And another thing I love about “Cymbeline”: Workshops

Being a workshop facilitator for Milwaukee Shakespeare is a blast, and it’s especially cool when I’ve designed sessions for the play that’s currently in production.  I have a living, breathing piece of work to refer to,  it makes me feel like a vital part of the company even when I’m not actually in the show, and it rounds out the theatre-going experience for the students, giving them the chance to try out some scene work and get started on thinking about themes before they see the show, or get some behind the scenes information on what they’ve already seen. 

Today I did the latter, an informal Q&A  at Pius XI High School with a group of very creative and personable seniors, whose work on a production of The Winter’s Tale I look forward to checking out tomorrow.  It’ll be good to do some scene study after I burned through an entire hour today expounding upon everything from careers in theatre to Cymbelinedesign choices to the evolving new-millennium relationships between audience and performers.  I have a not shutting up problem from time to time, and I wonder why these kids actually pay attention–if an accountant came into math class and started bloviating on the world of professional mathematics, would they want to listen? Huh.

The pre-attendance workshops for Cymbeline were anxious but ultimately satisfying experiences.  I whipped up two days’ worth of loose, interactive activities to help students begin to tune their ear to Shakespeare’s language (via a paraphrasing game show format), and to connect themselves to the outlandish but deeply felt circumstances of Cymbeline‘s plot (via an improvised daytime talk show format).  Rufus King and Destiny High Schools were the participants, and I was thrilled with how eagerly they took to creating their own original pieces updating Shakespeare’s ideas, then bringing the energy and interpersonal connections back into the reading of scenes from a play they had only had a brief introduction to. 

Some of the very fine improv hilarity that ensued included an R&B-crooning Cloten type, complete with backup dancers, trying to romance an Imogen surrogate in “My Stepmother Tries To Control Me!”, a gender-flipped Posthumus/Iachimo wager that hinged upon a devious adulterer producing the cheating husband’s cowboy boots and naming the location of his tattoo in “My Spouse Is Cheating On Me!”, and a corporate CEO Cymbeline getting rescued from crazy racists when his car broke down in the backwoods, then learning his rescuers were not any old poor farmers but his long lost children in “Paternity Truths Revealed!”  Throw in some jaw-dropping shocker resolutions and audience members jumping up to perform hilarious commercial parodies during “station breaks,” and you had a roomful of laughing, engaged people who were, would you believe, getting closer to an obscure Shakespearean romance of the 17th century.  And on top of all that, I got paid to do it! What a country, says Yakov Smirnoff.

So thanks to students and staff at Pius, King, and Destiny, to Twelfth Nightcast member Brandon Vukovic for helping out at King, and to Marcy Kearns for booking me into the workshops, for hiring me to begin with.  I wish everybody could have played with us, but then you would have had to go back to high school.

More to come! It’ll be back to the play itself in Episode 4.


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