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By May S. Ruiz
Educational? Check! Enriching? Oh, yes. Peppered with a large dose of fun? Absolutely! At A Noise Within, a classical repertory theatre company founded by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott, summer camp is all of the above. But youngsters also gain a great deal of insight and experience about theatre in the duration of the program.
For five weeks starting June 15, students from ages 6 to 18 learn theatre craft from respected professionals in the field, culminating in a performance on stage on July 16 and 17. Trained actors, choreographers, and designers introduce students to acting, improvisation, stage diction, text analysis, kinetic exercises, and stage combat in this intensive, conservatory-style program.
“We began Summer with Shakespeare in 1993 as a three-week acting camp,” says Alicia Green, A Noise Within’s Education Director. “It has been so successful that we decided to expand it to five this year. Students are assembled by age (6-9, 10-13, 14-18). The younger kids can choose to join the entire five-week track or attend any configuration of time that fits their schedule. The oldest ones need to enroll for the entire five weeks because they will be putting on a full production of King Lear. We have 105 students this summer, up from last year’s 45.”
Summer With Shakespeare covers the gamut of the Bard’s works. During their first week in camp, students learn about Shakespeare’s comedies – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It. In their second week, they study the tragedies – Macbeth and King Lear. In their third week, they absorb the histories and romances – Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V.
At 10 a.m. on a hot and muggy Tuesday in June, the kids make their way into A Noise Within’s home on Foothill Boulevard. They carefully set their lunch bags on steel carts, marked with three age groupings, parked against the wall in the large main entrance hall. They then proceed to their respective class, to start the day’s exciting lesson.
Jeff Block and Ryan Luevano are conducting charades with the 10- to 13-year-olds on the main hall. The group is divided into two teams facing off this morning – Keepers of the Blood Pact, or the Red Team, and Totally Awesome Unicorns, or the Blue Team. Using every magician’s accoutrements (white handkerchief, top hat, and wand) a volunteer from one team mimes a magic trick he or she learned from class and someone from the competing group will guess what trick was performed. A correct guess earns the answering team a point. The game ends in a tie and everyone is happily satisfied with that outcome.
Sitting in a far corner of the main hall is Audrey Halaas-Voorhees, their class assistant, who will be there all day to make sure the children are well-behaved and are following instructions from their teacher. Audrey is also the person who will be walking them from class to class.
Vega, a first time participant in the Summer With Shakespeare camp, got interested in the program because his older brother attended it for three years. When his brother decided not to go to the camp this year, Vega took the spot. His favorite lesson is movement – something vital to one of his interests, which is dance. . He is able to apply what he’s learned during his two weeks here with the steps he has mastered from the Pasadena Dance Theatre. Vega likes ballet, contemporary and ballroom dancing.
Upstairs, Alison Elliott is leading a very lively class with the six- to nine-year-olds. She has them fully engaged in an imaginary situation at a sports stadium. She calls on some students to come to the front of the class and act out her instructions: “Watch only with your hands … with your eyes …with your neck …with your knees.” The little kids perform the actions animatedly and vigorously using only the body parts Alison calls for. And then she asks the “audience” what sport the kids are watching and everyone shouts out “SOCCER!”
Meanwhile, their teacher’s assistant, Tomas Dakan, watches quietly and intently from his chair a few feet away. A student at Occidental College, Tomas himself is no stranger to the craft. He enjoys performing and has been involved with the Taproot Theatre Company, a professional, non-profit theatre company in Seattle, Washington.
Olivia is a standout in the six- to nine-year-old class even though this is her first time here. She is passionate about the performing arts – she sings and dances, and does gymnastics at her school. She is thrilled at the chance to learn acting and hopes to one day star in a musical. Olivia is also an avid reader and counts The Tail of Emily Windsnap and The Hunger Games as favorites.
In the theatre, instructor Carolyn Marie Wright is on the stage with the 14- to 18-year-olds reading lines to King Lear, while teacher’s assistant Kenyon Meleney follows the lesson and gives cues to the students. This group has already finished creating the backdrop for the play and they are now in rehearsal. Their work and talent will be on display at the end of the five-week camp when they stage a full production of King Lear for an audience of family and friends.
Kayla, who has been selected to play the lead role, is on her second year at Summer With Shakespeare. She says attending this camp has greatly improved her acting. She now knows what looks good on stage, and has learned how to reach her audience conceptually and emotionally. Highly ambitious and industrious, Kayla has been music training for a year and sings in the school choir. She already has plans for college and a post-graduate degree in musicology.
Watching from high up in the bleachers is Megan Farber, another assistant teacher, who helps out with make-up and special effects. Megan, who is 26 years old, interned at A Noise Within in 2012. This is Megan’s first time TA-ing, as she gains some experience in the educational aspect of theatre. She hopes to one day teach in this field.
A Noise Within bustles! It is a-brim with energy and sparkle – from the teachers and professionals sharing their knowledge with the acting campers; the students exuberantly participating in class; the staff of the theatre company going about their daily business. There’s something happening everywhere.
For Alicia Green, every day is filled with momentous occasions to educate about and celebrate the wondrous world of theatre with children of all ages. Surely this is what the Bard has intended for his works to endure and be enjoyed, by theatre professional, emerging actor, and for-the-fun-of-it camper alike.