by Gail M. Burns, August, 1999
“Rouse up thy youthful blood, be valiant, and live”
– William Shakespeare, “King Richard II
Talk about the bug biting! In 1990 Mark Scipione was a student at Taconic High School in Pittsfield who took part in one Shakespeare & Company production and started down a road that now finds him directing similar productions both at his alma mater and in the summer at The Mount.
“I started out wanting to be a musician, but decided to become an actor on the strength of that one experience,” Scipione remembered. He went on to earn his BFA in acting from Emerson College, and returned to Shakespeare & Company in the summers to tech. That led to small roles with the company, then working at Berkshire County high schools on the annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare, and on to the staff of Shakespeare & Young Company, where he is now co-director, five years ago.
Founded in 1991, Shakespeare & Young Company is a summer-long training program for actors ages 16-20. Students are admitted through a competitive application and audition process each April. This year there are 18 participants ages 16-19 from all over the United States – including Nicole Freeman of Pittsfield, and four others from as close by as Springfield, Northampton, and Hudson, NY. Scipione is co-director of the group along with Carmen Mandley.
This year only about half of the students who applied for the program were admitted, “We look to put together an ensemble,” Scipione explained, “We try to find students who are willing and able to benefit from the program, and ascertain how they will work together.” Most students come to the program from participating in Shakespeare & Company’s education programs such as the Fall Festival, seeing a S&C production, or through references from teachers familiar with the company’s work.
“This summer has been incredible amounts of fun,” Freeman said at a rehearsal last weekend, “I saw a Shakespeare & Company production when I was in 7th grade and I have been involved ever since.”
The day starts for the Young Company students at 9 AM, when they assemble from their assorted lodgings in the area for a meeting, “We check in with each other and state any business we have. Then there’s a voice warm-up and morning classes,” said Lauren Mancia who came to the program from eastern Massachusetts. Students take classes in voice, dance, yoga, clowning, and stage combat in the mornings, and then have rehearsals and jobs with the company in the afternoon and evenings. Those faithful Shakespeare & Company parking attendants are Young Company members.
This year the Young Company has mounted four performance pieces made up of scenes from Shakespeare for performance. They opened last night after warming-up with a series of free offerings in parks around Lenox. Scipione and Mandley have adapted and directed the pieces, along with Corinna May and Michael Toomey. Each student appears in two of the four playlets.
“The Adventures of Richard II”, directed and adapted by May and Toomey, features a cast of five women in relationships of kinship, honor, justice, betrayal, and the deadly struggle for absolute power. “Imperfect Speakers”, directed and adapted by Mandley, is a Bare Bard version of “Macbeth”, “Julius Caesar”, and “Hamlet” exploring the plays’ ghost and murder scenes. “Cuckold, Cuckold, Cuckold”, directed and adapted by Scipione, follows the themes of betrayal, malicious michief, and false accusation in “Cymbeline”, “A Winter’s Tale”, and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. “Dissembly”, also directed and adapted by Scipione, brings on the clowns from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.
“The excitement with this program comes from watching the participants bring Shakespeare’s words alive,” Scipione said, “Their voices and bodies are filled with personal truths and their experiences resonate through the text. This program really reinforces the idea of continual growth and learning. These performances at the end of the summer are just one of the many memorable experiences they take away with them.”
“We can apply everything we have learned here to other aspects of our life – not just acting,” said Kate Stein of Hudson, NY.
“We don’t need a psychiatrist because Shakespeare is our psychiatrist,” Mancia explained, “He expresses all of our emotions for us.”
Shakespeare & Young Company performs today and Sunday at at 5:30 PM on the outdoor Oxford Court Theatre stage at Shakespeare and Company‘s home at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox. The show varies in length because a different combination of plays is performed each time, but count on spending two hours at the theatre. Call the box office at 413-637-3353 for tickets and information. For information on Shakespeare & Young Company or any of Shakespeare & Company’s year-round education programs call the Education office at 413-637-1199, ext 123.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999