Upstart Crows of Santa Fe immerses youth in Shakespeare

Upstart Crows of Santa Fe immerses youth in the famed playwright’s works

Upstart Crows participants Eida Heinonen, left, and Rylie Philpot rehearse for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Courtesy of Caryl Farkas)

William Shakespeare had his own variation of the English language, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to understand.

Upstart Crows of Santa Fe offers youth an immersive way to learn Shakespeare’s unique style, and the playwright’s brilliance will be on display as the troupe is set to perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Performances of the play are scheduled for Aug. 5-7 and continues Aug. 12-14 at UU Santa Fe.

The cast consists of actors and actresses ranging from 10 to 18 years old who not only work together as an ensemble, but mentor each other at the same time. Shakespeare’s writing can be troublesome to dissect, but when children and teens show interest in the classic tales, groups such as Upstart Crows help harness the attraction.

“It’s drummed into us that this is some kind of scholarly elitist material … it’s not true at all,” said Caryl Farkas, who facilitates rehearsals for the group.

“It speaks to you at a level you don’t even realize … it’s magic.”

Farkas, who developed a love for Shakespeare and theater as a child, first experienced an immersive Shakespeare program in Wisconsin as a parent volunteer for her daughter Anna’s group, The Young Shakespeare Players, she said.

“I was knocked out by the enthusiasm these kids had,” Farkas explained. “It was a beautiful system because the director treated them all as if they were completely capable of understanding and processing what’s in the text, which is nothing less than what makes us human.”

Upstart Crows participant Juniper Barber-Woeltjen rehearses for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Courtesy of Caryl Farkas)

Farkas moved to New Mexico in 2014, and she and Anna formed Upstart Crows. Anna, who began participating in the Wisconsin group when she was 6 years old, wanted to start a similar program while attending St. John’s College in Santa Fe. They hoped to promote accessibility to Shakespeare to younger people.

Farkas said, “It’s really more of a Shakespeare immersion program than it is a theater program, but the result of that immersion is really good theater. There’s a saying that information breeds instinct, and by the time these kids hit the stage with one of these plays, they know an awful lot about it.”

Through workshops, guest directors, professional experts and community outreach, Upstart Crows offers kids and teenagers a chance to embrace and produce uncut versions of classic plays. They learn an understanding of the craft and how to collaborate as a cast as they go – and no theater experience is needed to start participating in the program.

“The ideal is you have at least two casts,” Farkas explained. “They’re commenting on each other’s performance, so they’re really directing each other. It’s a very collaborative program.”

Finding the right instruction is vital to sustaining enthusiasm within a student. Only three people signed up for the company’s first production, “Twelfth Night,” which eventually ended up being scenes from the play, Farkas said. One of the participants was her other daughter, Joy.

Fortunately, peers in the audience became inspired and the program quickly grew to a full cast for the next show: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Though Upstart Crows has been in business since 2014, the upcoming performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will only be their second production of the play. The ability to offer and perform various works is a testament to the lasting impression the program has made on the youth of Santa Fe.

“They were clamoring to do it,” Farkas said of the cast’s eagerness to tackle “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” again. “The life this thing has taken on is very self-sustaining, self-perpetuating. The older kids are mentoring the younger kids … and my place is just really overseeing the process.”

She added, “It’s all about the language, and they find things. … It’s never the same.”

The process has satisfied the philosophy of the program, and Upstart Crows just keeps expanding, teaching the language of Shakespeare through firsthand love for classic theater in the modern era.

The group will begin rehearsing in September for their January 2023 production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

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