Kim Keeline, Publicity Director for San Diego Shakespeare Society
Maria Christodoulou, Drama Teacher at Mann Middle School
Kayla Shine, Student Performer
Related Story: 7th Annual San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival
CAVANAUGH: This is Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. What's the point of 21st century kids learning to understand 16th century plays about princes, kings, and star-crossed lovers? Ask anyone in the San Diego Shakespeare society, and you'll get a multifaceted answer. It seems that learning Shakespeare not only makes you a cultured individual, it can also improve academic performance. The annual student Shakespeare festival is coming up later this month in Balboa Park, and here to tell us about it are my guests. Kim Keeline is publicity director for San Diego Shakespeare society. Welcome back.
KEELINE: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Maria Christodoulou, is drama teacher at Mann middle school:
CHRISTODOULOU: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: And Kayla Shine is here. Hi, Kayla.
CAVANAUGH: This is the seventh year for the Shakespeare festival. Give us background on it.
KEELINE: Denver has a huge Shakespeare festival every year for students. It's going on for something like 20 years now. And they have thousands of students. Someone here in San Diego saw that and thought, well, why couldn't we do that here? And so seven years ago, they started it. We started out small. We've been growing every year. Denver says that we're on track to eventually be as big as they are. We're at the same rate of growth as they were when they started.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Last year, the festival had about 300 students performing on five stages. What are the age ranges of these students?
KEELINE: Well, we say we have K through 12, and we have had students as young as 5 up to 18. Sometimes it's an entire class of one age, and some schools have people of multiple ages come in at the same time. Julian has had an instance that is all age ranges, including fairies doing mid-summer night's dream or something they can feel comfortable with.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us what listeners can expect at the festival. Will they be seeing costumes, sword fits? How are these plays presents?
KEELINE: They will see all of that and more. Every year, I am amazed by the variety that you will see on stage. The event starts at 12:00 in the Organ Pavilion. The students walk in order of their schools down to the Prado area of Balboa Park, where the stages are set. This will be six stages this year, I believe. Every stage will do ten-minute scenes until about 4:00 when the award ceremony will start.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
KEELINE: And those scenes will vary. We have had cave men, last year we had a Jedi that won an award, it was wonderfully deputy. We have had much ado about nothing that was Grease style in the '50s. You'll get Elizabethan costume, sword fight, 10-foot tall puppets one year for the MacBeth witches that were incredible. You saw them coming toward you, and you would just back up and look in wonder. They were amazing.
CAVANAUGH: Maria, you are a drama teacher, this is the second year that you're going to be participating. Tell us what the experience was like last year.
CHRISTODOULOU: It was absolutely phenomenal. We had a team of about 20 students who participated. We did a collage of scenes from Shakespeare's MacBeth. We were all in costume, we did the procession, and it was a really, really great experience. It was nice for my students to see other students learning about the same topic, the same writer, some of the same plays that they had been looking at, and understanding that it wasn't something that a crazy English lady made up. So it was a really great experience.
CAVANAUGH: That goes to my question, what's the first reaction you get from students about reading Shakespeare? I remember in my -- when I was growing up as a student, it was I can't understand this!
[ LAUGHTER ]
CHRISTODOULOU: Well, once they hear me open my mouth, they figure out this is how people used to talk, and obviously I don't talk in Shakespearean English, but I'll slip in a few word, and after hearing me talk a couple time, they start to get used to the text as well. We even have days at school like on a Friday where we have to talk in Shakespearean English. Sometimes it workings, sometimes it doesn't. But they start to pick it up easy.
CAVANAUGH: And what will you be performing this year?
CHRISTODOULOU: We'll be doing a collage of scenes from the Tempest, so we'll be looking at the love story between Miranda and Ferdinand
CAVANAUGH: Now, what role are you playing?
SHINE: Gonzala from the Tempet, who is a man who enlightens the situation. They're in a ship crash, and he's the person who always looks at it as the glass is full and not empty.
CAVANAUGH: Ah! How old are you, Kayla?
SHINE: I'm 13.
CAVANAUGH: And you're going to be reading for us, and I believe this scene is the scene in which Miranda declares her love for Ferdinand?
CAVANAUGH: Any time you're ready,
SHINE: At mine unworthiness that dare not offer, what I desire to give, and much Hess take what I shall die to want. But this is trifling! And all the more it seeks to hide itself. The bitter bulk it shows. Hench, bashful cunning! And prompt me, plain and holy innocence. I am your wife, if you will marry me. If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow, you may deny me. But I'll be your servant, whether you will or no.
CAVANAUGH: That is Kayla Shine, performing for us, the some sort of scene that she's going to be doing at the Shakespeare festival coming up later this month in Balboa Park. Kayla, what's the difference for you between reading Shakespeare and performing shake peer?
SHINE: When I perform Shakespeare I kind of feel like I'm connected to it, because I understand it more, and I get to go do the actions in which the characters are feeling.
CAVANAUGH: And does it -- is it coming morph easily for you now, understanding the language or is it still a little bit of a struggle?
SHINE: It's -- I understand it, but it'll take me a while to understand it. But I know it.
SHINE: I get it.
CAVANAUGH: I think a lot of adults feel that way. You have to read the sentences three or four times. Oh, yes! Now I understand it! I would like you both, if you could to tell us about your own experiences with Shakespeare, your own first experiences. When did you start familiarizing yourself with the plays of Shakespeare?
KEELINE: I wasn't much younger than Kayla here, about 11 or 12. And I lived in San Diego, and my parents decided to take me to a production of 12th night at globe. And benefit we went, my mom said I want you to read it. And she happened today to me and said it was a comedy, and I read it, and I couldn't understand it, and I didn't think it was funny. And I was not happy to go, and we went, and the first bit of it, I was having trouble understanding it, but about halfway through, Malvolia did this scene, and it was something about what the actor did that suddenly seemed very funny to me, and my brain clicked, and I started understanding the words, and I fell in love with it. Of so far I went and became an English major and eventually got a PhD. In English lit, and I've been having fun with Shakespeare ever since.
CAVANAUGH: And all British people are not born knowing Shakespeare, are they?
[ LAUGHTER ]
CHRISTODOULOU: No, that's --
[ LAUGHTER ]
CHRISTODOULOU: I wish they did. No, they don't.
CAVANAUGH: How did you familiarize yourself?
CHRISTODOULOU: I used to live in England when I was a, child, up until maybe the age of 24, and when I start first started high school, we used to have this really strange English teacher, he had a limp, three fingers on one hand, he must have -- he was a very stranger character. And the first play we ever read with him was Romeo and you'll let, which is kind of like the standard. And just the way he presented Shakespeare, ever since then, I was hooked. We would read it in class, we would act out scenes. It was the best thing ever. I would wait to go in English school so I could read Shakespeare. And that was it. It's like an addiction that I can't get enough of, really.
CAVANAUGH: Even for people who don't go on and make Shakespeare such a part of their life, I believe there are some studies that learning Shakespeare as a youngster actually helps a student's academic performance.
KEELINE: Yes, this is one of the things that the Shakespeare society wants to make sure people know. That Shakespeare is not just about learning drama or the language, but the people who study it, there's been studies that show they increase their learning ability, enthusiasm, and performing in thing like this, I get a lot of students who tell me they increase their confidence levels, that they felt better about school, they felt more connected to other people because they saw that all of us were working toward larger goals. It seems to have a pedestrian effect in many different ways. And this year, we're also adding a photography and writing contest so students who aren't on stage could get involved, can think about Shakespeare, and its place in L lives, and just really work about these things, because we think it helps academic performance on all levels.
CAVANAUGH: What kind of an arc do you see in your students from when they initially come in and are confronted by these plays and words of Shakespeare's? How do they familiarize themselves and come out the other end?
CHRISTODOULOU: I like how you use the word confronted by Shakespeare. Whenever I have students come into my classroom, when they first come in, we'll set in a circle, everyone's got a copy of the script, and I won't have a modern-day version. And I'll translate while we go through. And what I'll do, I'll use experiences from my own life because there are themes in Shakespeare that are current today. And students will then say oh, yeah! I've experienced this too! And I can understand this character, Yaingo for example, and they start putting two and two together, and realize this is relevant to them as well. So at the end of studying the play, for example, and doing scenes, and talking about it, and discussing it, at the end they're, like, oh, yeah, I really like that play, I really like that character, and they want to do more of it.
CAVANAUGH: Now, when you're actually at the student Shakespeare festival, there are any moments that stick out in your mind from past festivals?
KEELINE: I've seen so many amazing performances, it's hard to choose just one. I've seen a group of 6-year-olds doing a song from mid-summer night's dream, all in little fairy costumes. Last year, there was a moment, there were two boys occupy stage, I don't remember which play they were doing, but what fascinated me is that one of them had a little sister who was in the audience, and she was so fascinated by watching her brother do this scene she kept talking closer and closer and closer until she was right up against the stage, and she was staring right up at him with this big grin just watching him. And he was having a horrible time trying to concentrate because she's now practically on top of him on the stage.
[ LAUGHTER ]
KEELINE: And it was just the cutest thing because she was so fascinated that he was participating in this, doing the line, and he's focusing and trying to concentrate on his lines, and she's just staring! It was adorable.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that this year's San Diego student Shakespeare festival will be Saturday, April 28th noon till 4:00 on various outdoor stages in Balboa Park. The event is free. Thank you all so much for speaking with us.
CHRISTODOULOU: Thank you very much.
KEELINE: Thank you
SHINE: Thank you.