By Colin Raab, 6th grader at North Star Academy
During the recent San Francisco Free Shakespeare in the Park run of Henry V, student actors from had an opportunity to meet the touring actors in order to find out more about Shakespearean theater and the profession of acting. These free performances, held on the grounds of , were underwritten in part by the Redwood City Civic Cultural Commission who also supports theater at North Star Academy.
Coincidentally, North Star’s 15th Shakespeare production being held this fall will also be Henry V. Director Neva Hutchinson, who has directed all the NSA Shakespeare plays. Hutchinson been recognized by the Folger Shakespeare Library and her efforts have resulted in North Star being the only public school in the Bay Area to annually produce the Bard’s plays.
In the past years, Ms. Hutchinson has directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like it, among others.
“Most students don’t think Shakespeare is hard to learn. To them, it’s just like learning algebra,” Hutchinson said.
However, most students are attracted to the play because they get to learn sword fighting. North Star Academy math teacher, Brian Cagle, brings Aikido, Tae Kwon Do and Kenjitsu sword fighting experience to his role as fight scene choreographer. In addition, he will provide artwork to be projected from multiple locations to enhance the set design.
Check out of the North Star students performing "As You Like It."
Devin Dohrmann playing King Henry V and Brandon Ay-Tye playing Duke of Exeter (pictured in the accompanying photographs with their San Francisco Shakespeare counterparts), are two North Star students who have previously been in plays directed by Hutchinson, and now have big roles in this year’s Shakespeare play. Motivation for Brandon to try acting came from Ms. Hutchinson’s Shakespeare enrichment class at school, but for Devin, motivation came from both his parents being actors. Devin’s advice to other aspiring student actors is, “Never give up on yourself, because people will try to shoot you down.”
This is Devin’s first time playing the lead role in a Shakespeare play at North Star Academy.
North Star families and local Shakespeare fans were thrilled that SF Shakes brought their tour to Redwood City for the first time since they began Free Shakespeare in the Park 30 years ago. Anthony Shaw Abaté, one of the current actors in the Company, saw that very first performance, The Tempest, in Golden Gate Park and has since acted Shakespeare around the world. Along with six other cast members, he answered questions the North Star students asked before the Sunday, August 19th matinee.
Mr. Abaté explained one of the rewards of acting is sharing knowledge with local communities and, especially, children. Many of the North Star students were curious about how long the actors had acted or how they got their start. Only one of the cast members who met with us, Michelle Delattre, has parents who were actors.
Unlike a middle school production and more typical of the “original practices” used by the Globe Theatre in London, there were only 15 actors in the SF Shakes cast, but they played an astonishing 33 parts!
Indeed, the veteran actor, Jack Powell, portrayed six parts alone. His advice to the North Star students included the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that to get on Broadway you should graduate from Yale. He also warned that even though you may have great acting talent, if you behave like a diva and don’t work well with other people, you won’t be hired.
Just prior to the performance, a few college interns with the Company led the North Star students in a role playing activity touching on the key elements of the play. The interns, aka the Boar’s Head Tavern staff, invited us to choose characters from the play and create a gesture and a sound to represent their character. Then, as the outline of the script was read, whenever the name of their character was mentioned, the students performed their own gesture and sound.
Henry V is a story of a young king trying to conquer “the vasty fields of France” so he may rule over both England and France. Shakespeare intertwines conquest with comedy as King Henry V and his army give their all at the ultimate Battle of Agincourt. Even though the French mock him and there are traitors in his midst, King Henry V still prevails.
The SF Free Shakespeare in the Park continues their run of Henry V through September in San Francisco’s Presidio. Performances are on Labor Day and weekends through September; learn more at www.sfshakes.org.
North Star Academy’s production of Henry V runs from October 18th through 20th at 7pm and a matinee on the 21st at 2pm. Ticket prices are $12 in advance, $14 at the door, and on Thursday and Sunday only, Seniors and Students under 18 pay $8. Tickets are sold online at www.northstartix.com.
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