“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts….”
–William Shakespeare: As You Like It
By DeeGee Lester
In the shadow of the Parthenon and echoing words first spoken over four hundred years ago, the 2013 season of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Park celebrates its 25th anniversary with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Among the performers of this professional company, are members of NSF’s Apprentice Company. These young people, whose ages in any given year can range from thirteen through college level, are selected by audition each April. Following an intensive training period, members of the apprentice class are incorporated into the full company.
While those who audition for the apprentice company do not have to have expertise or experience with Shakespeare, each must prepare a Shakespeare monologue for audition. NSF Artistic Director Denice Hicks adds, “There must also be a willingness to learn and an eagerness to perform because of the special challenges associated with doing Shakespeare and performing outside.”
The play selection may alter audition requirements and portions of the training. Hicks points to the musicality of the 2012 production, Much Ado About Nothing; while this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes more dance in order to embrace the fantasy. As the director of the summer production, Hicks is aware of the play’s special appeal. “With characters such as Puck and the young lovers, this has always been a favorite of young people,” she says.
For these young theater enthusiasts serving as volunteer performers, the world indeed becomes a stage as they gain professional experience. Hicks points to the value of the apprenticeship as a launching pad to showcase their talent as the actors tackle the powerful language, the vitality of cadences and the universality of theme associated with Shakespeare’s plays.
“We help them understand the tricks to performing Shakespeare,” Hicks says. “It is also a personal growth opportunity. They will learn how strong they are individually and as a member of an ensemble. We are not developing stars; we are developing actors who understand how to be great team players…”
Participants in the program receive professional credit for their resumes and letters of recommendation. In addition, “They will always be members of the NSF family.”
The Apprentice Company is just one arm of NSF’s educational programming. Since 1992, the NSF has served over 180,000 Metro School students through educational outreach, including Shakespeare in Action Workshops for the classroom, teaching artists, professional development and creative enrichment opportunities for teachers and educator guidebooks.
Under the direction of NSF Education Director Nettie Kraft, the development of many of these resources, as well as experience in the daily operation of a theater company, often includes the efforts of NSF interns who serve in areas of interest including theater education, theater production and theater management, as well as office interns. Students for this program are selected through an interview process and may receive college credit. Internships are similar to those offered by other non-profits.
From sitting in on production meetings or rehearsing with actors, to assisting with ad sales, lining up acts for the pre-show, or assisting with the technical aspects of a production, these interns gain valuable experience and become an integrated part of the staff.
In an era that values the development of skill sets, student experience with The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, at any level (whether classroom, through internships or apprenticeships, or as members of an audience), offers opportunities to build 21st Century skills. Presentation, technical skills, critical thinking, teamwork, participation in a project from inception to completion, the building of empathy by experiencing life through the eyes of another person and the ability to communicate are all skills that will be required.
Business leaders emphasize the importance of communication skills to future individual and corporate success. Meanwhile, text messages replace conversation, sound bites replace carefully crafted and inspiring remarks and the beauty of words and the power of language lose ground. NSF reminds us all that four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare continues to serve as our teacher, reminding us of that beauty and power through the universality of the human dilemma.
Performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be presented at Nashville’s Centennial Park Bandshell (Thursdays through Sundays, plus Labor Day), August 15th through September 15th at 7:30 p.m. (pre-show entertainment begins at 6:30). Food and drink are available on-site. Support for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival can be provided with a $10 suggested donation.
A 1968 graduate of Lewis County High School, DeeGee Lester serves as Director of Education at the Parthenon. Her articles have been published in children’s magazines and journals. She is author of three books and co-authored a two-volume pictorial history of Sumner County.