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Youth Shakespeare Festival brings bard to new generation

SANTA FE, N.M. — Swordplay, stagecraft and 16th-century puns are just a few of the things that some local high school students are learning as they prepare to bring some of Shakespeare’s scenes and soliloquies to the stage on Saturday.

The Youth Shakespeare Festival, in which almost 40 youths will take part, is the culmination of a program that started last spring with a barbecue for local teachers with members of the locally based International Shakespeare Center, according to Caryl Farkas, ISC president. Educators were asked whether they wanted to have the ISC program in their schools and, ultimately, four high schools – New Mexico School for the Arts, Academy for Technology and the Classics, Santa Fe Indian School and Santa Fe High School – along with the youth troupe, Upstart Crows of Santa Fe, will be represented in the festival.

Santa Fe High students will present scenes from “Macbeth,” which they performed at the school in October with the help of Ariana Karp, associate artistic director of the ISC and a founding member of the Ducdame Ensemble in New York. She also played some small parts in the play and helped guide the young actors in Shakespeare’s language.

Students from the other three schools worked with ISC mentors once a week after classes, learning about “critical thinking, close reading, literary analysis, public speaking, voice, stage combat and Shakespearean staging,” according to Farkas.

Besides some monologues, students from SFIS will do scenes from “Romeo and Juliet”; students from ATC will focus on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; and NMAS performers will contribute portions of “Much Ado About Nothing,” according to Farkas. Upstart Crows, she added, will offer scenes from “King Henry IV, Part I,” which they performed in its complete form earlier this summer.

Farkas said some SFIS student performers asked what they would do after this weekend’s festival and were disappointed to learn that it marked the end of the program for the year. In a sense, their disappointment was “wonderful to see … it was really affirming for us” that ISC was doing something valuable and appreciated by the students, she said.

Another barbecue will be held in the spring for educators to see what schools want to take part next fall, Farkas added. “Next year, we think it will be bigger,” she said. “All they have to do is give us a classroom and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The participating schools each contribute $300 for the program, while ISC conducts fundraising to help meet additional costs, she said.

Youth Shakespeare festivals occur around the country, with many of them set up as competitions with judges awarding prizes to the best performances, according to Farkas. “We are not competitive,” she added. “We’re more interested in just connecting kids to the material and letting the ripple effects from that happen.”

This first festival includes a guest artist: Devon Glover, The Sonnet Man. Based in New York, he converts Shakespeare’s sonnets to hip-hop form. “He’s very popular,” Farkas said. “He’s made some cool short films.”

Besides performing in the festival, he will lead a workshop with the students, who will create their own sonnets about participation in the program, which will be compiled into a book, she added.

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