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Students entering the auditorium at La Pine High School last week swung off their backpacks and took a seat in chairs facing the stage. Before the workshop with Oregon Shakespeare Festival began, the students might have assumed they’d be members of the audience. But soon enough, the language of the bard would be on their own tongues.
“The important thing is just to have fun,” Deb Parker, a language arts teacher, said to the students. “Leave all your fears and worries to the side.”
The partnership between OSF and La Pine High School began in 2011 at Parker’s urging.
Last week, Eva Gil, 36, described the purpose of coming to the school. Gil is a New York-based actress who puts on school workshops for Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“This isn’t about acting — it’s about getting the language in their mouths,” Gil said.
Once the bell rang, Gil and David Moore, 37, a San Francisco-based actor, asked the students to come down from their seats in the audience and circle up on the stage.
To introduce Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Gil and Moore talked about ghost stories, asking the teens to shout out their favorite examples — “Goosebumps” was among them. They then asked why we tell ghost stories.
“The thrill of being scared,” one student said.
“Fear of the unknown,” said another.
To warm up, the actors began an activity in which Gil called out actions, from riding a horse to walking on the moon, and students followed suit, galloping or stomping around in slow motion.
“Now that we’ve told some stories with our bodies, let’s tell some stories with words,” Moore said.
The students were assigned partners, and facing each other, they told a story, switching off one word at a time. Not surprisingly, the stories made little sense. When the students began contributing one sentence at a time, the stories improved. A little while later, Gil and Moore would apply this idea to taking on Shakespeare; word by word, it may be hard to interpret, but passages as a whole likely evoke more understanding and even feeling.
Gil and Moore assigned the students new partners, labeling them “artists” or “art.” The artists were each given a sentence from a passage of “Hamlet” and asked to create human sculptures with their partners.
As her partner directed her how to pose her body, senior Caitlin Muhleman, 17, pressed a single finger to her lips in a “shh” motion and raised her other arm at an angle above her, fingers spread. Her posing was meant to represent the line, “I am forbidden to tell the secrets of my prison-house” from the ghost’s speech in “Hamlet.”
As the students acting as artists walked around the stage, the students in pose repeated the line they were demonstrating to create an “art gallery of human sculpture.”
“Having it in your body can tell you something different about that line,” Gil said to the students.
For the workshop’s final activity, Gil and Moore led the students in a joint reading of the ghost’s speech. Gil and Moore asked the students to put their hands to their chests each time the ghost was mentioned in the passage and to take a step forward on stage toward “Hamlet” (designated by a sign) every time his character was addressed.
The result was a powerful, chantlike reading of the work. Each of the students seemed engrossed in the exercise and talked about how in speaking from the ghost’s point of view, they felt his anger.
Afterward, Chris Swayze, 17, a senior, said he noticed the movements changed how they verbalized the passage. He enjoyed it.
“It put a different inflection on the words,” Chris said.
Parker, who participated in much of the workshop with the students, seemed encouraged by how it had gone over.
“The idea is you get Shakespeare in your body,” Parker said. “They don’t have to understand every single word because it’s in their body. … They can liberate themselves from the words to feel.”
Parker said the seniors in the workshop had exposure to Shakespeare during their time at La Pine High; all of the freshman classes read “Romeo and Juliet,” many sophomore classes read “Othello” and upperclassmen are often assigned more of his plays. She also acknowledged what a difference it makes for students to read Shakespeare aloud, as it was meant to be. In that way, the plays can adapt each time you read them, she said.
Moore agreed. He said much of his acting experience has been in Shakespeare. He even notices differences each time he reads his favorite play, “King Lear.”
“Every time I come back to it I find something new,” Moore said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com