Guest post written by DAREarts artist-as-teacher Jennifer Parr.
After a chance reconnection at the Opera Atelier fundraising ‘Mirage’ Gala way back at the beginning of June, I was asked by DAREarts founder and president, Marilyn Field, to be the Artist in Residence for her Henry V Summer Camp at the end of July.
I accepted with delight. As a freelance director, fight director, and acting teacher/coach it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to exercise all of my skills at once, and to share my love of Shakespeare, theatre, and stage fighting with a new group of students.
Having had some experience with DAREarts over the years as an occasional teacher of sword fighting workshops, I knew of the impressive aims of Marilyn and her organization to ignite change and teach leadership skills to an ever widening group of students across the city, and now across the country. What I hadn’t experienced previously was the power of those precepts when taught intensively over a week, or the sense of empowerment that the students could achieve in five days of concentrated camp work and fun.
|The kids enjoy a look at some of the more interesting props contained within the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Costume Warehouse.|
Henry V was a great choice of play for this purpose. Here is a story of a young king having to reinvent himself as a charismatic leader of his army and country against the background of his scapegrace past in the company of the well known rogues Falstaff, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. How better to kickstart the involvement of the students in his story and its relevance for us today?
A week – five days – is a very short time to put together a fifteen minute production of Henry V. No kidding. Yet, it was enough time to dive into the essentials of performance: story, language, character, movement, broadsword fighting, flag choreography, and, most importantly, working together as a team to tell a story and communicate with the audience.
|Scarborough-Agincourt MPP Soo Wong (left) and Pickering-Scarborough East MPP Tracy MacCharles (right) present DAREarts teacher Valerie Kostyniuk with a certificate honouring the camp group’s hard work and dedication.|
I was amazed at the enthusiasm and capability of this group of about thirty teenagers. Very quickly, led by the few veterans among them, and the excellent DAREarts teachers, they welcomed me into their midst and dove into the new world of Shakespeare and England in the fifteenth century. After three and a half days of workshops interwoven with the constant reinforcement of the DAREarts values of discipline, action, respect, responsibility, and excellence, we presented our (very much condensed) version of the play complete with two big battle scenes. It had taken me those three days to finish adapting the script as I got to know the campers and their abilities. One thing I had felt very strongly about from the beginning was giving all the students the chance to tackle Shakespeare’s language. That isn’t easy, yet they all responded valiantly and with excitement.
The performance, even with very little real rehearsal time, was a success, and the students glowed with the pride of accomplishment. A wonderful extra payoff came at Stratford, on our fifth and final day of camp, as we all watched Henry V performed in the Festival Theatre. The delight felt by the students at recognizing and hearing “their lines” spoken by the professional actors was tangible, and given this fantastic professional context for their own exploration of the play, their sense of ownership grew as they realized they had taken the first steps into a much wider world of theatre, history, thought and action.
|Swords raised, the teens perform their own rendition of “Henry V in Fifteen Minutes”|
What a fantastic week! Even with very little sleep and long treks to and from the camp location, it was a wonderful experience; a week of intense involvement with the group, of teaching, learning, and growing as a group and as individuals. I came away impressed, inspired, and invigorated, treasuring a fleeting moment from Day Four, when I noticed several of the girls who played soldiers wandering the halls of the school with their swords still at their hips. When I asked one girl if she realized that she was still wearing her sword, she said “Yes, but, Jenny, it just feels so right!”. Empowerment? Yes, absolutely! Congratulations DAREarts. Bring on more Shakespeare Summer Camps!