Preview article by Gail M. Burns, November, 1998
For the past two months students at McCann, Mt. Greylock, and eight other western Massachusetts high schools have been hard at work preparing their Shakespearean productions for public performance. This is the week that McCann will offer local audiences “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” November 12 & 13 at C. T. Plunkett School in Adams; and Mt. Greylock will present “Hamlet” November 12 & 14 in their school auditorium. Both productions will then move on to become part of the Fall Festival of Shakespeare at Berkshire Community College November 19-22.
This is the 10th anniversary celebration for the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, a program of the education department of the Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company. Director of Education Kevin Coleman remarked, “Ten Years! What an adventure this continues to be. Nearly 100 student productions of the finest plays ever written – over 500 students directly involved each year and another 5,000 move who have been involved behind the scenes. We’ve always said it doesn’t get any better than this and that it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
McCann students, who have become involved with the Fall Festival relatively recently, are fully aware of the truth of Coleman’s statement, “This is an exciting, phenomenal thing to have happen at McCann,” said junior Megan Gessing of Drury, “The Sheakespeare & Company directors are awesome to work with. They really know who you can be and who you want to be and help you acheive those goals.”
“We don’t act as individuals, we act as a whole, ” junior Jerry McBee of Adams explained, “The experience changes you.”
Caroline Wright, a freshman from Hancock, was able to compare her two junior high years involved with the Fall Festival at Mt. Greylock with her McCann experience, and agreed with McBee that theatre was more of a bonding, community building experience at McCann. Wright was “flipping out with excitment” tackling her first major role as Nick Bottom, “I wasn’t going to try out at all, and I only came on the last day of try-outs,” she explained, “I love to watch how the characters are becoming the people who play them and the people are becoming their characters. I am not just learning how to do something, I am learning what I already capable of doing.”
Over the mountain at Mt. Greylock, the cast is equally excited as they prepare “Hamlet”. The students will be performing an abbreviated version of the script which will run about 90 minutes, compared to the full three hour plus play. Josh Bishoff, a junior from Williamstown, laughs as he runs through the truncated version of the “To be, or not to be” soliliquy that he will present. Bishoff is sharing the title role with junior Rebecca Bradburd, also of Williamstown. But neither can beat the record of senior Sarah Ryan of Lanesboro, who appears as Gertrude in this production, and who can claim this as the fourth production of “Hamlet” in which she has appeared in her 17 years of life.
“I played Ophelia the last time, and it is very interesting to see the difference between her and Gertrude,” Ryan said, “Ophelia is very young and unmarried and has no real status in the society, but Gertrude is much older and more worldly and has a lot of clout.”
Bishoff compared his experience playing the Drag Queen in Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” a play which focuses on those two peripheral characters in “Hamlet”, and playing the title role in “Macbeth”.
“You bring things to the production, and you take a great deal away,” Bradburd remarked, “I hope to convey something to the audience through my performance.”
Sophomore Katie Haig of Williamstown is already a discriminating consumer of the Bard, “‘Hamlet’ is not my favorite Shakespeare,” she explained, “I like ‘Macbeth’ the best. But I have discovered that I am playing the same emotions in ‘Hamlet’ as I played last year in ‘Twelfth Night’. I love being part of the shows. The theatre is my secondary home, and sometimes I wish it was my first.”
“In the theatre you use all six senses,” Ryan explained, “And it is insane how many people you touch through your performance.”
“There are no better people in the world,” Bishoff declared of his castmates.
“Hamlet” will run November 12 & 14 at Mt. Greylock Regional High School on Rt. 7 in Williamstown. Curtain is at 8 PM and tickets are $5. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will run November 12 & 13 at the C.T. Plunkett School on Rt. 8 in Adams. Curtain is ar 8 PM.
McCann’ s production of “Midsummer” will open the Fall Festival of Shakespeare at 6:30 PM on November 19 in the Robert Boland Theatre at BCC, 1305 West Street, Pittsfield. Hamlet will be performed at 6:30 PM on November 21. Other productions in the Festival include “King Lear” from Mt. Everett Regional High School; “Henry V” from Lenox Memorial High; “Richard III” from Monument Mountain; “Julius Ceasar” from Taconic; “Cymbeline” from Lee; “The Tempest” from Springfield Central; and “Measure for Measure” from Northampton & Smith Vocational. Tickets are $5 per show or $15 for a full Festival pass. Call Shakespeare & Company at 413-637-1199, ext 106 for a full Festival schedule, tickets and information.