Youthquake! For best results, just add Shakespeare | Abigail Dickson | [email protected]

Translator: Nika Kotnik
Reviewer: Mile Živković I have been in love with the theater
since I was very young. When I was 7,
I saw my first Shakespeare play, Hamlet, and I’ve been a regular theater attendee
ever since. My older sister, Claire,
used to act in a lot of plays and I would always insist
on watching every rehearsal and going to every performance I could. I would even memorize lines
from some of the plays, like, one time she was in this play
called Slavs, by Tony Kushner, and well, there were some lines in it
that probably were not appropriate for a 6 year old to be saying. I would recite them to my mom sometimes
and she would say, “Yeah, that’s great honey, just don’t
say that in front of anyone else, OK?” Eventually, I began acting
in plays as well and my passion for the theater grew. Or, as Mr. Shakespeare would say, “It is the show and seal of nature’s truth where love’s strong passion
is impressed in youth.” When I was 13, I was in this book group. We were reading the play 12 Angry Men,
and we really liked it, so we decided to put on
a production of it. A couple of our moms
directed and stage-managed and we put on 12 Angry Women. I played juror number 3. It was great. I was taking a class on Shakespeare
at Harvard Extension at the time and I have been
a longtime Shakespeare lover, so I got the idea that I wanted to be
in a Shakespeare play. The only problem was
that I was 13 at the time, and I didn’t really see many oportunities
for kids my age to be in Shakespeare plays. Then I realized: “Hey, I could do a Shakespeare play!
I have a big backyard. I have some friends. We did 12 Angry Women,
I’m going to put on Hamlet!” Now, I’d acted before, but I’d never been
in a Shakespeare play, and I really wanted to play Hamlet,
so I figured I would direct myself, another thing I’d never done before. But I probably should have stopped
and thought: “Hold on, I have absolutely no experience
with any of this. I should get an adult to help or somebody who actually knows
what they’re doing.” But, I didn’t. To be honest,
I didn’t really think much about it. I had an overwhelming desire to do this,
and nothing was going to stop me. I did have some great initial support. I went to my parents
with the idea and they said, “Yeah, go ahead, sounds great.” I went to my friend Jamila and she said,
“Only if I can play Horatio.” So, as far as I was concerned, I had the support
and the resources I needed. I abridged the script,
pulled together a cast, made a rehearsal schedule,
and Youthquake theater was born. Or, in the words of the bard: “These are the youths
that thunder at a playhouse.” Or backyard is the case, maybe. It’s amazing looking back on it now, because there were
so many problems that I had to deal with. I went through three Ophelias,
before one actually stayed. And I had to recast a couple of other
characters because other people quit. I didn’t actually have
a full committed cast until three weeks before the show, because most people don’t believe
that a 13-year-old could successfully produce,
direct and star in Hamlet. I don’t know why. Even now, about half of the people I tell
don’t really understand the concept. It seems ridiculous to them that kids
could actually be competent enough to do something like this. But, I am a living proof that we can, because I stuck with it
and we pulled it together in the end. We performed Hamlet in my backyard
and people came and enjoyed it. And we had fun. So much fun! We were doing Shakespeare
together in my backyard, we were working on this
amazing material together with absolutely no adult help. We were interpreting the characters,
figuring out costumes, blocking the scenes all by ourselves. When we rehearsed, it wasn’t just me
telling the other actors what to do. Everybody was involved, and everybody
was contributing something. We were working on this wonderful play and we could do things the way we wanted
on our own terms. And when Hamlet was over,
I said, “Lets do another one!” So, we rented a theater this time,
and we did another one. And another one. And another one. And now, two and a half years later, we have successfully completed
8 productions, and counting. For me, Youthquake began
as a way to play Hamlet, but it became so much more than that. Through Youthquake,
I learned how much fun directing is. I learned so many great skills,
like how to be in charge and deal with difficult situations. And it wasn’t just me;
I was watching my friends, most of them, who had never been
in plays before, fall in love with acting and Shakespeare. Youthquake theater was a way
to express creativity, become really great friends with people and learn about Shakespeare
through direct experience, doing his plays. I think a lot of people have really
terrible experiences with Shakespeare, because they first learn about him
studying in school, and that’s a really hard way
to learn about Shakespeare. Sure, reading and writing
about his plays is really interesting, but these are plays, they’re meant to be seen,
heard and performed. I did take a class on Shakespeare
and I had to write essays about his plays which I very enjoyed, by the way. But that was after I had seen
his plays live dozens of times and experienced them the way
they were meant to be experienced. I was talking to my friend, Anamira, who played Lady Capulet
in my Romeo and Juliet, and she was telling me
about how she feels like she knows and understands that play completely, much better than her friend, who is having really difficult time
studying it in school. So we were learning together,
creating together, we were doing this
not because somebody told us to, but because we wanted to. I feel so lucky, that I am in a place
where I have the freedom to pursue my passions. Youthquake theater was created
because I love theater and Shakespeare, but also because I live in a situation
where I can think for myself. Nobody told me to do this,
I had the idea on my own, and I carried it through on my own. It hasn’t always been an easy ride, and there were times when I just wanted
to give the whole thing up, there were times when
I just got so frustrated, because well, people are people
and dealing with people is hard. But I could never do that,
because I love it too much. I have found the thing
that I want to do with my life, I have found the thing that fills me
with beauty and love and wonder, and I am so glad that I have found a way
to share that passion with the world. And I will continue my journey
when I direct and coproduce a youth-led production of the Tempest
for Actor Shakespeare Project to be performed in March. That’s the situation where the adults
are working with the youth by giving us the opportunity to lead. I am so excited and thankful
to Actor Shakespeare Project for giving youth that opportunity. You know, the name Youthquake
is very fitting. It implies youth shaking things up
and making some noise and that’s what I am trying to do here. We are passionate, creative
and competent human beings and whether it be starting
a youth theater company or something else, if you give us space and trust,
we can do extraordinary things. And I encourage
all the young people out there to listen to the wisdom of Shakespeare: “Rise up, thy youthful blood,
be valiant and live.” Thank you so much. (Applause)


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