By Christine Sampson
William Shakespeare is said by scholars to have written plays for all audiences — from kings and queens to those sitting in the penny seats. And at the Hayground School, Shakespeare’s plays are brought to life by students of all ages — from preschool up to age 13 — every year when theater professionals from Shakespeare and Company arrive for their annual residency.
This year marked the organization’s 20th at the Bridgehampton school.
“I believe that Shakespeare is the greatest playwright to ever lived because he wrote for humanity in every age,” Annie Considine, a director and educator with Shakespeare and Company, said in an interview. “Anything that he has written and we speak immediately rings true, especiallywhen you get it on stage.”
This year, the students spent three weeks preparing “The Tempest” for two performances last Thursday at Guild Hall. The excitement was felt throughout the school during those three weeks as every space from the common area to classrooms to the cafeteria was used for various aspects of the production. Even the art classes got involved by making posters inspired by famous lines from the play.
Marcelle Langendal, faculty chair at the Hayground School, said the residency is “an amazing way for the kids to bond” with each other within the school.
“This is really important to our philosophy at Hayground about the mentoring and apprenticeship process,” Ms. Langendal said. “They get exposed to the pure language of Shakespeare that most kids at this age don’t have, and then they’re involved through the media, like art, language and acting. They create their own actions while they’re playing the parts. After this residency, the kids are changed forever in a good way.”
“The Tempest” starts with a storm that envelops a ship carrying the king of Naples — a storm magically created by a character named Prospero, who believes he is the rightful Duke of Milan. The story unfolds on a nearby island with a cast of characters including Miranda, Prospero’s daughter; Ariel, a sprite; Alonso, the king; Ferdinand, the king’s son; and more. There’s an element of audience participation at the end — don’t worry, no spoilers here.
“I’m having so much fun. I love my costume and I love my lines,” said Sam Grabb, 12, who played the role of Ariel during the “harpy” scene. “I get to be really intimidating. I’ve been comic relief for the last couple of plays I’ve done, so this is really fun. I’m learning about literature and history. It’s awesome. Public speaking has always been a little hard for me, and when I do this, it seems easy.”
Parents got involved in the creation of the sets and other aspects of the production, and even the teachers took on roles in certain scenes.
Shakespeare and Company is a 40-year-old theater performance and arts education organization based in Lenox, Massachusetts, that reaches about 25,000 children in the northeastern United States each year.
“When we come in, we meet the kids, we play games with them and we tell them the story of the play we’re doing,” Ms. Considine said. “They get to choose which top five characters they’d like to play, and we’re able to give them one of their choices so each of them can be in a scene with other members of different classes. They put on a show in three weeks. It’s incredible.”
She said in her experience, performing Shakespeare with kids is sometimes easier than it is with adults.
“When we give the kids this language, it’s really invigorating,” Ms. Considine said. “Being given access to language like this is eye opening and changes lives. In that way, introducing Shakespeare to kids is not as challenging as it might seem.”
She acknowledged it is oftentimes hard to read Shakespeare in a book.
It’s “meant to be played with,” she said. “So we give them the opportunity to do Shakespeare the way Shakespeare intended it to be done.”