One of our goals as a company is to make the best use of our rehearsal time. We have large casts (30 or more per play), and we have long rehearsals, but we try to avoid calling everyone all the time. In a sense, all of our rehearsals are “specialized” or at least focused to some degree.
Most shows require some of the cast to learn or develop special skills of some sort, especially in the areas of dance and movement, music, singing, chorus work, and stage combat. Parents within the group or other community volunteers usually assist with this kind of work. For example, we have brought in fencing instructors for help with the fights in Hamlet and Macbeth, and our own technical director, Chris Langland, spends a lot of time with the cast choreographing and practicing combat sequences.
We are lucky to have a number of musically inclined parents and children in the group, and we call on their expertise for every play. Music is a very important aspect of most of Shakespeare’s plays, and we take the songs in the scripts very seriously. We always use live music, played and sung almost exclusively by members of the cast. Special music rehearsals occur regularly, and we make decisions about the musical content early on in the rehearsal schedule. We are very proud of our resident musicians, including Sharon Macauley on the harp, Alyssa McCullough and Joey Torreano and Naomi Smith on violin/viola, Patrick Hogan on piano, and Ziad and Maya Khayat on classical guitar. Hannah Smith has choreographed many of our dances. We also have a few good vocalists in the group, including Evelyn Rumsby, Emma Piazza, Caecilia Shapiro, Tom Hogan, and Galen Bonwick.
“I was quite excited about sword fighting with broadswords in the “Scottish Play”. We had only used the modern saber in our past productions so everyone was quite excited about this change. Although the swords we used were blunt, they were quite heavy and obviously capable of inflicting nasty wounds. Naturally, I was apprehensive about this but we trained with the swords to the point that I wasn’t concerned for my safety or that of my fellow actors. We were so well trained that when combat was taking place on stage, it really looked like the combatants were fighting for there lives. However, what the audience really saw was controlled “safe” chaos.”
Music and Dancing
“Near the start of a production, the director gives us a list of melodies he would like to have featured in the play. He usually wants to use songs from The Shakespeare Song Book by Ross Duffin. When I have played harp for a show, I work with my music teacher to create arrangements for violin, viola, harp, singers and guitar, depending on Mr. Rumby’s preference. We rehearse the songs, and a couple of weeks later we perform them for Mr. Rumbsy. We then integrate the songs into the performance.
“Some of our other musicians include Patrick Hogan who played jazz on the piano forComedy of Errors, and Joey Torreano who played violin for parts of Twelfth Night. Harps, violins and singing have run through the entire history of Youth Shakespeare.
“In my very first play, Much Ado About Nothing, I played several songs, my favorite of which was Sigh No More, Ladies (Or, as we like to call it: *Sigh*, No More Ladies). I accompanied Patrick Sharpiro while he sang this song. We had fun rehearsing this piece with my music teacher. My favorite production was Hamlet. Not only did I play harp periodically throughout the play, but I got to watch all of the performances and all of the rehearsals. I know that play really well now.”
“Depending on the theme of the play, our dances use steps drawn from Scottish Highland dancing as well as other simple dance steps. We use two or three basic steps and then repeat them in various sequences. The challenge for us as the choreographers is to make the dances interesting for the audience while still keeping in mind the skill level of our actors.
“The play that featured dancing most prominently was our second production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010); the faeries started the show with a dance. The mechanicals also had a dance of their own, met with lots of laughter due to the hamming up by the leads.”
– Hannah S.
Diction coaching helps our actors with some of the basics: speaking clearly, discovering the meaning of the words, catching the rhythm of the lines. Through this process, the actors develop a deeper sense of their characters, as well as a greater appreciation of Shakespeare’s language. Our actors want to share this discovery with their audience, so they spend a lot of time on diction to make sure the meaning shines through, even when the poetry is difficult. An ability to speak the language effectively is a prerequisite to acting any role in a Shakespeare play, but we provide training in this area and do not expect our cast members to have prior experience.