The Bard Is Back at Hayground
Shakespeare wanted his work to be performed. And for 20 years, students at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton have kept the Bard’s intentions alive.
Shakespeare and Company, a Massachusetts organization committed to performing, training, and educating adults and children on all things Shakespearean, has been at the helm of Hayground’s performances as part of its annual artists-in-residence program, which involves full immersion into one of Shakespeare’s plays and culminates in two public performances.
This year’s play, “The Tempest,” will be staged at Guild Hall today at 1 and 6 p.m. All 88 students enrolled in the school, ranging in age from 3 to 13, will participate, along with 11 faculty and staffers.
“The Tempest” was chosen because Marybeth Pacilio’s class was learning about pirates. Annie Considine, Grace Lazarz, Lori Evans, and Ellie Bartz, the Shakespeare and Company artists who have been in residence at Hayground for the last three weeks, adapted the original work so that its running time is approximately one hour. However, the language remains as written.
“We stay true to the original text,” said Ms. Considine, who has returned to the school for the fourth year. The story of “The Tempest” takes place on a remote island, where the sorcerer Prospero uses illusion and skillful manipulation to help restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place. He conjures up a storm (the eponymous tempest) to cause his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to believe they are shipwrecked and marooned on the island.
Shakespeare and Company, which is based in Lenox, Mass., has participated in school residency programs for over 30 years; its 20-year partnership with Hayground has run the longest. The four coaches visiting the school are professional actors who are part of the company’s education department. They offer children their choice of roles but confer with teachers so that the parts are appropriate for each. The students in the four oldest classes get a scene to work on, while the younger children are scattered about the play.
“This school is such a collaborative community,” Ms. Considine said. Indeed, parents, alumni, and community members volunteer to build sets, make costumes, and help in other ways.
One of the challenges of “The Tempest,” the foursome acknowledged, is the prevalence of scenes that often incorporate over six children on stage at once. “It’s definitely harder to rehearse those scenes,” said Lori Evans, who is back at Hayground for her second year. “It’s much harder for the kids to focus.”
“Plus, the younger kids often get bored when they’re not speaking,” added Ms. Considine, over a pizza lunch at the school.
Two 6-year-old girls, Gigi Jordan and Camryn Eckey, interrupted a conversation to deliver a message to their Shakespeare teachers. While there, the girls recited their lines, which were largely unintelligible, but only because they were delivered through ear-to-ear grins. Shakespeare is fun was the apparent message.
The theater program is part of Hayground’s artists-in-residence program, which invites professional artists, writers, and musicians to share their crafts in immersion workshops that challenge students to think, create, and perform.
The Shakespeare residency program aims to draw young people into the world of 16th-century England through movement, speech, and performance, which helps them internalize the language and meaning of the plays. Students also embark on an in-depth exploration of the story, text, and history of each play, with theater games, warm-ups, and rehearsals helping to prepare them for the stage.
The program also brings faculty and staff into the mix, as demonstrated by Arjun Achuthan, a teacher at the school, who stopped by following the mentors’ lunch break to deliver his Prospero monologue. He also shared the news that another staff member was down with the flu.
“There are no understudies,” Ms. Considine said. “One of us will walk on with a script in hand, if needed.”
The relevance of Shakespeare in today’s curriculums is subject to debate. While some educators have pushed against studying the Bard, claiming he is outdated, historians point out that Shakespeare lived in turbulent times that are not dissimilar to today, when wars were started on the basis of fraudulent dossiers, terrorists were being hunted down, and there was a blurring of sexual identity.
At the Hayground School, however, the thought of not doing Shakespeare each year is heresy.
Admission to today’s performances is free. Any donations that materialize, however, will benefit the school’s artists-in-residence program.