Like the rest of the world, ASC has had an eventful summer. Amid all the confusion and chaos of the novel coronavirus pandemic, ASC Education carved out some digital time and space to make magic with at #SHXCamp. In the process, we learned a lot about what it takes to create an immersive educational experience online, from the lofty ideals of maintaining our artistic and pedagogical integrity down to the brass tacks of Zoom room logistics. We’ll be bringing you the breakdown of what we learned and how you can apply it to your classroom in next month’s newsletter, but before we do, we want to show you the results of our efforts and take a moment to celebrate the indomitable powers of invention, necessity, and hope.

Without the residential trappings of our normal summer theatre program, we were forced to think outside every box we knew (including the increasingly familiar Zoom box) to engage students in dynamic and meaningful ways. Under the direction of Jack Read (Julius Caesar) and Lauren Carlton (All’s Well that Ends Well), #SHXCampers devised multimedia-enhanced explorations of Shakespeare’s texts. We freed them from the need to mount a one-hour production for live performance in the Blackfriars Playhouse and, indeed, from the need to do anything at all other than dive deep into the wordcraft and create from the foundation of the text. We placed no restrictions on those creations, instead letting the process go where it went and then gathering everything together into a digital portfolio audiences could peruse however (and whenever) they’d like. We shared selections from these portfolios in a livestream on our Facebook page at the end of the #SHXCamp session on Monday, August 3, and now they live in the cloud, awaiting your inspection. You may not see a traditional “play” there, but you will see students who are passionately knowledgeable about the characters they play and enthusiastically engaged in the worlds they create together, even though we remained many miles (and sometimes time zones) apart.

Before you go, though, here are a few words about each show’s process and product from the director and dramaturg:

Julius Caesar 

A note from director Jack Read

Julius Caesar is a play that has – and will – survived many reinterpretations, often serving as an examination of whatever climate the artists happen to be living through. It’s the magic of Shakespeare – we do these plays because we recognize their truths as our own, and our truth is the only story we can tell. So I’ll tell you my truth, and how I see it in this play.

A few months ago, our world changed overnight. We live under a forced separation, one we must commit to in order to survive. We cannot begin to know when things can go back to some version of “normal.” Every day we rediscover, as we reach out in the only ways we can, the importance of speaking our feelings fiercely, truthfully and directly.

Like the fall of Rome itself, these characters live loudly and die messily, fighting to say what they need to say before their chances are all gone. Every syllable is urgent, and every show of affection lives long after the giver and receiver. This is a tragedy, but there’s beauty in the failure.

I first came to Staunton as a camper sixteen years ago. I learned to be truthful to myself, and to be open with my love while there was time to give it. You will see, hear and feel that same quality in every actor in Julius Caesar. Though we could not be together in the same room, we shared a space. I am indebted to these actors and their bravery, their honesty, and their love – for camp, for Rome, for each other.

“I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time.”

A note from dramaturg Savannah Nine

Julius Caesar’s complicated legacy, that of propaganda and rewriting, of love and loyalty, presents a challenge to those who seek to perform and those who try to study it. Drawing from Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” and by extension, epic works like The Aeneid and fashioned documents from Caesar’s own life, the story we present to you is steeped in layers of interpretation of a very real man and the people who brought him down. Researching this was a treat and treasure, with my own love of the Classics on full display as I went through the lengthy history of Roman military complications, from the Gallic Wars to the Battle at Philippi. Historical legacies aside, the text itself is some of Shakespeare’s most purple and politically complex, with questions of love for family, country and self at the heart of this work.

Julius Caesar asks big questions of loyalty, legacy and patriotism, and what they mean to those who hold power. Cassius asks “How many ages hence, Shall this our lofty scene be acted over?” We answer that in every version and interpretation and assassination of a Caesar. Our campers add to the list, forming layers of understanding of this play that is ever expanding out into eternity. I am so proud of this cast for taking on the historical and the literary with me. The joy our campers have in the text is unbelievable and so exciting. The heart of this play is about complex love and these actors embody it fully and completely.

Click here to explore the Julius Caesar Portfolio

All’s Well that Ends Well 

A note from director Lauren Carlton

Directing this devised digital adaptation of All’s Well That Ends Well with this stellar cast of young artists was a light in the middle of an otherwise tumultuous summer. I applaud them for their work over the past weeks and I have to sing the praises of the production team. Esma, Schuyler, Liam, and Hillel, thank you! You all have been an integral part of this process.

Rarely does a play give away its ending in its title, but such is the case here. All’s Well’s ending and the expectation the title bestows on it, that all will indeed end “well” by the end of this magical mystery tour, has frustrated and intrigued audiences for years, earning it a space in the ranks of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” Here, the conventions of fairy tale romance are abandoned in favor of romantic partners who find themselves at two different places in their life while attempting to insert themselves into worlds in which they’re outsiders.

In our rehearsal process we aimed to meet the play with open hearts and critical minds. We revelled in its joy and the character’s brazenness and we questioned what happens to our hearts and our relationships when we place the “me” over the collective “we.” With that emphasis on individualism over the collective whole, we selected social media to be the container for many of the moments we explored in the play. If you explore our digital portfolio, you’ll see content from Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, Zoom, and texts. Things are bound to get messy, but we hope some voices of clarity can ring out above the noise.

A note from dramaturg Schuyler Gardner

Inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron and William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, All’s Well That Ends Well displays Shakespeare’s take on sex, class, gender, resolutions, and the dichotomy between old age and youth. While the exact date of the play is uncertain, it was most likely written in the very early 1600s. Taking place in France and Italy, All’s Well That Ends Well tells the story of Helena –the orphaned daughter of a doctor– who yearns for the love of Bertram, the son of a countess. While Helena’s low social standing leaves Bertram extremely uninterested, the King of France forces him to marry Helena as a gift to her for curing the King’s illness with her father’s medicinal tricks. Right after the marriage Bertram shuns, abandons, and eventually even tries to cheat on Helena. In order to change her tragic fate, Helena takes a gender-defying initiative in order to further their marriage: undertaking a taxing journey and a daring “bed trick” with the help of some women she meets along the way. While it technically ends well, most people today have a hard time finding the fairy tale ending truly happy due to the play’s issues surrounding true love and consent, giving it the categorization as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”.

This version, directed by Lauren Carlton, takes an explorative dive into what this complex, controversial play would look like in the modern-day. By representing present-day through social media outlets like Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and even TikTok, this version brings a 400-year-old story into today’s world where it seems as though all our correspondences take place through our computers. Seeing as All’s Well That Ends Well is a play that at its very core is a deep dive into human interaction, setting it over social media gives Shakespeare’s themes of sex, class divide, age, and otherness an entirely new meaning that the cast and production team are very excited to explore and share with the audience.

Click here to explore the All’s Well that Ends Well portfolio

Wear a mask, wash your hands, and enjoy!