Preview article by Gail M. Burns, November 2004.

For the fifth consecutive year students at Chatham High School are participating in Shakespeare & Company’s annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare. They are one of ten schools in Massachusetts and New York preparing a 90 minute version of a Shakespearean play for performance both at their schools this weekend and at the Founders’ Theatre in Lenox the following weekend. The excitement is palpable.

With four years of productions behind them, there are now no students in the school who can remember a time when the fall Shakespeare production wasn’t a big event. The proof of this is in the record number of students who tried out this year – 57, nearly double the number who auditioned last year, and, sadly, more than double the number directors Stephen Anderson and Allison Glenzer are allowed to cast.

“But we’re delighted that most of those other kids decided to stay involved with the production on the technical side,” Anderson reported. Judy Matthews, the faculty liaison with Shakespeare & Company, saw the large turn out as a sign that the school should consider expanding the opportunities it offers its students to get involved with theatre. The Fall Festival has definitely inspired a love of theatre and literature in a lot of teens.

This year’s production is the tragedy “Macbeth.” A big change from last year’s raucous farce “The Comedy of Errors” but not such a stretch for the older students who had been in “Hamlet” in 2002. Anderson and Glenzer and the cast are working on presenting a different take on “Macbeth,” one that is filled with youthful energy. The set, designed by Zach Goodwin and constructed by him and four other Shakespeare & Company carpenters, is deliberately light in color, allowing the dastardly deeds of the ancient Scottish thanes to be enacted in broad daylight, instead of secretly in the dark of night.

“Fire is at its hottest when it is reduced to white ash. The light colored set is to allow the characters shades of emotion to show up clearly,” Anderson explained, “We want to give the audience a true sense of evil and what it takes to fall in to that place.”

“The kids have created an intriguing and witchy world full of murder and betrayal,” Glenzer added.

“This is a hard story to ask young people to tell,” Anderson said, “We look at the Thanes as marines fighting side-by-side in the trenches who then have to turn on each other for their survival. This is a play about that ‘band of brothers’ breaking up.”

This is Glenzer’s first experience directing a Fall Festival play, although she has worked with Shakespeare & Company previously in other capacities. She is thrilled to be in Chatham and describes the experience thus far to be invigorating. “The kids here are phenomenal. They know so much and they really love Shakespeare,” she enthused, “You can tell how strongly they are supported by their parents, their teachers and the community.”

Anderson too had nothing but praise for the Chatham community. “The parents are very much a part of our ensemble. They help us with sets and publicity and during tech week they feed us like its Thanksgiving everyday. And the business community is very supportive,” he explained, “But there is so much passion at each of the ten schools participating in the Festival. Each community really shows up to support their young people, and that’s great.

The cast is almost all female. “There is no particular reason why we cast the girls the way we did, but the casting of the boys was very deliberate,” Anderson said.

Jacquee Antonson, a junior from Chatham, appears in the title role, with Jillian O’Connell, a junior from Spencertown, playing Lady Macbeth. Jessyka Naile, a junior from Old Chatham, is playing Lennox, and Tim Pracher, a senior from Chatham, is cast as Duncan and one of the witches. They took a moment out of rehearsal to talk about their experiences preparing the show.

“It is interesting to do a tragedy when you’re in high school,” Antonson said, “We feel many of the same strong emotions, but we are not living under the same circumstances.”

O’Connell confessed that she is still in denial about playing such a driven woman as Lady Macbeth. “Her personality is not something I would recognize in myself,” she explained, “I am more passive and quiet. It has been both difficult and liberating to work on the role. Rehearsals give me a real release for my own emotions. I try to follow Stephen’s advice and ‘put it on text.’”

Pracher, who has been involved with the three previous Fall Festival productions, has enjoyed exploring his two contrasting roles. “The witches are always moving in weird ways, while Duncan is a very still and strong presence who moves deliberately and makes very distinct motions,” he said, “I am not as comfortable with the movement, and I have learned a lot about myself through the process of tackling that issue.”

This is only Naile’s second Fall Festival production and she explained that as a freshman she was afraid to try out because she didn’t know anyone yet and was afraid the experience would be clique-ish. But when she screwed up the courage to get involved last year she discovered it was anything but.

All the actors are excited about the performances, but especially about the culminating weekend at the Founders’ Theatre where they describe the atmosphere as “electric.” CHS takes the stage there at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 18. Local performances of “Macbeth” will take place at 8 p.m. on November 12 and 13 at Chatham High School on Woodbridge Avenue in Chatham, NY. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students.

The Fall Festival of Shakespeare in Chatham is supported by the Chatham Central School District, with gifts from the T Backer Fund, the City Child Fund, the Berkshire Taconic Foundation Our Town Fund, the Twin Counties Arts in Education Program, a partnership between the GCCA, CCCA and Questar III with public funds from the Arts in Education Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, from the Hudson River Bank & Trust Company Foundation, and the generous and enthusiastic support from the Chatham family and business community.

The Festival culminates in a four-day marathon of ten 90-minute adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays November 18-21 at the Founder’s Theatre on Kemble Avenue in Lenox, MA. Tickets are $9 for adults and $5 for students per performance, or $45 for a Festival Pass. The Pass includes all 10 plays. For tickets and Festival information please call the Festival Hotline at (413) 637-1199 ext. 316.

This year’s other participating schools include Taconic Hills High School (Twelfth Night), Monument Mountain Regional High School (Twelfth Night), Lenox Memorial High School (As You Like It), Taconic High School (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Lee High School (Henry V), Springfield Central High School (The Winter’s Tale), Mt. Greylock Regional High School (Pericles), Mt. Everett Regional High School (The Tempest), and North Andover High School (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004

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