No boys? No problem.
For the seven girls, ages 8-13, who attended Camp Shakespeare July 7-18 at the Legacy Park Community Center, the lack of male counterparts only provided more opportunities to shine onstage.
In the opposite of William Shakespeare’s time, the girls took on the male roles in their performance of “The Winter’s Tale.” And, for the most part, there was little hesitation.
“A couple people were kind of like ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I really want to play a boy,’” said Rachel Reese, an education intern with the Heart of American Shakespeare Festival who counseled the camp. “But then they learned more about the play and the characters and they were like ‘Oh! Hey! This is pretty cool. The boys do more than the girls do.’”
Lydia Cooney, Hayleigh Dyer, Lily Gordon, Madeline McCambridge, Alexis Oliver, Lucy Parker and Ainsley Sullivan all had at least two roles, often flip-flopping between man and woman or, in Oliver’s case, man and bear. Sylvia Perry was also scheduled to participate, but sickness forced her to miss the performance.
To camp manager and play director Kim Martin-Cotten, multiple roles for each actor contributed to the overall quality of the performance.
“In a way, it’s so much fun because you get to tell the whole story and not just be one character, so that way it becomes this collaborative storytelling,” Martin-Cotten said.
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival sponsored the camp and others around the Kansas City metro. The Festival’s professional actors performed “The Winter’s Tale” from June 17 to July 6 at Southmoreland Park in Kansas City. In the weeks following, each of the camps performed abbreviated, 40-minute versions of the original hours-long play.
The play features dramatics, jealousy, comedy, death and royalty — all Shakespeare staples.
“I think it tells a really fun story,” Reese said. “It’s an interesting mix between the comedic and the dramatic, and it definitely gives the kids a good basis and a good starting-off point to learn more about Shakespeare.”
At Camp Shakespeare – Lee’s Summit, campers spent the 10 days in Classroom C auditioning, learning about their characters, memorizing lines, rehearsing scenes, choreographing a dance and designing the set. It all culminated on July 18 at 6 p.m., when the small company performed before friends and family.
For many, understanding Shakespeare’s language can be challenging, especially if they haven’t been exposed to it.
“When you’re dealing with younger students, they’re new to it,” Martin-Cotten said. “Some are newer than others, but they’re all very excited about it if you get them to enjoy saying it and to get it moving through their bodies.”
One focus of the camp was bridging the gap between Shakespeare’s 16th century language to today’s English. Knowing today’s version of the dialogue allowed the campers to hone their delivery.
“They soon understand that they can use their own language to say the same thing, and if they get lost with a Shakespeare line, they know how to step in with some plain speech,” Martin-Cotten said.
One exercise involved the cast quickly rehearsing the final scenes in normal, everyday English. The actors were allowed to improvise the lines while working on the tone and emotion of the words.
“It’s kind of a great journey, watching them figure out what’s most important to get the story told, and it’s really exciting to see what they invent,” Martin-Cotton said.
The company itself was a mixed bag of experienced and new actors. The 11-year-old Cooney played a wrestler in last year’s “As You Like It,” while Dyer decided to attend after some experience in her church’s plays.
Oliver signed up “mainly because I had stage fright and my dad thought it would help with that.” She overcame her fear, yelling and accusing as the jealous King Leontes and growling as the Bear.
Jennifer Sullivan homeschools her daughter Ainsley. She discovered the camp after they covered a unit on Shakespeare, which Ainsley enjoyed mightily.
“I found out about this camp and sent her here, thinking we’d just add more to our unit,” Jennifer said.
Ainsley was hooked, and now the Sullivans are looking for more opportunities outside of the summer months.
“Now that I know there are programs throughout the year too, I’ll definitely consider sending her to that,” Jennifer said, “and she’s definitely coming back to camp next year.”