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Student Shakespeare Festival returns in person and at new Heritage Park venue

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Beth Accomando
Students performing a scene from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the 2015 Student Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park. April 26, 2015

On Saturday, The San Diego Shakespeare Society and Write Out Loud present the 17th Annual Student Shakespeare Festival. It marks the return of an in-person event with students K-12 performing scenes from Shakespeare outdoors at Heritage Park.

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Beth Accomando
Students from the Valencia Park Center performed at the 2010 Student Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park. April 24, 2010.

Sorry Mr. Olivier, but one of the best performances of Shakespeare I have ever seen was performed by a 6-year-old in Balboa Park. As a lifelong fan of the Bard (thanks to my father who had me playing a Shakespeare board game and attending plays from an early age), I was excited when the late Alex Sandie, founder and then president of the San Diego Shakespeare Society, decided to start a Student Shakespeare Festival in 2006.

The event encouraged teachers and students to perform scenes, sonnets and monologues from Shakespeare during a one-day, outdoor event along the Prado in Balboa Park. At that first year I saw a kindergarten girl throw herself into the role of Bottom from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with such gusto and bravado that it remains as my all-time favorite memory of Shakespeare performances. No one had told her that Shakespeare was hard or scary or boring, so she had no fear as she burst onto the stage to give us a riotously funny take on Bottom doing Pyramus.

Ever since that day I have been a fan of the San Diego Shakespeare Society’s Student Shakespeare Festival. It has never failed to provide a delightful and impressive event.

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Beth Accomando
The 5th Annual Student Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park presented by the San Diego Shakespeare Socity. April 24, 2010.

The festival has moved from Balboa Park to Heritage Park this year but kindergarteners still prove fearless, said current board president Nathan Agin.

"We just saw some very young students, maybe six or seven and they had no sense of any stage fright, they just do it and they just have fun and they love to run around and do the lines and it's a great time so why would you not enjoy that?" Agin said.

San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival

The San Diego Shakespeare Society is dedicated to getting people and especially kids excited about the Bard. This year Write Out Loud has joined the festival as a producing partner. Its artistic director Veronica Murphy has been organizing workshops to help students better understand Shakespeare’s language and to prepare for performances. The festival promises a great time for audiences.

"I think they can expect a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of kids that really do know what they're doing as far as the story and the language goes. There are some sonnets being performed as well as scenes," Murphy said.

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Beth Accomando
Passers by enjoyed performances at the 5th Annual Student Shakespeare Festival in Balboa Park. April 24, 2010.

The festival also proves how relevant the Bard can be even centuries after his death.

"These stories are so timeless and they feel like they could be written yesterday," Agin said. "We're seeing the same kind of storylines and just that insight into how people operate and why people do things the way they do it. It's just such a brilliant study and focus on the human condition and what makes us also human."

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Beth Accomando
The Pyramus and Thisbe scene from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a favorite for students to perform at San Diego Shakespeare Society's Student Shakespeare Festival. April 24, 2010.

Although some people find Shakespeare difficult or intimidating, this festival can be a great gateway to the Bard.

"I just wanted to kind of put a little point on this word 'intimidating' because it is intimidating, because it demands so much of you as a performer," Agin explained. "But at the same time, I would say — well — isn't that why many of us play instruments or pursue sports or watch a concert or go to see a sporting event? We're going to see people overcome this hurdle because these things are not easy. Whether it's acting or music or athletics, they're not easy. They require skill. And at the same time, especially in this kind of format with the student festival, it's not all about 'am I winning or losing?' It's 'are they having fun?' And so in addition to seeing people overcome these hurdles and challenges that they want to do, you're seeing them have a really great time at the same time."

The 17th Annual Student Shakespeare Festival is free and starts Saturday at 11 AM at Heritage Park in Old Town.

Student Shakespeare Festival returns in person and at new Heritage Park venue