Group to perform Shakespeare ‘scene fest’ this week

For many members of the Greenwood Shakespeare Project, participating is about more than learning neat new skills, such as sewing, carpentry or painting, or learning more about a poet and playwright largely considered the greatest writer in the English language. 

For the group of 11- to 18-year-olds, it’s all about the experience and creating friendships that last long after the five-week program.

“For the kids, this is about the experience, and that’s a much more subjective and holistic thing than just one particular skill,” said Steve Iwanski, who leads the Greenwood Shakespeare Project.

“We’ve got six or seven schools represented here, and without this I don’t know if they would have gotten the opportunity to meet each other and become friends. That’s one of the things I’m proudest of, because we have an incredibly diverse group. ... They call themselves a family.”

The Shakespeare Boot Camp will wrap up this week with a performance of scenes from 12 William Shakespeare plays — “Julius Caesar,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “King Lear,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Henry VI,” “Timon of Athens,” “Troilus and Cressida,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Sir Thomas More” and “Henry IV.”

Iwanski said there are many advantages to performing multiple scenes rather than one play.

“If we did ‘Hamlet,’ one play, then one kid gets to be Hamlet for two hours. With this, everybody gets to have the chance to have a big, powerful role and also play an extra,” he said. “We also want to show the full range of Shakespeare — here’s a love scene, here’s a battle, here’s a funny scene, here’s a monologue, here’s a scene about the role of government and here’s a scene about a naughty dog, which is one of the monologues that we’re doing. That way you get the highs and the lows and whole range of the human experience.”

The camp and this weekend’s “Shakespeare Summer Scene Fest” is a program sponsored by the Greenwood Shakespeare Project, ArtPlace Mississippi and Greenwood Little Theatre.

The project is also supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

During the camp, kids are trained in Shakespeare’s plays and Elizabethan stage conventions, set construction, music, dance and scenery and costume design. The Boot Camp culminates in three nights of performance, set for Thursday through Saturday at Greenwood Little Theatre.

The program is taught by veteran stage actors, a professional carpenter and renowned artists and designers.

In its second year, the Shakespeare Boot Camp has tripled in size, and every participant from last year’s camp has returned.

“We expected this year we’d have to really break our backs going out in the community and get people, but all of the people who were here last year are back,” said Iwanski. “One hundred percent retention is amazing with any organization, so we are so excited that all of the kids who participated last year came back, and apparently they told some friends.”

Lauren Aaliyah Evans, 15, is one of those returning this year.

“I just liked it so much last year,” she said. “I think working with everyone was nice.”

Lauren has four parts this year. She said she likes her part in “Henry IV” a lot, but her favorite role is as a soldier in “Troilus and Cressida,” which features a battle between the Greeks and the Trojans.

“It sounds kind of funny because it’s the one where I die, but that’s my favorite scene,” she said.

Also returning this year is 15-year-old Raghav Nallani.

“It was fun last year, and I missed the feeling of being on stage,” he said.

Raghav has four parts. He likes one of the scenes from “Julius Caesar” that will be performed, but his favorite role to play is Mark Antony in “Antony and Cleopatra.”

“Last year, I bugged Steve to give me the part of Mark Antony all year, and now I’ve got it,” said Raghav. “It’s a very powerful role.”

Molly Germany, 12, also returned this year.

“I missed everybody from last year,” she said. “I liked hanging out with all the people here.”

Molly is very excited about her five parts this year. Last year, she had several roles, but none were speaking parts.

“My dad is helping me learn them,” she said. “My favorite part is Smith in ‘Henry VI,’ because I have a lot of lines and hard words.”

The group said there are more action scenes and sword fights this year. Molly said she is especially excited about the action scenes because “I’m the best fighter.”

Chelsi Paige Wilson, 13, is new to the Shakespeare Boot Camp. She has been participating in ArtPlace Mississippi’s sewing class.

“While taking a sewing class here, we saw a flier for the Shakespeare class, and I actually didn’t know I was going to take it, but my mom signed me up,” she said.

Chelsi is glad she did. She’s made new friends, and she also had some knowledge of Shakespeare before the class but was interested in learning more.

“Shakespeare is well known for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony scene, and I was always interested in that and interested in Shakespeare in general, because his plays are about either romance or war, and that really interested me, because it is just like life,” she said.

Another newcomer is 15-year-old Victoria Reed.

“I found out about this when they were doing ‘Ring of Fire’ at the Little Theatre, and my mom told me about it,” she said. “I was really, really interested. I just love to act, and I love to be around people.”

Victoria was also interested in Shakespeare’s work.

“I didn’t know how much he’s influenced so much,” she said. “‘The Lion King’ was based off of ‘Hamlet,’ and so many TV shows and movies are based off of William Shakespeare.

“Even though he wrote this so long ago, he will inspire people hundreds of years from now, and it’s so fun to know that.”

Victoria, who has four parts including the part of King Lear, said the Greenwood Shakespeare Project has been a great experience for the former introvert.

Before this summer, she said, “I was always on my phone, reading or listening to music. I was never really out. ... Being around these people and getting to work with them is so much fun. ... Even if maybe you don’t like to act, maybe you like to build or to sew, you need to come here, because it is so fun to get out of the house and to be with people who you know have the same interests as you.”