AFYP in the Know: Shakespeare

AFYP Teaching Artist Kathleen Barth shares why she loves Shakespeare - and you will, too!
My introduction to Shakespeare was in eighth grade when my English class and I read and eventually performed As You Like It. While I sustain a boundless passion for the Bard and his works today, back in eighth grade I did not look forward to reading Shakespeare at all. I felt anxious and even fearful about reading--not to mention performing--As You Like It, worried if I would understand the language. However, the moment I began reading the text, I realized I had nothing to fear with Shakespeare. The language I once viewed as intimidating was actually simple to understand after I received the tools to harness the magic of the text. Later, when my class and I started performing scenes from the play, I unleashed my inner actor through the text's innate theatricality, which liberated me from the shyness. 
Since my incredible introduction to Shakespeare, I have read well over half of Shakespeare's canon, taken classes in acting Shakespeare, performed in classical plays, and taught workshops in Shakespeare and performance at AFYP. As a teaching artist, I teach Shakespeare by giving students the tools to analyze classical text and get on their feet and play in performance. 
Join me at AFYP on January 16th from 9:00-3:30 for a fun Shakespeare Workshop, where we will explore and play with the Bard's popular comedy, Twelfth Night.
AFYP's Advanced Actors perform a musical number in last fall's  Billy Shakes and the Big Screen

AFYP's Advanced Actors perform a musical number in last fall's Billy Shakes and the Big Screen

AFYP in the Moment: Improv!

Last April, we did a test run for our popular new Student Holiday Workshop program with a one day Improv spectacular! We had such a great time that we decided to incorporate two entire days of Improv programming into this season's full Student Holiday schedule.

On November 7, 5-11 year old students will Explore Chicago-style Improv and 12-18 year olds will participate in a Short Form Improv Intensive. Short Form Improv is derived from Viola Spolin's Theatre of Games. Spolin worked with America's very first improvisational theatre, the Compass Players, located in Chicago in 1955! Spolin worked with the Second City during the 1960s, a improv comedy troupe that is still extremely popular today. Spolin's short form theatre games are great tools for learning and make for fun, fast-paced performances (you can catch classic short form improv on the TV show "Who's Line is it Anyway?"). Both age groups will spend the day playing Spolin-inspired games and learning how they can be used to make hilarious performance pieces!

November 8 features Explore New York-style Improv for students ages 5-11 and Long Form Improv Intensive for students 12-18. Long form improv has its roots in New York City with Del Close, the contemporary master who created the form. Close believed that Spolin's work was a great basis for creating a unique type of performance where actors not only made up the content on the spot, but also created the game itself. This type of improv is practiced at the Upright Citizen's Brigade in NYC (and, locally, by George Mason's own Mason Improv Association!). Students in the Explore program will learn about creating improvised stories and students in the Intensive will learn the elements of long form improv and the art of the game. 

Our Explore programs (5-11) will be taught by Oscar Salvador and Skye Lindberg. Summer camp students will remember Mr. Oscar if they participated in the improv elective option. Our Intensive programs (12-18) will be taught by Rebecca Wahls and Justin Sumblin. Miss Rebecca taught last year's Long Form Improv Workshop.

Students playing, one of our favorite short form improv games, "I'm a..."!

Students playing, one of our favorite short form improv games, "I'm a..."!

Are you excited yet!? We sure are!

AFYP In the Know: Theater History--Commedia dell'Arte

Have you heard of Commedia dell'Arte?  This style of theater is less well-known, but was an important influence for Shakespeare, Moliere, vaudeville, improv, and more!  Commedia dell'arte began in Italy in the 16th century and is heavily based in physical comedy.  It's true title is "Commedia dell'arte all'improvviso" which roughly translates to "comedy of the profession/craft of improvisation".  Commedia was performed by professional actors called "comici".  It is believed to be the first entirely-professional form of theater.

Commedia troupes, made up of about 12 actors, traveled all around to perform their plays.  The location would change, sometimes outside, sometimes inside, so rather than relying on scenery, Commedia troupes began using lots of props, masks, and recognizable costumes.  Commedia plays featured several actors in masks and the stories were often made up of the same character tropes, or "stock characters".  These professional actors trained to perfect a specific role or mask.  The fixed social types of characters allowed audiences to be familiar with the story structure.  These types included: foolish old men, bragging officers, mischievous servants, and youths in love.  

Commedia characters can be classified into four basic groups:

  • Zanni (the servants)
  • Vecchi (the masters/elders, usually old men)
  • the Capitani (the middle- to high-class, boastful characters, often actual captains)
  • Innamorati (the young pair who are in love.  The obstacles to their being together are typically the plot of the play)

Female characters are rarely found among the Vecchi, but can be a part of the Zanni or Capitani, and make up one half of the Innamorati.  Women in commedia usually do not where masks.  Male Innamorati are not masked, but male Vecchi, Zanni, and Capitani are masked (with certain exceptions who wear facepaint instead).

A commedia script was usually about 3 pages long, and only included the basic plot and when characters should enter or exit.  So the troupe would improvise the actual dialogue, in order to move all the way through the plot.  The general plot of a commedia play is as follows:  The Vecchi characters boss around the Zanni characters.  The Innamorati are the children of the Vecchi and they are in love, but are prevented from being together.  Usually this is because of the Vecchi's plans, most often marrying off the Innamorata to another Vecchi.  The Capitani comes in and complicate things.  The Zanni characters thwart everyone's plans, whether on purpose or by accident, and--usually--the Innamorati succeed in being together in the end.

A few fun facts about Commedia: 

-This was the first time that women acted onstage!  The first documented performance by a female actress was in 1566 when Vincenza Armani performed, but there is evidence that women were performing in Commedia shows as early as the 1540s.

-The colorful, patterned clothes of Arlecchino and the white-painted face of Pierrot were big influences for modern-day clowns.  Arlecchino wass often seen in clothes patterned with diamonds, and the term "Harlequin" is influenced by his name.

Check out the chart below for a quick lesson on commedia's most common characters.

AFYP in the Spotlight: Kendall Huheey, Choreographer & Student

When I first came to AFYP in 2006, I knew it was special. Even though I was only six years old, I knew I was somewhere that would remain as an important part of my life for years to come.  As a student there is a family environment that makes you feel welcome, and that is largely due to the employees – the Redshirts. Now, ten years later, I have the privilege of working with these amazing people. I work with Ahmad Maaty to choreograph the shows for our fall and spring musical showcases. As Ahmad's assistant choreographer, the main part of my role is to remember what he created and help teach it to the children. Then we work together to help get it performance ready. However, for Singin’ in the Rain, Jr., Ahmad and I are working for the first time as co-choreographers, meaning that we are each individually choreographing a certain number of pieces for the show. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I am very grateful.

Kendall performing in AFYP's Summer 2016 Musical Showcase,  Into the City

Kendall performing in AFYP's Summer 2016 Musical Showcase, Into the City

When choreographing a show, the main thing that I try to keep in mind is the people I am choreographing for. The thing that helps me the most is to keep in mind the creative vision that the entire production team has for that scene. Choreography is an important part of the show, but I want it to feel natural to the scene, like it belongs there. Creating a show is by no means a one person job. Every part of the AFYP team is vital to the finished product.

When teaching at AFYP I have two major objectives: first, that students are having fun, and second, that they are learning something. The most important thing is creating a positive learning environment where they feel free to express themselves, and truly enjoy dancing. For me, you are not really dancing unless there is passion behind it. Ahmad and I do our best to ensure the dance room is a judgement-free zone and to keep all of the kids moving. We want them to stay interested and involved.

I have been working with Ahmad, in some capacity, for the last five years. We have worked together on many showcases and projects with AFYP. This has made us very good friends, and working with people you care about makes the long creative process much easier. As I said earlier, part of the magic of AFYP is the family environment. We all care about each other, and all want to help one another, which is what makes our program run so beautifully. It is the reason I have found a second home at AFYP, and it is the reason I will always come back. 

Want to learn some new dance moves with Kendall? Register today for our special one day Musical Theatre program on Monday, October 10 (Columbus Day)! Students aged 5-11 can Explore Musical Theatre: Favorites from Broadway and Disney; students aged 12-18 can participate in the One Day Intensive: Decades of Dance!