Houston Shakespeare Festival city-wide success
Mayor Annise Parker proclaimed Aug. 1st as Houston Shakespeare Festival Day to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the program, founded by Sidney Berger, a director for the UH School of Theatre and Dance at the time.
The HSF performed two Shakespeare plays, “Henry IV, Part I,” and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” featuring actors Mirron Willis and David Rainey.
Minutes before the high school students of the Houston Shakespeare Conservatory took the Miller Outdoor Theater stage, they had to perform a condensed version of the evening’s play.
The students had five minutes to perform it.
These performances are part of the Conservatory’s program, an intense three-week camp where the high school students receive master classes from Actors Equity Association professionals, perform showcases and get the opportunity to perform in front of a large audience at the Miller Outdoor Theater.
Friendswood High School senior Justin Dorrell said he first heard about the conservatory when he was a freshman.
“It sounded really cool, but it never seemed like something that I would do,” Dorrell said, adding that he didn’t know how far he was going to go in theater. “As an incoming (high school) senior, I thought that this was as great opportunity. So I’m just really excited to be here.”
Dorrell said he had heard of the two Shakespeare plays, but had never looked into either one of them before.
Second Baptist School junior Will Wilkerson said he has heard of the plays before, and said he is a Shakespeare buff.
Wilkerson adds that out of Shakespeare’s work, Two Gentlemen of Verona” is one of his more obscured plays.
“It was his play of choice in the very beginning of his career,” Wilkerson said. “Not many people have heard of it. I think UH’s intention is to bring people up to base on some of Shakespeare’s more obscured works, and not works such as ‘Hamlet,’ and ‘Macbeth.’ I think they’re trying to make everyone better rounded in the world of Shakespeare.
HSF set “Verona” in the 1930s.
“It’s a very entertaining play, and it’s a very entertaining thing they’ve done with it,” Wilkerson said.
North East School of the Arts junior Kaiya Look said her experience at the conservatory has been very enlightening.
“I’ve been gathering so much experience about Shakespeare here that I probably wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Look said. “I’m just gathering a lot of knowledge and working with really talented experienced actors.”
One thing Look said she learned was to never say “sorry.” Look explained whether one makes an error on stage or makes it after being given direction, the performer should just say, “Okay, I’ll do it now,” instead of apologizing.
“I had no idea about that,” Look said. “To not say sorry, and just accept the notes that are given and just do it. Apologizing takes up time.”
Episcopal High School junior Matthew Goodrich said his experience was great.
“All the members of the company are very supportive,” Goodrich said. “It’s a really positive experience.”
One technique Goodrich is taking with him when he returns to school is scansion.
“Most of Shakespeare is written in iambic pentameter,” Goodrich said. “It’s reading the verse as it is. You write down symbols to un-stress, stress, un-stress, stress. It’s kind of like dum-dee-dum, like a heart beat.”
He said his school will be doing a production of “Titus Andronicus,” and believes the scansion technique will help a lot with the show.
Bay City High School senior Miguel Mirelez found the experience rewarding.
“It’s really exciting to be able to work with professional people, being able to get into that world with them, because they bring so much inspiration and they bring the same exact passion that you do to the stage,” Mirelez said.
Mirelez himself has learned that Shakespeare is more consonants than vowels.
“You really have to do it, you always have to go beat by beat,” Mirelez said. “You have to look at what they’re saying, catch the emotion or the jokes that happen within the story.”
As for future conservatory students, Dorrell said the key is to have fun and don’t take it for granted.
“It’s such a great opportunity if you just go out and make it that,” Dorrell said. “We have the opportunity to watch these great talented actors. I feel so grateful to be able to watch these people and learn from them their acting styles.”
The conservatory students performed in both HSF plays, which began Aug. 1st and will run through Aug. 10th and begin at 8:30 p.m. each night at Miller Outdoor Theatre. For more information about the HSF, visit www.houstonfestivalscompany.com/hsf/.