Photo: Dr. Ralph chats about The Winter’s Tale with campers.
As the campers settle into their second week of camp, the time as come for the well-loved camp tradition of “The Raphening” – the day that Dr. Ralph Allen Cohen, co-founder of the ASC, arrives to chat with them about the plays they are performing this year. With fifty years of teaching experience and a long career directing early modern plays, Dr. Ralph brings valuable experience and an overwhelming passion to instructing the campers on the finer points of rhetoric, meter, and bear-induced chaos. With The Winter’s Tale being a lesser-known Shakespeare play and Mucedorus being an anonymously-written mystery, Dr. Ralph’s insights and advice were welcome.
The masterclass started off with Dr. Ralph asking each camper for their casting in both plays, sharing his favorite insights and lines from each of their characters. Once that was done, the campers jumped straight into text work. Dr. Ralph’s expertise on early modern plays shines the most in his individual work with actors, guiding them through tricky passages with care and humor.
Dr. Ralph stressed to the campers the importance of the beginnings of scenes – often places where playwrights introduce new characters, new locations, and important plot details. If an audience is going to follow the story and get involved in the world of the play, then the campers need to start off their scenes well. This means speaking loudly, clearly, and with purpose. The campers also discussed what clues about characters can hide in the text, with Dr. Ralph pointing out how words like “my friend” and “my lord” can indicate specifics about how characters relate to each other, which can then inform a camper’s acting choices.
Another one of Dr. Ralph’s specialties (and a hallmark of the American Shakespeare Center) is audience address. Early modern plays are full of lines and jokes that can be delivered to an audience and a lot of the work Dr. Ralph did with the campers was focused on showing them the fun that comes from inviting the audience into the story with them. This kind of detailed text work is the foundation of good storytelling and these campers are learning from the best of the best.
As we finish up the second week of camp, the two shows are shaping up nicely. The campers are adding music and dance into the plays, choreographing bear attacks and shipwrecks, and learning more and more about what it means to work together as a company. Opening night is fast approaching and I’m excited to see what the campers have in store for us!