Emma and I had our first day of training for the Fall Festival of Shakespeare today, and in many ways it felt as though our fellowship experience was only now beginning. We spent the day with our Sherpa Kevin Coleman, who walked us through the Ethics & Aesthetics of the Festival. He began by telling us a story about drawing, paraphrased below:
A kindergarten teacher hands her students paper and pencils and tells them to draw. A young girl in the class might draw a picture of her best friend; a boy might draw his favorite superhero. When the same task is asked of them in middle school, the girl might respond, “Oh, I’m not a very good artist.” The boy might challenge, “Why are we doing this?” By the time they reach high school, the girl will say, “I can’t,” and the boy will judge, “That’s dumb.” The college student will ask, “What am I supposed to draw?” The graduate student will reply, “What do you want me to draw?”
Kevin then quoted Pablo Picasso: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Later, he offered up that our job, as Festival directors, is not to get it right – our job is to bring the text alive. While I’d heard this phrase during my week of teacher training in August, Jenna Ware (Associate Director of Education and veteran of the Festival) explained something that made it all click for me. “Just because there isn’t a right answer doesn’t mean that there aren’t wrong ones,” she said. “There are things in the text that are just true and we have to convey them.” In Act 3, Scene 2 of As You Like It, Celia asks Rosalind, "Change you color?" If the actress playing Rosalind isn't blushing in that moment, her choice is clashing with the text. This reminded me of a Katie Mitchell quote that I’m likely paraphrasing, as my copy of A Director’s Craft is back in Chicago: let the text be the arbiter of any debate.
This cracked open the whole nature of the project for me. Before, I thought it was all about “yes and”ing the students, but now I understood that the task was to do that while also telling the story. It sounds so simple and yet, so often we see productions of Shakespeare where the director and/or actors make choices that are counter to the text. This completely frustrates me and takes me out of the story. Jenna validated that feeling, explaining, “When we say one thing and do another, that’s when the audience says, ‘Oh, I don’t get Shakespeare.’”
We then discussed the nature of the Festival’s rehearsal process and, again, a simple and obvious-seeming statement totally rocked my world. “Rehearsal isn’t where we practice the performance,” Jenna insisted. “It’s where we open up the play.” My co-director Josh McCabe said that his job was primarily that of an acting coach. “I coach until tech,” he said simply.
While Kevin often discusses this educational model in contrast to the professional one, I keep finding ideas that I want to adopt in my professional life. I’m super pumped to delve into the Festival, and even more excited to return to Chicago and re-invograte my process with these new tools.
Pictured above: Girl with a Mandolin by Pablo Picasso, 1910