020818 The Bard of Winyah
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Students learn how to create sound effects as they were done in Shakespeare’s time.

The Bard of Winyah

By Emily Topper
Coastal Observer

A man who feels betrayed by his family. A son who wants to avenge his father’s death. Two people falling in love even as their parents tell them they can’t.

In Shakespeare’s stories, the stakes are always high — and that’s why readers and audiences can always find a connection.

“Keeping Shakespeare relevant starts by getting the idea out of our heads that he isn’t relevant,” Kyle Powell, an actor with the American Shakespeare Center, said. “Out of all of the storytellers, he tells some of the most basic human stories that there ever were. It’s the same thing we’re watching on television now. These same stories are being done. Part of what we’re trying to do is understand the words he’s saying and convey those truthfully and honestly. That’s when people see the stories come to life.”

Powell and his fellow actors kept that notion in mind during the fourth annual Georgetown Shakespeare Festival. Along with performances of “Macbeth” and “The Taming of the Shrew,” students from the Georgetown School of the Arts and Sciences were able to participate in two workshops presented by the troupe.

On Saturday, Powell and fellow ASC actor Josh Clark walked up and down the stage of the Winyah Auditorium, correcting students’ stances as they taught them the proper way to throw a stage punch.

Earlier that morning, students had learned how to play a waterphone to create spooky sound effects and easy ways to apply fake blood. The Virginia-based ASC uses settings and methods from Shakespeare’s time. Actors fill multiple roles. The lights stay on in the theater. Sound effects are “unplugged.”

Thomas Coppola, the touring troupe manager, knows that when students are told they’ll be learning Shakespeare, they often have “Shakes-fear.”

“There’s that stigma,” he said. “It’s that underlying thought that it’s supposed to be hard. I really like the fact that we make Shakespeare accessible without having to make it fake.”

Coppola, now in his third tour with the ASC, runs the merchandise tables after performances and hears the remarks of audience members. “Students just as often as adults are overheard saying how good a time they had, and they didn’t expect it,” he said.

Ally Farzetta, who played Lady Macbeth, said using Shakespeare’s stage techniques helps create closer connections to the audience. “We are able to look our audience members in the eye and have conversations with them,” she said. “We are looking at people, connecting with them as people.”

That connection is the reason Gary Yates, director of the school, has continued to bring the Shakespeare Festival to Georgetown. “Shakespeare is always part of the curriculum,” he said. “For the students to see a world-class performance, that’s different than reading it in a book.”

When the festival started, only an evening show was offered. A matinee was added largely for student audiences.

“We let the students buy cheap tickets,” Gates said. “And then at the evening show we usually have between 120 to 220 people.”

The workshops take place between the performances. As students dissected dialogue, they found that they were still able to identify with the stories 502 years after Shakespeare’s death.

Chris Attias and Avery Rose Higgins plan to pursue careers in computer engineering and physics, respectively. But while they have a love for the sciences, theater – and the words of the Bard – have helped them come out of their shells, the seniors said.

“We took a stage combat workshop for swordplay a few years ago,” Higgins said. “This one was cool because we learned how to do hand-to-hand combat. There was an earlier show where we had to slap someone, and we didn’t know how to do the slap.”

“Someone,” Attias said. “You mean me! I was the one who got slapped.”

Since working on theater projects in middle school, Shakespeare has been a primary focus.

“I think learning Shakespeare is important,” Higgins said. “It’s not just the way he wrote, but he puts things into perspective. You learn about what people used to go through.”

For Powell, that makes the stories easy to bring to life.

“His stakes are never low,” he said. “That’s what I love about Shakespeare. It’s always life and death. And when it’s life and death, it’s so much more fun and interesting.”

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