Shakespeare

By Robert Faires, June 21, 2018, 5:45pm, All Over Creation

I'm not saying people over the age of 18 can't do Shakespeare well – that Judy Dench sure speaks his speech trippingly on the tongue – but when youngsters get hold of the Bard, well, that's when Shakes gets real. Don't believe it? Then go sample the work this weekend by Camp Shakespeare and Austin Shakespeare's youth troupe.

Here are two projects that give area youth the freedom – and the responsibility – of performing full-length dramas and comedies by Shakespeare. Both trust young people to understand the language and situations and characters in the plays and to bring them to life the way any grownups would. And because the young people recognize and appreciate that trust, they take the material as far as they possibly can. So what audiences find is a compelling commitment to the work and a passion to make it live.

Camp Shakespeare is the brainchild of Dr. James Ayres, who, in an earlier life, taught in the English Department at the University of Texas and founded a little program known as Shakespeare at Winedale. That program, in which college students from all walks of life (i.e., majors as diverse as engineering, anthropology, pre-med, and radio-television-film) study Shakespeare through the performance of his plays, is now almost a half-century old and celebrated around the world. Ayres spent 30 years running it, taking students out to the Central Texas bump-in-the-road named Winedale and having them perform in a 19th century hay barn. Since retiring in 2000, Ayres shifted the concept to even younger students, ages 11-16, and created a residential camp where kids spend two weeks at Round Top, near Winedale, exploring one play with guidance from Ayres and camp director Robin Grace Soto. Each camp session – there are two each summer, each one focused on a different play – ends with public performances, typically in the Round Top/Winedale vicinity. This week, however, the first session of Camp Shakespeare 2018 is bringing The Comedy of Errors to Austin for a public performance in the Austin Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th. You can catch it Fri., June 22, at 2pm. Then the campers will return to Round Top and perform it again Sat., June 23, 1pm, at the Winedale Historical Center’s Theater Barn. (The camp's second session begins July 1, and the campers will perform A Midsummer Night's Dream July 12-14. For more information, visit the Camp Shakespeare page of the Shakespeare at Winedale website.)

Austin Shakespeare is in its 10th summer of its Young Shakespeare program, giving youth 12-19 the opportunity to perform in one of the Bard's dramatic works and at a unique site: the Curtain Theatre, a scaled-down replica of an Elizabethan theatre that sits on the shores of Lake Austin. (Thank videogame entrepreneur Richard Garriott for this touch of olde London in latter-day Austin.) Students spend weeks studying and rehearsing the play, working with professionals in all aspects of theatre and receiving direction from company Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella and Nancy Eyermann, a teacher and director who has performed in multiple productions by the company. This year's production shows just how much trust Austin Shakespeare puts in its young charges: It is Hamlet, the pinnacle of Shakespeare's art. The show opened last weekend, but it has its final performances Thu.-Sat., June 21-23, 8pm, at the Curtain, 7400 Coldwater Canyon. For more information, visit the ticket page for Hamlet.

Remember, a wise man (guess who) once wrote:
"Youth is full of sport, age’s breath is short;
Youth is nimble, age is lame;
Youth is hot and bold, age is weak and cold;
Youth is wild, and age is tame."

So hie thee, shepherd, to where thou canst see onstage with Shakespeare, "youth like summer brave."

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