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FORSOOTH! A visit to Camp Shakespeare EXTREME, an 40th anniversary APR encore presentation

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Pat Duggins
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Alabama Public Radio is celebrating forty years on the air in 2022. The APR news team is diving into our archives to bring you encore airings of the best of our coverage. That includes this story from 2016. APR news director Pat Duggins took us to a summer camp where youngsters don’t go canoeing or sing songs around the campfire. From the APR archives, here’s a visit to Camp Shakespeare EXTREME…

“Oh, gentle Romeo, if thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully. Or, if thou thinkst I am too quickly won, I’ll frown and say thee ‘nay,’ so thou wilt woo…” says sixteen year old Meredith from Helena, Alabama.

“I play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet,” she says. “In this scene, they’re kind of new at this. And so, it’s kind of awkward. But, they’re trying to say they love each other, but they’re not very coordinated at it…”

And the Romeo to Meredith’s Juliet is fifteen year old Max from Montgomery. The youngsters playing the star crossed lovers are in a group of twenty eight junior and senior high schoolers who gave up things like soccer camp and the beach to attend Camp Shakespeare Extreme. And before anyone says where for art thou, the campers gather in a large rehearsal hall…It’s time for warm ups—

If you’ve ever seen people at a football game do the wave, that’s what’s going on here-- it’s just all the campers are all waving at the same time. Vocally, they create a distinctive “woo” going from low pitch to as high as they can go. For the staff members at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival who run Camp Shakespeare extreme, this isn’t child’s play…

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“It’s to get the students to hear themselves, to hear their own voice," says Angela Dixson. She’s the vocal coach who works with the adult actors at the festival… “We have a tendency to find our habitual pitch. And, then we don’t up or go, and that’s to get them not to be afraid. Go all the way up, go all the way down, have fun with your voice…”

“They’re always crazy and fun. But, I don’t think anyone takes themselves too seriously when they do them..” Thirteen year old Abby is from Auburn. And her upbeat assessment of warm up time includes all the running around the room from downstage to upstage, and stage left to stage right. “It’s where you are from the actor’s point of view,” Abby explains. “Like, stage left is to the right of the audience.”

In case you were wondering, there is some acting involved in this Shakespeare camp. While Max and Meredith practice Romeo and Juliet in one room, Abby gets to do her favorite part in another…

“Right now, I’m really enjoying playing Helena in a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she says. “My scene is… she hanging out with her friend Hermia, and she gets really mad at her, and there are a lot of comments, and you know… insults that are fun to play…”

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Pat Duggins
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“What’s particularly tricky with doing classical work, is the language is the chief barrier between the audience and the story is the actual dialog,” says Seth Andrew Bridges. He has the resume to back up that claim. Bridges is a veteran of New York Theater and independent film. He’s also studied at the Alabama Shakespeare Theatre, which is why he was invited to help direct Max, Abby, Meredith, and the others campers…

“Yes, it’s a stylized way of speaking. But these people still, at the end of the day these characters are trying to communicate thoughts and achieve a goal like in any modern play, and getting them to have fun with that.”

Despite the gusto Max is putting into his Romeo, he says he's only sort of a fan of Shakespeare…

“Yeah, I like some of Shakespeare’s works. But I mean, I’m not, necessarily like…listening to Shakespeare everyday as I go home. I just enjoy the experience and having fun acting, doing several scenes and monologues…”

That blasé attitude is fine with Bridges. He doesn’t expect all these kids to become the next Lawrence Olivier. And, bear in mind, Max is a return customer. And he says he’s ready for another go around next year…

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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